Keep Growing 2020: The Ten-Year Strategic Plan
McCormick Rooftop Garden

Annual Report


Robert Finke

Robert Finke
Chairman of the Board

I have been privileged to serve as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Chicago Horticultural Society since 2012, and 2015 is a particularly exciting year as the Society celebrates its 125th anniversary. The Chicago Botanic Garden’s founders were leaders of the Society that created the Garden we know and love today, and the Society continues to manage the Garden in partnership with the Forest Preserves of Cook County, which owns the land the Garden occupies and provides critical annual operating support for which we are grateful.

Sophia Shaw

Sophia Shaw
President & CEO

Five years ago, the Chicago Botanic Garden adopted a new ten-year strategic plan, “Keep Growing,” with an aim to build upon our strengths and mature as a leader of education, science, urban agriculture, and horticultural therapy. The plan was detailed, thoughtful, and ambitious. To reflect the goals of the strategic plan, two years ago we adopted a new mission statement: We cultivate the power of plants to sustain and enrich life.

Attendance and Membership

Attendance in 2014 was more than 1 million for the second year in a row, and the highest annual number in the Chicago Botanic Garden’s history. July was the Garden’s highest attendance month ever, with more than 185,000 visitors.

The Garden’s inaugural Orchid Show attracted more than 25,000 visitors last year, and Wonderland Express had its second-strongest attendance—nearly 58,000—since it opened in 2006.

There were 49,000 member households in 2014. Approximately 72 percent of Garden members renew their membership each year.

Last year there were more than 2.6 million plants at the Garden, representing 9,210 varieties. The Garden acquired more than 662 new taxa, 499 of which had never been tried here before.

Each year, up to 250,000 plants move through the Garden’s plant production greenhouses, including 181,000 annuals in 2014.

Urban Agriculture

Through its Windy City Harvest program, the Garden offers plant-based training and mentoring programs that have changed thousands of lives. More than 100 at-risk teens were mentored in 2014; the program also trained 41 hard-to-employ adults, 92 percent of whom found jobs,  and an additional 135 people through weekend classes and green industry certificates.

Windy City Harvest participants grew and harvested 74,000 pounds of produce on eight acres within challenged communities. They donated more than 1,800 boxes of fresh vegetables and fruits to local Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) programs.

In 2014 the Garden recycled nearly 53 tons of material and composted 34.8 tons of food service waste from the Garden View Café. By not selling bottled water, the Garden kept more than 96,000 bottles out of landfill.

Science Programs

In 2014, more than 200 Garden scientists, graduate students, and interns conducted plant-based research in our backyard, within the U.S., and throughout the world. The joint graduate program in plant biology and conservation with Northwestern University welcomed five new master’s and five new Ph.D. students, for a total of 33 graduate students. Ten master’s students were awarded degrees in 2014.

More than 120 interns contributed to important stewardship activities on public lands as part of our Conservation and Land Management intern program in 2014. The Garden’s National Tallgrass Prairie Seed Bank received 357 new accessions, bringing the total to more than 3,000.

In 2014, more than 2,000 volunteers gave 107,000 hours of service to the Garden. Plant Information Service staff and volunteers answered more than 31,000 plant-related questions.

Education Programs

More than 117,000 children, parents, students, and teachers participated in programs and field trips to the Garden last year.

In 2014, the Garden offered more than 500 courses for adults at the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden and processed nearly 7,000 registrations; 54 students earned professional certificates.

Last year, the Garden mentored a select group of 70 Chicago Public Schools teens ages 13 to 17 through our Science Career Continuum. And 92 percent of College First participants enrolled in college, with 75 percent of them choosing science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) majors.

In 2014, the Lenhardt Library welcomed more than 25,600 visitors, presented four original rare-book exhibitions, and offered viewing of 440 rare book volumes to 475 people in 50 groups.

Horticultural Therapy

In 2014, the Garden’s horticultural therapy programs served more than 3,500 people, including 850 veterans.