Notes from Chicago Botanic Garden Fruit and Vegetable Garden

The Spotts crew spent some time this week at Chicago Botanic Garden, hands down one of my favorite places on earth. From the English Walled Garden to Evening Island to the gorgeous Japanese garden (not normally my aesthetic, but it is magnificent), CBG is packed with beautiful gardens, brilliant plant combinations, and boatloads of tips and techniques for home gardeners.

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Doing my best Juliet in the English Walled Garden.

I am particularly enamored with the Regenstein Fruit and Vegetable Garden, a haven of beautifully planted and maintained food gardens. It has everything: orchards, arbors covered in grapes, crescent-shaped vegetable beds packed with a medley of texture and color, and a potting shed/greenhouse that inspired the one I plan to construct just as soon as I win the lottery.

The greenhouse has a full row of coldframes snuggled up to it. I must have one!
The greenhouse has a full row of coldframes snuggled up to it. I must have one!

CBG does a particularly brilliant job of demonstrating ways to trellis food plants. I caged my Roma tomatoes this year in standard cone-shaped cages, and they have all taken on a sort of weeping form, because they are way too tall for the cages.

So I was particularly intrigued by CBG’s cattle-panel trellises for heirloom tomatoes. I’m thinking of trying this next year, especially since the panels could (theoretically) be curved to follow the circular form of my front-yard vegetable garden. I would have to do a better job of pruning than I did this year, as CBG has pruned theirs to one or two main stems per plant.

Heirloom tomatoes growing on cattle panels. CBG also packed the beds with marigolds to serve as a living mulch/repellent. I find the smell of marigolds repellent myownself, so I don't think I'll copy that part.
Heirloom tomatoes growing on cattle panels. CBG also packed the beds with marigolds to serve as a living mulch/repellent. I find the smell of marigolds repellent myownself, so I don’t think I’ll copy that part.

Throughout the gardens, CBG has hand-lettered signs that offer gardening info and tips, like this one:

All the signs are written in this immaculate style. They must teach it during orientation.
All the signs are written in this immaculate style. They must teach it during orientation.

Note to self: plant borage. Also, learn how to print like that.

But the fruits! Oh, the fruits! They have apple trees and pear trees and brambles and currants and gooseberries and grapes and I don’t even KNOW what all. And I am inspired to create some espalier in my back garden. I currently have a couple of trellises along the fence that I used to use (unsuccessfully) for melons. I think I’ll take them down, string wire between the posts, and try my hand at espalier instead. Hey, I’ve managed to keep the dwarf fruit trees in front garden alive, so espalier is possibly, maybe, theoretically doable, right?

Espalier in the early stages.
Espalier in the early stages.

Also, did you know that a crabapple is technically any apple that is less than 2″ in diameter? I didn’t. Crabs are commonly used in jams and jellies (and as pollinators for other apple trees), but this one looked good enough to eat.

This crabapple was espaliered against a brick wall, and it was just taking on its ripe hues.
This crabapple was espaliered against a brick wall, and it was just taking on its ripe hues.

Chicago Botanic Garden is a fantastic source of inspiration, and I highly recommend that you visit there. Take pictures and notes, check out the web site for lots of educational information, and dream about what you’d like to accomplish. Just remember, the garden is staffed by a small army of horticulturists, which is why it looks as immaculate as it does. After all, have you ever in your live grown an eggplant that looked this beautiful?

Something to aspire to!
Something to aspire to!

 

 

Fraudulent Farmgirl
I teach garden and homesteading skills—the stuff your great-grandmother knew how to do. But if there's a faster, cheaper, or easier way to do it, I'll find it!By day, I design earth-friendly gardens for Spotts Garden Service. By night, I don my Wellies to become the Fraudulent Farmgirl. On my small urban homestead, I've ripped out the front lawn to plant vegetables and fruit trees, turned the garage into a chicken coop and grown enough strawberries to feed half the neighborhood.

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