By Hyacynth Worth
Chicago Botanic Garden
1000 Lake Cook Rd. / Glencoe, 60022
(847) 835 – 5440
Summer Hours: 7 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Admission is free; parking is $20/car for guests
For our family, summer is a break from stone-solid schedules, lots of activity and in-classroom school days.
But it’s not a break from learning. Of course, we don’t tell our boys that many of our warm-weather activities are actually teeming with real-life learning experiences, but the truth is that they are.
The Chicago Botanic Garden has been one of our favorite destinations this summer, featuring sneakily hidden biology and botany lessons interwoven with threads of fun, adventure and exploration. With several weeks left in summer break and many months of temperate weather remaining at our doorsteps, don’t neglect to spend some time greening up the family thumbs.
Here’s a guide to get you started…
The Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden
This brand-new addition is not only a visually stimulating and beautiful place, it’s also extremely child-centric, living up to its name and begs to be explored by both little and big minds alike. From exploring how worms compost to growing a rainbow garden and dissecting seeds, families will have plenty to do during drop-in days.
Drop in activity days are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. through August 9 and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. through September 30.
During these drop-in days, little ones can pick up a spray bottle upon entering the garden and give drinks to thirsty plants that have been planted in low garden boxes, making them easily accessible to shorter patrons. And depending on the activities during drop in that week, children might have the opportunity to dissect seeds, plant a flower to take home to their own garden or stamp with fruits and veggies.
Tip: Park in parking lot six and simply take the crosswalk over to the Grunsfeld Garden instead of walking through the welcome center and then backtracking.
Planning your trip to the garden during a different day of the week? The children’s garden still offers plenty of spaces to explore and run in a safe space. But if you’re looking for more action, head over to…
Butterflies and Blooms Exhibition
Located just across from the Grunsfeld Children’s Garden, the Butterflies and Blooms Exhibition teaches youngsters to appreciate the smallest movements and small beauty. Discover which fruits butterflies love and where they prefer to hang out while resting (hint: look at the tree leaves!). Marvel over the camouflage abilities and show your kiddos how the insides of the wings are often different colors than the outsides.
At first I was nervous about entering the Butterflies and Blooms Exhibit with our two active (that’s the nice way of saying squirrely) and curious little boys; but we found that after special instruction was given about how to walk and move carefully while in the exhibit for the butterflies’ safety, even our younger, rowdier patrons could enjoy the exhibit. After all, butterflies are insects, and insects are way cool. Note: tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 3 – 12. Members receive a dollar off admission or can enter free of charge on Wednesdays.
Little ones also will get a kick out of the butterfly police – the name my oldest gave the workers who checked us from head to toe as we exited the exhibit so as to be sure no butterfly hitchhikers were catching a free ride out. The exhibit runs through Sept. 3.
Model Railroad Garden: Landmarks of America
Eighteen model garden-scale trains trek through 5,000 plants and more than 1,600 feet of track at the summer model railroad exhibit; all that to say that little train lovers will be in their bliss. Adults, too, enjoy the miniature scenery–made of all natural resources like twigs, bark, acorns and pebbles–checking out replicas of Cape Cod, Main Street and New Orleans’ French Quarter.
If you’re family plans to spend the day at the garden, it’s most economical to buy a Model Railroad Garden and Butterflies and Blooms combination pass at $8 per adult and $5 for children ages 3 through 12. Garden Plus members save a buck, too. The exhibit is open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. through Oct. 28.
The Garden Café
The Garden Café offers both breakfast and lunch, featuring weekly specials as well as boxed salads and pre-made sandwiches, fruit cups and salads. It’s an easy place to bring the family for a snack or meal, and the weekly specials plates are quite generous (read: easily split between two younger siblings). As costly as a stand-alone restaurant, families can feel really good about where their green is going. Money made at the café directly supports not only the botanic garden, but also the Green Youth Farm, a Garden-run program committed to focusing on sustainable urban agriculture. Bonus: the Garden café uses the organically grown produce sewn and harvested by Green Youth Farmers.
The Garden Café is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. weekdays and until 5:30 p.m. weekends.