Chicago Botanic Garden Winter Wonderland

IMG_0330, originally uploaded by theGardenDeva.

Approximatly 55 Horticulture students, staff and friends made a visit to the Chicago Botanic Gardens on December 2 to view the Winter Wonderland exhibit. The Regenstein Educational center has been transformed for the season into a Winter Wonderland of famous Chicago Landmarks, all constructed of natural materials. A miniature train winds its way through this 10,000 square foot exhibition, traveling over bridges and trestles, around brownstones and through forests of evergreens, poinsettias and other seasonal flowers such as cylamen and kalanchoe. The room is filled with the sites and scents of Christmas. Evergreens of all sizes and shapes are used in the exhibit which really adds a wonderful tang to the air. All the plants have identification signs posted.

It was really amazing to see all these landmarks constructed of natural materials – leaves layered as shingles, twigs, branches and acorns made up all parts of the buildings. Even Michael Jordan was there made up of twigs and acorns!

A video at the entry to the exhibit shows how the exhibit was created
by Paul Busse, designer of the Model Railroad Garden. He created this amazing exhibition exclusively for the Garden’s holiday celebration. All typess of beautiful handmade wreaths decorate the walls outside the exhibit.

Our group visited on a Wed morning which was great as it was not too crowded. Tuesdays admission is free otherwise the cost to see the exhibit is $10. Tickets are available online and sold at an appointed time. It takes about 30 – 45 minutes to really see all of the exhibit.
Keep in mind that the entry fee to the botanic garden is $20/car so its best to bring several people with you. The Metra train also has a stop in Milbrae which puts you about a mile from the gardens. Althouhg its a long walk when its cold…. On weekends the Botanic Garden provides a shuttle bus from the train station to the gardens. A bus is also available from the train station to the gardens but I have not figured this out yet.

The Botanic Gardens staff was very helpful in setting up this group tour of 55 people. Jones Bus from Elkhorn, WI is the motor coach carrier we always use for trips. They are reliable, on time, have friendly drivers and always provide a new, clean bus for our trips.

The gardens are still beautiful outside in the winter. The outline of woody plants against the grey winter sky is serene a peaceful. The Japanese garden is lovely with evergreens overlooking the lake. We were even able to watch some of the botanic garden workers perform some of the specialized pruning and training techniques required in Japanese gardens. The terminal growth or ‘candles’ of pines needs to be pinched each winter to keep the plants from growing too tall and blocking the view. The pine branches are tied with wire and hung with bricks to force them to grow in attractive positions and to arch over the water. It felt good to get outside for awhile in the crisp air and get in a little walking

750,000 lights have also been woven into the trees throughout the garden which would make this a great place to visit in the evening.

Plants in the greenhouses gave a tropical twist to the holidays. Orchids and poinsettias, lighted palms and flowering vines blooming in the warmth of the greenhouses.

Lunch in the garden cafe is always enjoyable overlooking the gardens and chatting with gardening friends. They always have a wonderful menu of fresh salads, homemade soups, pizza and pannini sandwiches. The food is very good even if a little pricey.

The gift shop is always a great place to visit. Lots of beautiful things and crafty ideas! Testubes and tiny jars with wire twisted around the neck and a magnet to attach them to a mirror or fridge as a mini flower vase. At any rate we all discussed going home and making some things for the Gateway craft sale next week Dec 12. Beautiful hand painted silk scarves from Turkey in vivid shades of blue and gold caught my attention and would be most welcome in my Christmas stocking! The book selection is always too tempting and Kate Jerome pointed out the new kitchen garden cookbook by Rosalind Creasy that we both lusted after. I wonder if we could get the library to purchase a copy…. Kate Jerome purchased herself a Christmas present of a new garden hat, a true necessity!

Everyone on our trip seemed to enjoy themselves and I recieved a lot of nice compliments from participants. While the botanic gardens are not that far away (45 minutes) it really is convenient to not have to drive. Its fun to ride the bus and talk with friends. Donuts, coffee and juice before boarding the bus and Christmas cookies for the ride home are always welcome. This was a succesful fundraising opportunity for students and money raised will go toward supporting future trips and conferences. The horticulture club is planning to attend the Midwest Organic Farming Conference in February in LaCrosse, WI. Money raised form this bus trip will help students pay to attend the conference in Feb.

We are discussing future trips for spring including the Chicago Flower and Garden show in March. The possibility of an overnight trip to the St Louis Botanic Garden is also being discussed. So stay tuned and get on our email list for information about future trips and to get on our newletter. These trips do sell out fast. This trip was sold out by November 24.



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