Spring’s been sprung and skipped straight into summer, but that’s no reason not to stop and smell the roses. If you don’t mind taking the trip to Glencoe, IL to the Chicago Botanic Garden though, you can smell the Camass lilies, bearded and Siberian irises, peonies, black-eyed Susans and any number of other amazing local and exotic plants. What you can also do, now that we’re solidly into the summer months, is visit the annual Butterflies and Blooms exhibit, now relocated to the garden’s Regenstein Learning campus. It’s got a wonderful array of butterflies, and at any one time, you’ll be able to be surrounded by up to 500 of these beauties.
We make it a point to stop every year, as there’s always something new to discover, and you should too. Not only are there butterfly releases each day, but the collection gets swapped out as time goes on, so what you see during one visit may be different than what you’ll encounter the next. Last year we were fortunate enough to be there when the Atlas Moth was ready for its closeup, and that was truly something to see.
Another great thing about the exhibit, and a great reason to bring your kids there, is that it really seems like a learning-focused environment. The staff who mans Butterflies and Blooms, for the most part, has done it for years, and they’re knowledgeable and passionate about educating visitors on butterflies. Many little children seem to fear them once they get up close and personal, but their fears are soon alleviated and I oftentimes later find them marveling at various pupa waiting to emerge.
Another thing staff is super-knowledgeable about is the blooms involved. They can tell you what plants are best to attract our lepidopteran friends as well as how and when to grow them, so that if you’d like to attract your own bunch of backyard butterflies you’ll have the know-how.
There are lots of places that you can see butterfly exhibits, and some of those are even already in the city (at the Notebaert museum, year-round, for example) but I continue to recommend taking the trek to Glencoe and adding a ticket to Butterflies and Blooms to your parking fee. Why? Because, at least in my experience, a trip to the Chicago Botanic Garden is always worth it. In every season, there are amazing, beautiful things to see, and there’s plenty of green space to get lost in.
A day at the Botanic Garden, at least for me, is a day of respite in a bit of a wonderland. As you wander from garden to garden and explore the greenhouses you’ll see some of the most beautiful things, get a little exercise in, and see quite a bit of local wildlife. There are open air beer gardens and ice cream stops as well as a beautiful and relaxing deck for the garden’s main café, so you can grab lunch and watch the cranes, geese, swans and ducks take off and land, and weekends bring all sorts of art shows, plant shows, markets and even chef demonstrations. Get out to take a peaceful walk or snap some amazing colorful pictures or go to learn more about the plant world around you, but definitely don’t skip a visit.
The Chicago Botanic Garden is located at 1000 Lake Cook Road in Glencoe, Illinois. If you’re coming from inside the city, you can even skip the parking fee and take the Metra Union Pacific North Line to the Braeside stop (also convenient to Ravinia and downtown Highland Park, a fun shopping stop) or get off at the Glencoe station and take the trolley to the garden. Bicyclists can bike straight in via the Green Bay or North Branch trail and there are ample bike racks for use in the parking lots, which will allow you to explore the garden more thoroughly (since bikers must remain on the outer loop within garden territory.)
Butterflies and Blooms opened over memorial day weekend and runs through Labor Day. The exhibit is open from 10 am to 5 pm daily but is subject to weather related closures as the enclosure is not protected from the elements. You can find out more about the exhibit here.