If you are traveling to the Chicago area during the holiday season, consider a stop at the Chicago Botanic Garden for its Wonderland Express exhibit. Gardeners will love the displays outside, but anyone with a sense of awe or the magical will enjoy the railroad garden inside the Regenstein Center, the garden’s horticulture school. When I was visiting the garden yesterday, Julie McCaffrey, one of the garden’s PR people, walked me through the exhibit, which was getting its final preparations before it opens Friday.
Created by landscape architect Paul Busse, the display covers 10,000 square feet and includes miniatures of Chicago landmarks, snugly tucked into plantings with a train that winds through the exhibit. The first thing I noticed when entering the exhibit was the marvelous smell of cedar. All of the buildings are made of natural materials: wood, corn husks, fruits. They are remarkable likenesses, too, from the towering structures of the downtown to the Frank Lloyd Wright inspired houses. Surrounding these structures are plants, including amaryllis, orchids, boxwood, and hundreds of poinsettias. This photo is of the replicated tea house in the Chicago Botanic’s Japanese Garden. It’s made of corn husks and wood.
The rest of the garden is dressed for the holidays as well. Horticulturist Tim Johnson told me they have been working to include more evergreens and more unusual forms of evergreens in the gardens for year-long structure and beauty. They also place evergreens in pots around water features that have been drained. Some trees are adorned with holiday lights as are huge balls made of chicken wire and lights that look like tree ornaments laying on the lawn.
The Chicago Botanic is built on what was a swamp, so water is a big part of the garden design. Fog shrouded the gardens the day I visited, but I think that only added to the charm of the Japanese gardens. More on those in a later post.