I’m not a big garden visitor, though I do have fond childhood memories of my Granny taking us for brisk walks around the Edinburgh Botanics, where there were a lot of squirrels and we always visited the rock garden.
But the Chicago botanic garden was pretty wonderful last weekend. To get there you catch the Metra to Braeside, ignoring the signs at Glencoe that imply you should alight there, and then walk about a mile down the road in a crocodile of other Sunday garden visitors. There’s no entry charge if you arrive on foot, and there is a trolley (really a bus ponced up to look old-fashioned) to shuttle you across if the walk’s too much.
I’m not really interested in which plant is which or understanding about the conditions in which they grow, or knowing whether specimens are old or rare or innovative breeds, so I don’t feel I’m the ideal audience for a botanic garden (I’m hoping my botanist cousin T isn’t reading and cringeing at this point). But there was lots to like.
It was a gorgeous, sunny day, so sunny I had to put on my Cubs baseball cup to shield my eyes. And the gardens were teeming with children, couples, friends, elderly people on benches and in trams (really electric bus/trains – I guess ‘bus’ is a turn-off word for the genteel garden visitor). A book group was meeting in an arbour (well, it may not have been an arbour, but I like the word so I thought I’d say it was). Little girls in pink skirts were running up and down the steps in the waterfall garden and screaming at the spray.
The foliage colour that I took the piss out of in an earlier post was astonishing, and not all the trees had turned yet, so you got a mix of ochre, yellow, crimson and green, flaming all around. And so we strolled a slow circuit through woods, across a snaking bridge and onto a series of islands on the lake, past a strange carillon tower, among tall prairie grasses, alongside the waterfall and into a meadow and walled garden with fountains. (They have a nice interactive map on the website with lots of better pictures than the ones I took.) There were still brightly coloured flowers everywhere, beautifully planted, and the sensory garden really was an assault on your nose, even if you were too busy being scornful and cracking bad jokes to enjoy the quiet scampering of birds and feeling the leaves between your fingers.
I didn’t really get the Japanese garden with its raked gravel and stupid domey shrubs and the tree boughs tethered to the ground with chains, but there were nice little informative plaques explaining what it was trying to achieve, and M liked it more. We didn’t see everything, and I’m looking forward to going back in spring. Maybe for more food from the outdoor grill at the café. Though the bike trail running through the woods by the Metra line looked almost as enticing.
Walking back to the station, we even got a Sunday sermon substitute.