The CCAC Children’s Garden

Butterfly garden 2005

Butterfly garden 2005

The garden contains both edible and ornamental plants. Specific criteria inform our decisions of which plants to grow. These include sun requirements, those that grow within our agricultural growing zone (Chicago is zone 5b), plant size and cycle of blooming.

Plants and their flowers have many surprising and subtle characteristics. The children’s garden is separated into thematic sections which display some of these unique characteristics. The following is a description of each section and some of the plants found therein. For a review of the garden’s history or a map overview please visit the links to the right.

The descriptions are organized from south to north starting on the left hand-side as one enters the garden from the reception area.

Time Garden

contains plants whose blooming patterns are affected by the time of day. Botanist Carl Linnaeus observed that certain plants open and close their flowers at specific times during the day with the flowering times varying between species. He posited that an arrangement of certain flowers would enable one to approximate the time based on this behavior.

While such a clock is not as accurate as it sounds, since seasonal and environmental factors affect the timing of a plants’  bloom time, we’ve including some flowers to demonstrate this tendency as well as a tendency to open or close depending on the weather. Bloom times listed are approprimate. Among the flowers included in this section are:

  • Morning Glories – open around 8am and close by 10 a.m.
  • Daylilies – open in morning – bloom lasts about one day and then drop their petals
  • Four O’Clocks – Mirabilis jalapa – open around 4:30 p.m.
  • Blue Flax – Linum perenne – open in morning – bloom lasts one day and then drop their petals
  • California Poppy – open 10:00-11:00 a.m. and close by 4:00 p.m.
  • Blue Pimpernel, Poor Man’s Weather Glass, Anagallis arvensis var. caerulea - closes when rain is imminent
  • Straw Flower – Helichrysum – opens at 10 a.m. also closes when it rains

Water Feature

New for Spring 2009!
Situated in the middle of the Time Garden, the water feature will bring the soothing sounds of gently trickling water into the garden. It also will provide our flying visitors a source of drink which can be difficult to find in the city.

Tall Garden

Walking north along the curving path leads one to the sunflowers and the native grasses – the tall section of the garden. Growing to upwards of 6 or 7 feet, the sunflowers amaze the kids and provide birds, such as goldfinches, a snack. The grasses hum and shiver as the wind blows among their blades. In the fall, their soft, feathery plumes are a source of delight. Together, these plants envelope our visitors in a world of leaves and flowers.

Spiral Garden

Our visual garden winds around a spiral path and contains plants that have unexpected or unusual forms or colors. The plants in this section range from perennials and natives to self-seeding annuals that return where and when they please. Among these plants are:

  • Blue fescue grass – a short grass that grows in tufts and is a silvery blue in color.
  • Choral bells – Heuchera – beautiful maple leaf shaped leaves that range in color from maroon with silvery highlights. Little coral colored bell shaped flowers hover airily over the basal plant.
  • Snapdragons a frequently returning annual whose whorl of flowers resemble little dragon heads with mouths that ‘snap’ open when squeezed very gently on either side.
  • Lupine tall stately spikes of flowers that bloom in the spring
  • Queen of the Prairie – Filipendula rubra Illinois native often growing to 6 feet tall with soft fluff of a flower head (inflorescence) containing lots of little flowers. Blooms mid to late summer.
  • Dianthus a.k.a. pinks old fashioned short flower repeatedly blooms all summer. Its petals have zig zagged edges and it has been suggested that pinking shears get their names from this flower characteristic.
  • Bachelor buttons – Centaurea have striking blue thistle-like flowers and spread throughout the garden
  • Cherry bells – Campanula punctata have pendulous downward facing bell shaped and rose-pink colored flowers vigorously spread throughout the spiral
  • Prairie Smoke – Geum triflorum a prairie native that have, when in fruit, silky styles elongate to produce a cluster of pale rosy plumes that have a smokey appearance when viewed from a distance.

Fragrant Garden

is ajacent to the spiral. The plants in this section are especially fragrant. Sometimes they remind kids of candy, perfume or the flavors that they have tasted on pizza. Plants included here are:

  • Catmint a pungently scented mint that blooms all summer long.
  • Lemon Balm an herb with a strong lemon fragrance that many kids have dubbed the ‘candy plant’. The leaves can be used in tea, hot or iced, or chewed on their own.
  • Lavendar has gray/silver leaves which have a perfumey smell. The spikes of purple flowers later in the summer are often treasured by kids to take home.
  • Basil often reminds kids of pizza flavor. Some enjoy eating the leaves straight from the plant. We have planted many different varieties including purple leaved and ball shaped.
  • Chocolate mint in the northern corner of the west side of the garden would encompass the entire garden if left to its own devices. Very strong mint that is great in teas whether dried first or freshly picked. Has a smell similar to a peppermint patty.
  • Russian Sage a very stately silver subshrub that blooms in purple spires throughout late summer/early autumn. While its scent does resemble sage, it is not a sage nor a culinary herb.
  • Agastache rupestris – Licorice Mint enjoyed for its spicy licorice scented foliage and unique orange colors spike flowers.

Texture Garden

contains plants with varying textures including some with very soft leaves or prickly, rough textures. These are:

  • Lady’s Mantle – Alchemilla mollis the leaves of which have short little hairs that are soft and also capture the rain in droplets that resemble little pearls.
  • Creeping sedum is a succulent with chubby leaves that almost feel like plastic because they are so smooth
  • Borage an herb with rough leaves and vivid blue flowers that are edible.
  • Lamb’s ear one of the kids’ absolute favorites, the leaves of lamb’s ear are very soft and velvety. Our kids love to pick the leaves and rub them on their cheek.
  • Silver mound – Artemesia schmidtiana has lacey silvery green foliage that grows in a neat little mound and has silvery yellow flowers in mid-summer. It is very soft and everyone like to pat it when they visit it.
  • Dwarf Alberta Spruce our little spruce has prickly but soft needles.
  • Hens and Chicks another favorite, they are clusters of small rosettes who produce offshoot rosettes that resemble the parent plant (thus, the ‘chick’).
  • Jewels of Opar the leaves of which are thick, succulent-like and very smooth. The small pink flowers give way to little round ruby-colored seed heads – the ‘jewels’ of the plant.

Taste Garden

located in a circular bed, the taste garden contains a number of fruiting plants which are a hit with our visitors. Divided into quandrants, the bed contains the following plants:

  • Ever-bearing strawberries that fruit all season and that the kids enjoy if they get to the fruit before the insects do.
  • Raspberries enjoyed by all, our raspberry variety produces twice a year in spring and in the fall. Kids love to pick them, share them and most of all gobble them, themselves.
  • Blueberry shrub joined our garden in 2008 and has white flowers that produce yummy, sweet berries once a year in late-spring
  • Red currant bush is hidden among the larger shrubs. It produces strands of beautiful and very tart little red berries with 4 or 5 seeds per berry.
  • Cilantro is an herb that is plentiful especially as its seeds often get deposited throughout the garden. Most kids wrinkle their nose at its pungent aroma and taste.
  • Salad Burnet an herb with a cucumber taste that is great in a salad or on a sandwich. Its compound leaves are very decorative.
  • Shallots grow very prolifically and have a very strong onion aroma and taste. They are very easy to grow and kids enjoy digging the bulbs up when they are ready to harvest in the summer.
  • Garlic also easy to grow and very strong in flavor when home grown. Fun for the kids to harvest but the smell is very strong.
  • Kiwi vine crawls up the obelisk in the center of this bed. It contains both male and female flowers.

Butterfly Garden

is at its most beautiful during mid-summer. This garden bed is composed of plants that are of particular interest to butterflies as well as bees and our favorite, the praying mantis. The flower color and structure is what attracts butterflies. Colors such as purples, fuschia, yellow and red are most attractive to butterflies, so our butterfly garden contains many of the following.

  • Goldenrod has a bad rep for causing allergic reaction but it’s not true
  • Milkweed
  • Purple coneflower prolific native
  • Black-eyed susan prolific native
  • Monarda – Bee Balm
  • Asters
  • Butterfly bush
  • Phlox
  • Cosmos an annual
  • Butterfly weed – Asclepias has unusual orange color

Edible Garden

this section varies the most from season to season since it is made up of annuals that must be replanted each spring. In addition, the goal of this section is to educate kids on the origins of various foods that are commonplace.

When choosing among vegetable, fruit and herb varieties, preference is given to heirloom cultivars, that is, plant varieties that are non-hybrid and have been cultivated for at least 20 years or more (some even date back to the 18th century). These plants are typically very hardy and have evolved natural defenses against disease or insects. In addition, heirlooms are very atypical in shape, size and color and are usually more flavorful than the limited choices at supermarkets. This reveals to kids the fact that there is more variety in our foods – that tomatoes can be ruffled and small, rather than round and smooth, yellow instead of red, carrots can be purple rather than orange. Some of the veggies and fruits grown are:

  • Tiny spoon tomatoes the tiniest of the tomatoes and surprisingly sweet and full flavored for their size. Kids love picking these and eating them as tey harvest as well as taking a cupful home.
  • Cucumbers and there are cucumber thieves among us!
  • Red zebra tomato plum sized red and green striped tomatoes
  • Zucchini there’s a funny story about a large mutant zucchini that was found in our garden a couple of seasons ago – it was made into many yummy zucchini breads and cake
  • Watermelon another great fav among the kids. This vine taught them patience as they would check on the ripening process week to week.
  • Peppers hot and spicey, the kids carefully harvest them to bring home.
  • Carrots another fav to harvest and sample. We grow carrots of many sizes and shapes.
  • Beets would you believe one of our kids loved to eat them raw?!
  • Mustard greens one leaf adds a sharp to a sandwich.
  • Wheat while not edible straight off the plant, kids liked to see where the grain that makes their bread and cereals come from
  • Corn that comes in all colors from yellow to purple to red. We have grown a variety that could even be popped in the microwave.
  • Rice one of our most surprising crops for visitors to see. They are surprised to learn that a strict rice paddy is not necessary to successfully grow some rice.
  • Cotton while not edible, it is fun to grow plants that contribute to our daily lives. We harvested our organically grown cotton bolls for the first time autumn 2008. We collected enough to weave one small sock.

Garden of Vines

This is our newest section of the garden. Scheduled to be planted and installed this spring 2009 are the following vines:

  • Glory vine whose red/orange tubular flowers are attractive to hummingbirds.
  • Penguin gourds whose gourds resemble penguin shapes
  • Luffa sponge yep, they are the fruit of a vine
  • Mina Lobata an exotic looking climber with red/yellow flowers that change color as they mature
  • Perennial vines we hope to also add perennial vines such as clematis and honeysuckle. Stay tuned for further details as this section of the garden unfolds.

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