A true learning institution, the Chicago Botanical Gardens has 24 remarkable gardens and is marked by ever-changing beauty on nearly 400 acres of landscaped land. The Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG) is an amazing spectacle; it has four natural areas to boot. Plus, there are over 2.3 million plants of nearly 9,000 taxa, which is the largest collection in the Midwest. All this makes CBG the second most visited public botanical garden in the entire country! Who can argue with that many species plus an annual visitor rate of over one million?
The Chicago Botanical Garden, where there’s always something in bloom, is a place where classrooms are without desks and walls, & where students ascertain the ways and wonders of plants; its educational opportunities are prominent and often vied for by local college students. From college internships that offer hands-on experience in horticulture, land management, research, greenhouse & nursery production, to horticultural therapy, which shows adults how to achieve well-being, healing & strength, there’s a great variety of opportunity for learning. There are also K-12 programs for both teachers and students.
The CBG even fosters inmate growth at Cook County prison through The Cook County Boot Camp. There’s a one-acre farm within the compound for the inmates; this farm is one of the educational programs that serve inmates during their incarceration. Participants grow, maintain and learn about organic vegetable production, then in turn, eat their vegetables in the mess hall or donate them to local food pantries.
So aside from all that, what else can you do and see at CBG? Well let’s just say that there’s almost one million things to do for those one million visitors. Speaking of collections and things to see, here is the list of The Top Ten Exhibits and Collections at CBG.*
1. Skokie River
The one-mile stretch of the Skokie River, which runs through the Garden, is one of the Garden’s four natural areas and is a demonstration site offering natural methods to enhance urban waterways. The sightly expanse shows a variety of low-impact techniques are used to control erosion, improve water quality, and increase biological diversity. This Garden shows nature at it’s best, for sure.
2. Bonsai Collection
One of the most famous collections of Bonsai in the World, CBG’s compilation includes 19 of the most prized specimens from renowned Bonsai expert, Susumu Nakamura. CBG has an unbelievable collection of 185 Bonsai, and all are outstanding examples of evergreen, deciduous, tropical, flowering, and fruiting trees.
3. Green Youth Farm
The Farm offers students the chance to learn all aspects of organic farming.There are four farm locations throughout Chicago, and the students earn a small wage for participating and learning the value of organic, sustainable farming. This is on the Top Ten List because the farms are beautiful and the produce is fantastic; in fact, it’s often used at the Garden Caf? in meals and snacks. By the end of the season, participants have learned how to work together as a team, gained valuable job skills, discovered a whole new way to look at the food they eat, and grown their support system to include supervisors, program coordinators, legislators, and their fellow participants.
4. Wonderland Express
The coolest winter show this side of the Mississippi, Wonderland Express is a unique blend of “artistic wizardry, fanciful design and magnificent horticulture.” There’s a shimmering lights display with 750,000 twinkling lights, meals with Santa for the kids, a Hanukkah dinner, plus stunning plants like the Ice Punch & Prestige Early Red Poinsettias, Deb Bromeliads, Kalanchoe, lit-up Cherry Dogwoods and thousands more winterized plants and trees on the Express Walk! From November to January, visitors will absolutely love the Garden’s 10,000-square-foot exhibition of miniature trains, and over 80 mini-replicas of Chicago’s favorite landmarks, all made from plant and flower materials! There’s even snowshoeing and Winter Farmer’s Market! This is a true must-see-to-believe.
5. Waterfall Garden
The Waterfall Garden at CBG is a tranquil and peaceful place where nature is on it’s best display. It provides a quintessential setting while demonstrating the seasonal variation of almost 26,000 plants & trees. A 45-foot waterfall spills down a hillside into a series of small landscaped pools. The steep slopes offer plant material perfect drainage, and the trees and shrubs lining the stepped paths recall those of a mountainous stream.
6. Buehler Enabling Garden
The Buehler Enabling Garden is an applied teaching garden that encourages gardening for people of all ages and abilities. Brightly colored raised beds, vivid container gardens, adaptive tool exhibits and model displays illustrate gardening techniques that can be used to make gardening accessible to anyone of any ability. Water is used throughout the garden in shooting fountains, cascading sheets and cooling pools. Vertical gardens, sensory plants and downy brick pathways are all elements in handy gardens.
7. Seasonal Garden Walks
Perhaps the best way to see all the collections, nature areas and specific gardens, the Seasonal Garden Walks are guided tours of the entire grounds. With 20 to choose from, CBG seems a bit more navigable on one of these walks! There’s a variety of seasonal walks and even a conservation walk for visitors!
8. Evening Island
Five acres of hillside, woodland and meadow gardens, surrounded by lakes, reflect ever-changing highlights throughout the year. From the stone pathways and terraces of this garden, visitors can enjoy sweeping vistas of other gardens never seen before, as well as views of the most spectacular summer sunsets. The garden is accessible by two bridges, the Arch or the Serpentine, which provide two entirely different approaches to the garden! Evening Island is an example of the “New American Garden” style of landscape design.
9. The Esplanade
The Esplanade showcases spectacular elm and a pavilion lined with sheared cone topiaries with a row of waterspouts emerging from pools of water. Conceived by one of the greatest landscape architects of the 20th century, the Esplanade is one of the Garden’s most public spaces! In one word: it’s breathtaking. There’s also The Crescent and a seven-foot statue center-stage!
10. Windy City Harvest
Windy City Harvest is an organic-method vegetable- and plant-growing venture that provides certificate instruction in sustainable horticulture. The Harvest trains people in urban agriculture best practices, develops collaborations that benefit communities, and produces high-value, nutritious produce that is sold at retail outlets and made available and affordable for local residents. Participants acquire hands-on experience with sustainable vegetable production and learn essential business skills, including planning, pricing, sales, and marketing. A true sight, the greenhouses and gardens these young kids cultivate is amazing.
*List is based on visitor reviews, blogs, tourist information, travel site reviews and more.
Chicago Botanic Garden
1000 Lake Cook Road
Glencoe, IL 60022