Art and nature go together like peanut butter and jelly—each delicious on its own, but exponentially better together. As the two most popular green spaces in the Chicago area celebrate major milestones, visitors have a choice between these shared bedfellows.
Through September, the Chicago Botanic Garden is hosting a 10-part art exhibit called Flourish: The Garden at 50. Meanwhile, in the western suburb of Lisle, the Morton Arboretum is celebrating its 100th anniversary with new works by South African artist Daniel Popper. Three new original sculptures, due to be completed by June 17, will expand Popper’s Human + Nature exhibition, which is now being extended through March 2023. Also coming: a new Grand Garden.
The Morton Arboretum was founded in 1922 on the 175-acre estate of Morton Salt Co. magnate Joy Morton. The tree-focused botanical garden now encompasses more than 1,700 acres of DuPage County (recently planted 18 acres southeast of Wheaton). To mark its centenary and the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day, also a legacy of the Morton family, the arboretum will plant approximately 3,000 trees throughout the Chicago area.
Additionally, they will cut the ribbon at a new two-acre garden near the visitor center, a serene and colorful space that uses the 1930s hedge garden as an existing footprint — with a $16.5 million upgrade. Dubbed the Grand Garden, the site is flanked at one end by Arthur Myhrum’s majestic Four Columns, built in 1960 after then-Chairman Sterling Morton’s trip to Vienna. At the entrance to the garden on the other side is a new bowl-shaped concrete fountain. The fully accessible promenade and lush garden (including some of those old hedges) connect the two ends. First glimpses of the new garden will take place on September 17 at the Arboretum’s annual gala.
Popper’s three other contributions complement five existing “Mensch+Nature” sculptures. “Ephemera” will spawn in the Maple Collection on the east side of the Arboretum, and “Mycelia” will be placed in a clearing near Lake Marmo. A third centennial memorial sculpture, “Ginkgo,” is slated to be placed in the Arbor Court outside the Visitor Center. They are destined to be passed and in fact some of them are obscured as you drive the car around the site. Take a few steps into the woods and you’ll soon realize just how eye-catching they are – and massive. Only then did I get a sense of the time and scale in this living museum.
“This is a great time to talk about the Arboretum,” said President and CEO Gerard Donnelly, who will retire in September after more than three decades at the helm of Morton Arboretum. “His story is enduring. The whole effort of planting trees is one we do for future generations. We do this as a contribution, almost altruistically, to the benefit of others, our communities and our environment.”
The arboretum is bordered by freeways and various corporate and capitalist ephemera. I took a short hike through the walnut grove on the southwestern edge during my visit, and turned from my reverie to see cars humming and office buildings in the distance. The realization that I was actually in the middle of a suburb wasn’t exactly a distraction or disappointment; Rather, I was reminded of how easy it is to get outside at the Morton Arboretum and its cousin, the Chicago Botanic Garden. I can get lost in the woods and stop by Ikea in a single afternoon. Win, win.
Set on 385 acres at the north end of the Skokie Lagoons, the idyllic setting of the Chicago Botanic Garden offers an extraordinary example of man and nature working together. The joint conservation efforts of the Cook County Forest Preserve District and the Chicago Horticultural Society thwarted the sprawl of the northern suburbs that now surround the manicured swamp on all sides, including the ever-present hum of the Edens Expressway.
The founders of the botanical gardens astutely foresaw how this living museum would literally grow over time and even how climate change would affect its landscapes. What they might not have anticipated is how incredibly popular a place would become. To celebrate the garden’s 50th anniversary, certain areas of the garden have received a much-needed refresh. One of the most obvious changes will be a redesigned welcome seat.
“It wasn’t safe for pedestrians,” said President and CEO Jean Franczyk, who was named the garden’s top job in 2015. “We had service vehicles and deliveries all crossing at this location.”
The upgraded, pedestrian-friendly entrance, due for completion this fall, will include a picnic clearing and additional restrooms.
“When the garden opened in 1972, nobody thought or believed that we would have more than a million visitors a year,” said Franczyk. Likewise, the Morton Arboretum welcomes over a million guests annually and has 60,000 members.
Attendance at both venues has remained strong during the pandemic as people have been encouraged to get outside more. And the Botanical Garden has grown exponentially, with a 43% increase in visitors over the past decade.
It can get crowded on a nice summer weekend, all the more reason to venture into less-visited areas like the prairies and woods. I happened to be there on a pretty lousy weekday so had large parts of the garden pretty much to myself. It was cloudy and raining menacingly, not too hot but muggy – even sweaty as I found myself hiding among the gorgeous purple azaleas in the Japanese Garden or hugged by budding peonies ready to burst into pink blooms.
Crowds or not, the most popular spots like the Heritage Garden, the Greenhouses and the English Walled Garden are worth a visit – especially now. Until September 25, the garden is home to a series of playful art installations celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Closest to the entrance is UK-based Rebecca Louise Law’s ‘Herbarium’, a stunning display of inverted dried flowers collected from the garden and hung in alphabetical order (from amaranth to okra) from the visitor center ceiling. From June 8th, the garden will be offering 45-minute hikes from Wednesday to Friday (weather permitting) between 11am and 2pm. But it’s entirely possible to take a self-guided walk and easily come across the garden’s quirky additions.
At the south end, in an open lawn, rests a playground called “The Rookery,” a part gnome castle, part bird’s nest structure built entirely of willow branches by Patrick Dougherty of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with the help of a garden staff and volunteers. Nearby, Cody James Norman’s “Plasticus porticus” forms a rainbow-colored doily-shaped arbor spanning a path on Evening Island. The spaghetti-shaped material was made from recyclable plastics collected from the garden’s restaurant and from local homes; Up close, it looks like a bunch of stiff, silly strings.
Norman is one of four Chicago visual artists whose work is on display. Faheem Majeed created an A-shaped black iron ladder visible from both sides of the English walled garden and adorned with a striking golden vine. Edra Soto’s house-shaped structure, tucked away in the lagoon and supported by pieces by British artist Luke Jerram and Chicago poet Keli Stewart’s large-scale word art in the background, reflects her subtle colors on the water’s surface. And Sam Kirk created colorful murals that covered two walls in the atrium and bordered the popular greenhouses. An interactive comment tree features one of the murals with comment cards for guests to leave their memories; Around the corner is an exhibition about the garden’s timeline and future goals. Each of the 10 pieces expresses aspects of sustainability, celebration and connection to nature. Musical pop-ups include a “Swing Set Drum Kit” by artist Dave Ford (July 23-24), cool brass band Mucca Pazza (August 27-28), and an all-female mariachi band (August 24-28). -25th of September). ).
“Yes, this is a magical place, but it’s more than a place and it’s not magic,” Franczyk said. “It’s such hard work. What (staff) are doing to create what you see here is extraordinary.” Then there’s the less visible work of both institutions, which employ some of the world’s leading plant science experts and advance conservation, research and education efforts worldwide.
“There are few cities that have two major botanical institutions like we have here in Chicago,” Donnelly said. “Chicago is very fortunate to have them both.”
Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Lane 53, Lisle; Admission $11-16 at 630-968-0074 and mortonarb.org
Chicago Botanical Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe; Admission $13.95-15.95, parking $8 at 847-835-5440 and chicagobotanic.org