A Visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden

Last Sunday Judy and I made our first visit of the year to the Chicago Botanic Garden. Usually we go about once a month starting in May, and try to make certain highlights like when the crabapples are in bloom – but this year there’s been too much going on.

CBG is one of the great American public gardens, and I don’t just say that out of local boosterism. The variety and quality of the individual display gardens and natural areas is really outstanding. All this is combined in a landscape of man-made islands (on about 400 acres) in a way that creates one breathtaking vista after another. There is always far more to see than can be taken in during a single visit.

Michigan Lily
Michigan Lily

OK, the commercial is over. On this visit to CGB, we headed first to the native plant garden, which has both woodland and prairie areas. In the woodland garden we admired the Michigan Lilies (Lilium michiganense).

Fairy Candles
Fairy Candles

We also admired the Fairy Candles (Actaea racemosa), cunningly placed to catch the late afternoon sun.

Royal Catchfly
Royal Catchfly

In the prairie section of the Native Plant Garden, Royal Catchfly (Silene regia) stands out against a background of Early Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) and Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum). We stood and watched a hummingbird feeding on the red tubular flowers, but Judy couldn’t get a clear shot of it.

DSC_0137 cbg culver's root purple coneflower

Another native plant combination that worked nicely was the Culver’s Root with Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).


We then walked over to the Fruit and Vegetable Garden. To get there you cross a short bridge that looks out over terraces planted with cabbages, greens, and onions – and edged with Zinnias.

DSC_0150 cbg fruit and vegetable

Everything looks perfect and healthy. I like those blue tuteurs.

DSC_0160 cbg tithonia and amaranth

Here’s an unusual combination: Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) and Amaranth.

DSC_0158 variegated zucchini

Did you know there was such a thing as variegated zucchini?

DSC_0153 cbg

The Fruit and Vegetable Garden constitutes one of CBG’s islands, surrounded by a man-made lake.

DSC_0178 English Walled Garden cbg
Water feature in the English Walled Garden.

From the Fruit and Vegetable Garden we headed back to the Main Island and the English Walled Garden.

DSC_0181 cbg

While it is surrounded by a wall, I have always wondered what specifically was English about this garden. Maybe readers from the UK can chime in here.

DSC_0183 cbg

Whether they are English or not, I like these two containers and the shaded bench.

DSC_0185 cbg

What do you call this concrete thing on the pedestal? Whatever it is, it looks quite grand though surrounded by humble Rudbeckia hirta.

DSC_0200 cbg

Here is a second water feature. I’d be reluctant to sit in that bench, though, there would be a grinning satyr looking over your shoulder.


Another view. This part of the garden looks out over the lake.

DSC_0172 cbg

At this point we’d spent almost three hours visiting three of CBG’s 26 display gardens. We were getting tired, and so was the lion.

DSC_0208 Carl Linnaeus cbg

However, before leaving we had to pay a visit to Carl Linnaeus, as he happily reaches down to pluck a flower for his specimen sack. And why wouldn’t he be happy, surrounded by this garden and its vast botanical diversity gathered from around the world?

57 Comments on “A Visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden”

  1. It’s probably just me but Carl looks a little, well, creepy.

    On our flight to, and from, Toronto we had a brief layover in Chicago. I don’t think I’ve ever flown in, and out, of an area that was so green. Like freakishly green (we’d already started our dry summer at that point and areas here were during gold). Is it always that way? Trees, grasses, everything was so very green!

  2. What a joy to have such a wonderful botanic garden. I would also visit regularly. Faity Candles are nice, I have 2, and the Purple Coneflower is just about to flower here. The English garden is typically walled, and with lots of concrete containers and wooden benches. I think it looks English.

  3. Wow. That’s beautiful.
    The big concrete urn on the pedestal, the garden ‘folly’, the lake, the arched bench and the tuteurs – aren’t these all elements of an English garden?

    By the way, are the tuteurs made of metal or wood? Very nice.
    And that splayed tree/shrub against the wall – what is that, do you know? Too thick to be espaliered apple or pear, methinks.

  4. You have a wealth of wonderful public gardens in Chicago. The CBG looks like an amazing resource and a delightful destination. I love it when any garden uses local and native plants. Are you and Judy members? I bet there’s a conservatory there, too, right? That’s something I’ve never understood Portland not having.

  5. We need to get up there and visit! Actaea racemosa + royal catchfly—some of my favorites….we are both from that area and being south miss Lake Michigan and Chicago:-(
    Really beautiful + I love that statue with him reaching for seeds-AMAZING!

  6. I’d say that the English Garden there has echoes of typical stately home gardens over here – formal planting, topiary, the hard landscaping and water features. It looks a fabulous place all round. I particularly love your third photo of the Silene and the other native plants – beautiful exuberant planting.

  7. Nice gardens and even better than you are able to visit regularly when time permits. I have no idea as to why the English garden is so called but to me, the walls, benches and greenery are all very familiar with me but also touches of the mediterranean thrown in from the lavenders and other blue blooms. Perhaps it’s the formality off it all? Someone out there will know.
    Thanks for sharing your visit with us Jason and Judy 🙂

  8. The hedges remind me of an English garden but not much else does. Maybe the giant urn. I’m not sure why anyone would want to sit on that bench and look at it though. There must be something special about it that I’m missing. Or maybe you’re supposed to close your eyes and think of England.
    I’ve seen variegated leaves on some squashes but not many and not often.
    This is a beautiful place and you’re lucky to have it.

  9. The English Walled Garden contains lots of features that you see around the stately homes here. I think it is supposed to evoke a feel of England rather than anything specific. It was designed by John Brookes who is an English landscape and garden designer. One of his aims was to make sure it didn’t feel too immaculate!

  10. Thanks for sharing your visit! I would never call myself a vegetable gardener, but I really enjoyed the views of the veggies. Variegated zucchini! Are the zucchini themselves also variegated, or just the leaves? I also loved the blue tuteurs. As for the concrete thing on a pedestal, I would call it an urn. You know, the kind with a top like they put human ashes in, though I doubt that is the case for this stylized one!

  11. Hello Jason, with Italian terracotta pots and greek columns and the bench – which is not a Lutyens – I’m not sure what is “English”. The urn on the pedestal (the concrete “thing”) is however and is something that I want at the end of our lower terrace against the hedge. They’re pricey though.

  12. I love very much visiting Botanic Gardens, too, Jason. I think Chicago has one of the best. Lovely English walled garden, I’ve seen one like this one in Wisley, London. There are interesting combination of plants. I also liked the sculpture of Carl Linnaeus and sure he would be happy in such beautiful garden.

  13. How lucky you are to have such a fantastic botanical garden! My computer is playing up at present so didn’t see the second half of the pictures, I enjoyed what I saw though, especially the fairy candles, now that is a name that actually suits the plant!xxx

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