Chicago Botanic Garden wows Spring Flingers

Tulips and toadflax

Where to begin? Yesterday afternoon I returned to Austin from the second annual Garden Bloggers Spring Fling, held in Chicago this year, feeling dazzled by all the spring-blooming Windy City gardens, hoarse from talking so much with friends old and new, and dog-tired from all the walking, gabbing, train-hopping, and late evenings. Then I downloaded my photos and found I’d taken more than 400, so I just gave up last night and hit the sack.


It’ll take a while to wade through all my photos to try to convey what we saw during Spring Fling, but I wanted to start off with the Chicago Botanic Garden because it’s one of my favorite public botanical gardens, it’s gorgeous no matter the season, and the staff was so welcoming of the visiting bloggers. Denise Corkery greeted us with enthusiasm and gave us free tickets to various attractions at the garden, and she wrangled the early arrivals together for a group photo on the entry bridge.


We were set loose around 9 am, and since we had only a few hours to see this huge garden, several of us opted not to take the 35-minute narrated tram tour, though the overview sounded nice, but rather just start exploring. We were immediately rewarded with color, form, structure, and even a little bit of home: Texas bluebonnets.

You’ll see this hillside of poppies on every Spring Flinger’s blog if they visited the CBG. Photos cannot convey how overwhelming the sight of them was, especially as the sun lit up their tissue-thin petals.

Cindy (From My Corner of Katy) was always as colorfully clad as the poppies.

Diana (Sharing Nature’s Garden), Cindy, and Layanee (Ledge and Gardens). I was thrilled to meet the elegant and mischievous Layanee, who was thwarted in her attempt to join us at Spring Fling Austin last year. We’d spoken by phone a couple of times, including one fun radio interview (and she has delighted in pointing out my southern accent, but girlfriend, you’ve got quite a northern accent too!), but hanging out with her was one of the highlights of the weekend for me.

Amid the riots of color, there were more serene gardens to explore, like the green-cloaked English Walled Garden, which fellow Spring Flinger Beth Botts (Growing in Chicago) was photographing.

“Cuddly Lion”

Beautiful garden rooms were delineated by walls and hedges.

A pond with a fountain anchored a sunny room with a pergola and a checkerboard of boxwood and new-growth artemesia.

Another water feature—an old lead basin, by the looks of it. If you’d like to see pics of the English Walled Garden in October, click on the link for my visit in the fall of 2007.

A beautiful tile window in a brick wall allows glimpses into the walled garden.

In the Japanese Garden, pond-side irises nearly hid this person sketching or taking notes at close range.

Another look, as well as a zigzag bridge that makes you pay attention to where you’re putting your feet.

A bamboo water spout steadily dripped into a stone basin in a small courtyard garden. If you’d like to see pics of the Japanese Garden in October, click on the link for my visit in the fall of 2007.

Pleached trees in another part of the garden looked very European and kept the path shaded and cool.

Baby blue eyes

In the Sensory Garden, Diana and I walked a woodland path through beautiful, white-trunked birch trees.

But we really loved this hot border along a sunny stretch. I like the way the dark reds, bright yellows, and coral-oranges work together.

I can never resist hot-colored flowers.

Persuaded to visit the Vegetable Garden, I was surprised and delighted by these viola-parsley towers underplanted with cabbages and more parsley.

This is not just vegetable gardening. It’s good design!

A helpful sign explained how the viola towers were constructed and maintained.

Sweet (and edible) violas.

Cindy, Layanee, new friend Jean (Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog), and Diana. I had such fun hanging out with them—and so many others—during Spring Fling. An opportunity to meet, network with, and befriend fellow garden bloggers—that’s what Spring Fling is about. The gardens are the icing on the cake. And I do love icing.

My sincere thanks to the Chicago Spring Fling committee who worked so hard to put this event together.

All material © 2006-2009 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

40 Responses

  1. cindee says:

    I can’t put into words how beautiful that garden is! Wow!!!!, is all I can come up with!!! What a wonderful tour! Thanks for sharing!!!! Looks like you had a blast!!!

  2. Stephanie L says:

    Absolutely gorgeous. Thank you for posting. Nice to see flowers in a different climate than our own (I live in SA, TX). Glad they paid homage to the Texas bluebonnet.

  3. Frances says:

    Hi Pam, I knew you would have fantastic shots. Your words have conveyed the experiences we all shared. I am glad that you were able to enjoy the event as merely a participant this time around, too. We are already excited about going to Buffalo next year. Penny saving time for that. Remember the old sugar jar in the cupboard is a good hidey hole. :-)

  4. I loved the botanic garden, too, but no one had to persuade me to visit the vegetable garden! Your pictures are beautiful, as always. What a great time we had!

  5. Hi Pam, Your photos are outstanding! I’ve seen some similar photos on other blogs but not as vibrant as yours! You captured some that look almost surreal. Just gorgeous. Nice to see some faces with names, too;-0

  6. Randy says:

    To me the worst part of going on a garden adventure is deciding what pictures to use from the trip! You chose excellent ones. :-) I’m glad you all had a good time.

  7. Bonnie says:

    awesome. Glad to hear it was so much fun and it was great to see the familiar faces in the photos. I certainly missed being there.

  8. Susie says:

    Wow, fantastic photos……gardens like that are what dreams are made of for us gardeners!

  9. Jean says:

    Ooh, what fun. It’s like being right back there again. It was really a stupendous garden, wasn’t it? You conveyed it beautifully. I still haven’t had time to go through all my photos. Will be blogging about CBG soon though!

  10. Phillip says:

    Fantastic photos Pam. I’ve only been to Chicago once and I didn’t go to the Botanical Gardens. I wish that I had. It looks like a beautiful place.

  11. Sheila says:

    How beautiful and what great photos! I will add Chicago to my list of must-see botanical gardens!

  12. Chris G says:

    Hey Pam – welcome home. I checked for your pics everyday – they are beautiful. Hopefully next time I’m in Chicago I can spend a day at the botanical garden.

  13. Great pictures — as always — and very like you! Some of those hot color combos were just eye-popping and, as you said, that hill of poppies will be something all of us will remember from our CBG visit. Mark and I managed to see a lot, but I keep finding images of what I missed! I will be checking out your fall CBG photos, too.

  14. Once again your photography wows me. Even though we saw the same things and even photographed some of the same things, your photos do them justice. Thanks for taking a photo of the sign about the construction of the Viola towers. I didn’t notice the sign. I think I was too wowed by all that beautiful green & purple.

  15. Layanee says:

    Pam…so much fun and you have captured the individual beauty of the gardens. I loved that hot border which you saw with Diana while the rest of us meandered up the wrong path. Loved it also with the monochromatic color schemes. Northern accent? Surely you jest! LOL I am looking forward to hanging out with you again sometime soon.

    p.s. Elegant and mischievous? I like that description so thank you and I am still forming a response to ‘Screw Pine’ but I will probably have to email you the bawdy response so as to not offend anyone.

  16. gail says:

    As I was wandering around, being completely amazed I did wonder what you and others would shoot! I am not disappointed….You’ve beautifully narrated and beautifully captured the Chicago Botanic Garden look and experience. It was a delight to be able to visit with you…I am aiming for October before Halloween for a visit to Austin! Gail

  17. Brenda Kula says:

    I can’t figure out just how you do it, Pam. But you take the damn best photos!

  18. Martha says:

    That looks like a wonderful time. Thank you for sharing it with those of us who couldn’t go!

  19. linda says:

    It was wonderful to meet you in Chicago Pam.

    Your photos are beautiful. I’m having fun blog hopping and seeing and reading some of the different perspectives on Spring Fling.

  20. Wonderful pictures, as usual. You have a real touch with photography.
    Sounds like you had a great time, too.
    Thanks for sharing.

  21. Cheryl says:

    It looks like you guys had a great time! I met Cindy at A&M this past spring in Dr. Welch’s class…she’s lovely.

  22. I can just see you all bumping into each other taking photos, can’t imagine that anyone did it better than you though!

  23. Leslie says:

    I’m really enjoying all the CBG photos and yours are especially lovely!

  24. Diana Kirby says:

    Pam – nice shots. We had many in common, but I loved seeing the things that you discovered and I missed, like the lead water basin and the bamboo spout — never even saw them! You captured it all well, and did well following the photo “rules!!”

  25. Hi Pam, I adore that photo of the window int he wall, the light is fantastic. I enjoyed meeting you and wish we had had more time to chat.

  26. Kim says:

    I love that window in the wall, too. I really enjoyed all the photos – I sure wish I could have seen those gardens in person. Maybe one day I’ll get to Chicago and see something other than the inside of the airport.

  27. Les says:

    Looks like a great time. Your pictures are stunning, especially the macro in photo #2.

  28. Germi says:

    PAM! WOW! Talk about capturing the spirit of a place!!! You do it like no one else, lady! I am totally bowled over by the viola/parsley towers – how can I make those work in Los Angeles? I’ll have to use something other than parsley and violas, but still! I was certain you were going to have another brilliant time, and that you’d come home with tons of beauty to share. Thanks for being so generous for those of us who couldn’t make it (yet again… one day!)


  29. Great shots Pam. The blue of the shirts against the poppies is stunning. You’d make a good art director. Pleasure to meet you and hope you can make Buffalo next year! The only thing greater than the gardens we saw was the hospitality of the Chicago organizers – REAL Chicago (garden) community organizers!

  30. Pam/Digging says:

    Thanks for each and every comment! I read and appreciate each one, even when I don’t have time to reply personally. It was great to meet or see again those bloggers who made it to Chicago. I hope to meet the rest of you next year in Buffalo! And to all my non-blogging readers, thanks for reading and commenting too! —Pam

  31. Lori says:

    That viola, parsley, and cabbage combo is seriously one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in a garden.

  32. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Pam it was wonderful to get to meet you. I love seeing your take on the Chicago Botanic Garden. It was such a chocked-full place. We needed much more time to see it all. Wasn’t it wonderful to be greeted by the little blooms of Texas Bluebonnets?! After seeing everyones photos of the CBG I know I have to go back to see what all I missed.

  33. I forgot to mention, I *did* feel very welcome at the ChiBot due to the staff’s extra effort.

  34. Truly excellent photos Pam. So much to see. So many wonderful people to meet. It is hard to feel like you spent enough quality time with the people or the gardens.

  35. Cindy, MCOK says:

    I had a great time touring the Botanic Garden with y’all … I did pick the right shirt to wear that day to coordinate with the poppies!

  36. Wow, Pam. I think these are the most fabulous photos I’ve seen yet. Absolutely perfect, every one of them! I’ve read all your posts so far and you’ve really captured the essence of the weekend. I’m SO glad to have met you and hope that it isn’t the last time we get to be together. I owe you and Diana a “let’s scare them” moment, you know! LOLOLOL

  37. Your love for the Chicago Botanic Garden shines through this post, Pam – and who could resist those towers on the vegetable island? How cool that you got to see it with our friends Diana and Cindy and new friends Layanee & Jean. And good timing to be there while tulips still bloomed.

    The bluebonnet photo just kills me…our little lupines looking cultivated and well behaved in nosegay-like plantings with the primary colors of yellow pansies and what might be red anemones. I guess that’s the Chicago take on the way they boldly strut their stuff in the grass along Texas highways, accompanied by the also-primary Texas paintbrush and our ubiquitous yellow daisy-type wildflowers.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  38. […] back on how much of it we didn’t see, even after six hours, I know I’ll have to plan another trip to Chicago someday. Next time, maybe in […]

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  40. […] a “designed” edible garden: Chicago Botanic Garden’s viola-and-parsley towers underplanted with cabbages. OK, it may not be practical for the […]