Garden Off Edens

The Chicago Botanic Garden is not in Chicago. It is actually in a suburb called Glencoe, just off the Edens Expressway about twenty miles north.

Arranging a lunch date with a friend, who lives in a suburb close to the Wisconsin border, provided an excuse for making the garden a destination this past Friday afternoon.

They have a very nice cafeteria, six parking lots (which actually get full during summer months), and constantly changing natural beauty.

At the front of the visitors center, there is a What’s in bloom display and a large scale map of the nearly 400 acre garden. Although, there are plenty of maps and trail markers throughout, I usually just wander down the paths and focus on what’s in front of me (until I want to return to the parking lot).

Friday, when I visited, I read the What’s in Bloom cards that greeted me at the front of the building. If I couldn’t tell already from the colorful blooms I saw on the way from the Lake Cook Road entrance, after checking out the display, I knew to be prepared to see rhododendron, magnolias, and tulips.

“When did this happen?” I remember saying to myself earlier in the week as I was driving home via the Wilson Avenue Bridge.

It seems that my neighborhood came to life overnight. Last Saturday, things were subdued. By Thursday, I saw a broad palette of greens and pinks from budding trees. (Based on the name, who’d think a crabapple tree would be so beautiful?)

I felt like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, when she first opened the door of Auntie Em’s and Uncle Henry’s cabin, after her jarring trip and landing over the rainbow. Everything went from shades of gray to Technicolor. It seemed that the landscape and sense of life happening around me turned just as quickly.

I’ll often find things especially beautiful based on the surprise element. I’ll stop in amazement at the sight of a flower daring to break through the ground at a construction site or a child’s smile caught as I look at the car next to mine while stopped at a traffic light.

But visiting CBG was a different experience of beauty. Flowers and shrubs and trees are always beautiful but being able to walk for hours without the distractions of car horns or technology put me in a state of mind where I’m relaxed and can BE with everything.

I felt elevated. The recognition itself, that a garden is a special place, is beautiful. What came over me seemed inescapable in such a large wonderland of nature, but I think this is true of smaller gardens as well.

A garden doesn’t just happen. It has to be tended.

Over weeks, months, even years, someone thinks of how to use an outdoor space. Seeds are chosen and planted. Soil and rocks and fertilizer and planters may be bought. Someone spends time on their knees making sure the soil is soft and there are no weeds or other things that might challenge a plant.

From March through October, I’ll often see my building neighbor Paula on her knees with a spade in her hand.

I’m always delighted when I see the row of hostas between our building and the brick of the building next to ours. I love seeing the small trees she planted along the wire fence that provides a barrier to the Brown Line tracks just a few feet beyond my back deck.

I know she considers what types of plants need sunlight or shade before seeds are put in the ground. She always makes arrangements for Alisa or Grant or me to water everything when she goes out of town. I’ll take note of her many runs to Home Depot’s Garden Center.

And the Chicago Botanic Garden must have armies of Paulas; keeping their incredible collection of Bonsai trees trimmed and in proportion, keeping their lawns pristine, placing benches in the walled garden so that you can enjoy the trees and blooms in private while dozens of other visitors are doing the same, planning where to arrange different varieties of rose bushes so that when their time comes in June, you can’t help but be bowled over.

Having a special appreciation for a place where the finest expression of the natural world meets the care and stewardship of human beings is no small thing.

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