Herbal Travels: Chicago Botanic Garden

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It’s truly a pleasure writing for The Herb Companion for the last three years. Incidentally, I also regularly contribute to two sister magazines of Ogden Publications-GRIT and Natural Home. To date, I’ve written over 1,000 published articles, including features on gardening, green living, travel, home design, sustainability, healthy cooking and good eating.  You can reach me atlstarart@gmail.com.

I wish you could experience the English Walled Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois. It’s particularly lovely in the spring and early summer. Blooming wisteria drapes over rows of trellised classical columns. Flowering fruit trees shimmer in the breeze.

And then there are herbs. Within this enchanted garden’s six distinct “rooms”, you’ll delightfully discover herb plantings at every turn. In the English-gardening style, herbs are not segregated but thrive among flowers and shrubs. For example, hardneck garlic and triple-curled parsley sprout up near Canterbury Bells, Butterhead lettuce and Night-scented stock. Peek inside the classical urn and you’ll observe Rowleaf oregano and cilantro along with California poppy and Tassel hyacinth.

A sign in the Checkerboard Garden requests: “Please step on stone paths, but not on the newly planted baby thymes.” Sure enough, looking down you’ll find woolly, creeping and lemon thymes serving as ground cover between the bricks. All of this can provide wonderful inspiration for your own garden.

Photo credit: Chicago Botanic Garden photo by Robin Carlson.

Rich Abundance for Herb Lovers

The English Walled Garden is just one of the 23 display gardens and three native habitats in the Chicago Botanic Garden-a 385-acre “living museum,” which is part of invaluable conservation efforts in the Chicago area. If you are an herb enthusiast, you could easily spend the entire day here pursuing your passion for herbs.

Once when visiting the Chicago Botanic Garden, I struck up a conversation with a couple who turned out to be Herb Companion readers. It was enjoyable showing them the many herb plantings in the Heritage Garden, which is a replica of Europe’s first botanic garden in Padua, Italy. Other gardens burgeoning with herbs include the Enabling Garden, the Sensory Garden, the Landscape Garden and the four-acre Fruit and Vegetable Garden. There’s even creeping thyme in the Model Railroad Garden.

Here are more features I enjoyed at the English Walled Garden:   

• Free herb plants. Throughout July and August, receive complementary herb seedlings at the Fruit and Vegetable Garden.

• Free food demonstrations. A highlight of the 2009 Garden Chef Series is the Italian Cooking weekend on July 25 and 26.

• Free horticulture help. Even if you’re not a member of the Chicago Botanic Garden, you can get expert advice regarding herb and other plant cultivation. Call (847) 835-0972 to reach the Chicago Botanic Garden Plant Information Service. Or you can bring a photo, cutting or the entire plant up to the walk-up window.

For more details see my article, “Chicago Botanic Garden Inspires Creativity” published in the November 2007 issue of The Herb Companion. (Not available online.) If you can’t visit the Chicago Botanic Garden in person, take a virtual tour of the English Walled Garden with a 360-degree panoramic view.

Do you have a special place for “herban renewal”? A favorite public herb garden that you’d like to share with other readers? A fantastic herb festival? Please add your comment below.

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