Chicago Botanic Garden
Thru January 1, 2011
The other day, I went on a nice afternoon excursion to the Botanic Garden with my mom, who is a member. That saved me the admission fee, which is charged per car, but there is a cost for the special Wonderland Express exhibit.
Individuals with a Discover card can get a 2-for-1 discount, but we didn't know this until we arrived, and I didn't have my card with me.
The general, outdoor gardens are always enjoyable to walk around, though most exquisitely so when the flowers are in full bloom in late-Spring/early-Summer. But it was rather chilly when we were there, so it was a good thing that our primary focus was the indoor Wonderland Express exhibit, which my mom had already seen but was willing to take in again for my benefit.
Created by an amazingly talented craftsman named Paul Busse and his associates, "Wonderland" is an indoor garden featuring replicas of Chicago's most famous buildings made out of various, mostly natural, materials. There are also model trains running through the exhibit, which likely goes over quite big with the little ones, but for me were secondary to the building models.
As a fan of Chicago architecture and history, as well as artwork and flora, I really enjoyed seeing the imagination with which the various models were put together. For example, though it's not all that easy to see, the Aon Building at left above is made from columns of bamboo, while Marina City's famed ring of balconies are replicated by hardened leaves.
Underneath, other landmarks include the Bahai Temple (located in the special suburban wing), "Cloudgate" (aka The Bean, represented by a gourd), the Picasso sculpture and a Lake Michigan lighthouse (though it isn't meant to be the Grosse Point Lighthouse in Evanston).
Soldier Field was represented as it looked before the spaceship landed in it...
...while old Chicago Stadium was featured rather than the United Center, but still had a Michael Jordan statue, as chronologically incorrect as it may be.
In addition to the instantly recognizable landmarks, also represented were Gold Coast brownstones, Chicago bungalows (including the one where Michelle Obama grew up) and the Obamas' house in Kenwood.
In the same pavilion where the exhibit takes place, there is also a nice display of wreaths--all available for purchase--made of various materials, as well as some enjoyable exhibits in the Garden's library including floral illustrated books commissioned by Prince Charles and miniature felt characters representing Alice in Wonderland & other books. Of course, in the greenhouses, there are myriad indoor plants, some--as shown at bottom--that would fit well in "Little Shop of Horrors."
With Winter Vacation now underway, those families not heading out of town, or those heading in, would do worse than to spend a day exploring Chicago in "Express" fashion.