Monday, August 15, 2022

‘We draw you in with beauty’

     Humanity’s first home was a garden. And while biblical Eden is no longer available to stroll through, alas, the Chicago Botanic Garden is very much with us.
     I’ve visited hundreds of times — the place kept my wife and me sane during COVID. While encouraging people to visit isn’t in our selfish interest — crowds — going at least once certainly is in yours.
     Particularly now. This summer the garden is celebrating its 50th anniversary, showing off 10 large commissioned outdoor artworks, and the second half of August might be an ideal time to explore a place I often describe as “heaven-like.” (“Edenic” just doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.)
     Half the size of New York’s Central Park — 385 acres — the Chicago Botanic Garden isn’t actually in Chicago, but Glencoe, immediately east of the Edens Expressway between Lake Cook and Dundee Roads. 
Chicago Daily News
Jan. 27, 1965.
     Visitors are led through the wide range of natural habitats, from formal English walled garden to wildflower-bedecked prairie, from a carefully-cultivated Japanese island garden, complete with teahouse, to a woodland walk under towering oaks where only the blazed trail lets you know you’re not in virgin forest.
     There are vegetable gardens and groves of birches, water lilies and desert cacti. I’ve seen deer, otters and, on one memorable occasion, a hooded merganser duck. One of the joys is shifting in scale and perspective, lifting your gaze from close-up examination of a gorgeous lily to peer across the lagoon at a bridge in the distance, flanked by weeping willows.
     The place is so big, we recently spent an hour there walking and never went inside, merely circled the perimeter.
     One of the more astounding aspects of the Botanic Garden is, no matter how often times we visit, and we often go three times a week, it’s always fresh, new, interesting, because of the changing light at different times of day, the seasons of the year, plants waxing and waning, annual shows — orchids, jack-o-lanterns, a light show at Christmas. My wife and I visit in February when it’s 20 degrees, as the garden is beautiful in snow.

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  1. Been there twice and look forward to returning. We've only scratched the surface in those visits.
    One of the many things I like about Chicago is the number and quality of parks scattered throughout.

  2. Did you know that they have volunteers that wash the birch trees every year? Who knew you could/should do that? I got an email from the Chicago Botantic Gardens talking about how to do it so my husband and I did wash the one birch tree we have. What a difference it made.

    1. How do you do it? I have a picture of someone with a scrub brush on a stick applying soapy water vigorously.


    2. I was pretty sure that sounded familiar, and sure enough:

    3. Coey--don't know how I missed that one ! Tate--Here's the Botanic Garden's info on it

  3. My first visit to the Botanic Garden in more than 30 years was two months ago, in mid-June. Thought it wouldn't be crowded on a Friday. I was wrong.

    But despite the hordes of couples and families and day-camp groups and the heavy traffic of Moms With Strollers, we were blown away by the size and the variety of the habitats. We especially enjoyed the English and the Japanese gardens, the fruit and vegetable garden, the rose garden, and the model railroad garden. We even took the tram tour.

    Either the Botanic Garden has expanded in size since the early Nineties, or else I've forgotten how big the place really is. The trees were much larger, and the foliage was lusher and denser than I remembered. Thirty years of growth will do that. No unusual found objects, though (like the diamond I spotted in the snow, 35 years ago, that became my first wife's engagement ring).


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