Chicago Botanic Garden is a Vibrant Living Museum


by Debbie Stone


BIG BLEND RADIO: Travel writer Debbie Stone chats about her many visits to the Chicago Botanic Garden. Listen here in the YouTube player or download the podcast on PodBean or SoundCloud.

When I was young, I lived minutes away from the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois. I would go there frequently, always with my parents. They loved the place, as it was a beautiful respite for them, and served as fodder for many of my father’s wonderful photographs. After I left home, it was a pilgrimage we would continue to take together whenever I returned to the area. Though my parents are now gone, I still reserve time for a trip to the garden on my treks to the Windy City. 

The Chicago Botanic Garden is a world-class destination. Every year, over one million people visit this acclaimed attraction. Situated on 385 acres on and around nine islands, with six miles of lake shoreline, the garden is impressive in size, range of garden styles, and quality of flora. It’s also a mecca for youth and adult educational programs, gardening assistance, research, horticulture therapy, exhibitions, carillon bell concerts, and other special events. 

The place is a magical paradise and multi-sensory experience in all seasons. Life teems, even in winter, and the ambiance and mood change depending on the time of day.

For a good overview of the highlights, take the 40-minute, narrated Grand Tram Tour. Drivers are knowledgeable about the history and science of the garden, and include some fun trivia facts, as you ride through this unique landscape. 

On a recent summer visit, the garden was bursting with a riot of color wherever you looked. Everything dazzled as I strolled down the walkways and I felt as if I had been transported to Eden. Flowers, shrubs, trees, and plants of varying shapes, hues, and textures beckoned me from all angles. And, ah, the fragrances!

Each of the garden areas is well-designed with identification markings. In the Aquatic Garden, for example, you’ll have the opportunity to view scores of water lilies and lotuses budding and blooming. This is a favorite section of artists and photographers, as the emerging flowers arising above the water make for a dazzling scene. 

Crescent-shaped beds full of seasonal plants comprise The Crescent Garden. They’re surrounded by evergreen boxwood that flanks the tiers and slopes down to the water’s edge. In spring, it’s all about the tulips, while chrysanthemums take center stage in the fall. But the summer is when visitors stand agape at the mesmerizing floral feast. 

If you’re a fan of secret gardens (and who isn’t!), you’ll be delighted with the Circle Garden, which has two of these intimate spaces. They’re centered by a dancing fountain with a backdrop of trees, shrubs, and perennials. 

One of the most popular sections is the English Walled Garden. Head past the stone lion and enter the world of Jane Austen, where primrose grows and water trickles into an 18th-century cistern. Thyme grows between the bricks and purple wisteria covers a pergola, creating an enchanting realm. Veggies, fruits, and herbs are also in abundance, reminiscent of a Beatrix Potter tale. 

Everything’s coming up roses in the Rose Garden, with more than 5,000 of these beauties. You’ll find All-America Rose Selection winners, the best rose varieties for Midwest gardens and even a history of roses from the wild rose to the modern-day hybrid. Most striking is the Ingrid Bergman – a whopping 6-foot-tall red tea rose. 

On a hot day, the Waterfall Garden is the spot to be. At its helm is a 45-foot-tall waterfall, which cascades down a hillside into several pools. Thousands of plants and trees line the slopes of this serene setting. Stepped pathways lead up to the top, where you’ll get a nice view of the lake. 

Most visitors will stop at the Japanese Garden on their route. There are three islands within this 17-acre area and a curved wooden bridge, along with a traditional Japanese teahouse and koi pond. Pruned pine trees abound together with iris, plum, and rhododendron. Stones form the structure of the garden and serve as its guardians. The simplicity of the design evokes a sense of peace and calm. 

Head to the Bonsai Collection for more of the Japanese aesthetic. The Chicago Botanic Garden’s collection of nearly 200 bonsai is notable, with plants that show the longevity of “training” – up to 100 years old. Mastering the art of bonsai can take decades, as it’s a challenging skill. The garden’s display is on a rotating basis from April 1st to October 1st. 

For sweeping vistas, make sure to visit Evening Island. Surrounded by lakes, this five-acre area of woodland and gardens is accessed via two bridges. The sunsets from this idyllic wonderland are resplendent. 


Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, and regular contributor for Big Blend Radio and Big Blend Magazines, who crosses the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers and listeners. She’s an avid explorer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for places, culture, food, history, nature, outdoor adventure, wellness and more. Her travels have taken her to nearly 100 countries and to all seven continents. 


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