Thanks to your support—along with a history of strong leadership and commitment from talented staff—the Chicago Botanic Garden is thriving. It is a privilege to lead this organization and leverage its capacity to connect people to nature through our science, horticulture, and education programs. In 2015, the Garden received unprecedented media attention and hosted more than one million visitors. We reached more people than ever and connected the public to science and the natural world in unanticipated ways.
Looking forward, I expect the Garden to continue to deepen these connections through the new Regenstein Learning Campus, which opens to the public in September 2016. The Learning Center will offer plant-based learning, along with a range of health and wellness activities, aimed at creating excitement and curiosity about the natural world among people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. Participants will include early childhood educators, adults in wellness classes from cooking to yoga, and students in the Garden’s Science Career Continuum, which fosters interest in science careers among those still under-represented in the field, including women, African Americans, and Latinos. The Learning Campus will complement the Garden’s plant science research and academic training, based at the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center.
In 2015, another important capital project moved forward as well, with the opening of the new nursery on the Kris Jarantoski Campus. When fundraising is complete, the Jarantoski Campus will ultimately include larger, more sophisticated greenhouses and a new shade garden.
Having worked in science museums for the past 15 years, I’ve grown to appreciate the power of storytelling in making complex stories more accessible. In 2015, the Garden had one of those stories in titan arums Spike and Alice the Amorphophallus. Nearly 181 million people around the world learned about the corpse flowers through various media sources. Even though Spike did not bloom, more than 75,000 people came to see the corpse flower. And on a Tuesday in September, on short notice, 8,000 people waited in line for up to three hours, and until 2 a.m., to see the spectacular, stinky Alice. Both plants provided not only an opportunity to engage with the public like no other time in the Garden’s history but also showed how the intersection of science and horticulture can encourage a larger understanding on the conservation of plants.
Also in the spotlight in 2015 were Windy City Harvest’s urban agriculture and jobs-training initiatives. Windy City Harvest received national exposure at Farm Aid, and in an October 2015 editorial, the Chicago Tribune featured Windy City Harvest’s programs as part of a series of recommendations on a new direction for Chicago. The editorial cited Windy City Harvest as a model on how to make a difference. Fernando Orozco, an ex-criminal offender, is just one example of how these jobs programs can change lives. Fernando and his partners run an incubator farm through Windy City Harvest, and grow vegetables and herbs for the federal Women, Infants, and Children program—the same program that provided food to Fernando’s family when he was growing up.
Garden scientists took the lead in several important conservation initiatives, including helping to develop a federal bill focused on enhancing plant conservation efforts and capacity. The Non-Federal Cooperators Committee (NFCC) of the Plant Conservation Alliance (PCA), with a membership of more than 300 organizations, was revitalized, and through the efforts of the NFCC, the Garden played a key role in establishing the National Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration. This strategy will create a national network to ensure native seeds are available in restoration efforts, especially in fire-ravaged western rangelands.
The Garden continued its support of the Forest Preserves of Cook County’s Next Century Conservation Plan. Garden leaders hold positions on the Nature, People, Economy, and Leadership planning committees and, along with Forest Preserves staff, are working to protect native landscapes and to make the preserves welcoming to all people.
In 2015, the Garden’s accomplishments also included the following:
- A record number of visitors came to the Garden for events such as the Orchid Show, and more visitors attended our summer Evenings program.
- The Garden reinvigorated its plant collecting program. Garden horticulturists will travel within the United States and internationally to add new species to the Garden’s permanent collection of more than 2.6 million plants, representing 9,600 taxa.
- The first two doctoral degrees were awarded by the Garden’s plant biology and conservation graduate program, in partnership with Northwestern University.
- Garden scientists and graduate students were awarded a number of new research and training grants. The National Science Foundation renewed its support of the Garden’s summer undergraduate intern program as well as its funding for a study on the impact of fragmentation on prairie habitats.
- Since Plants of Concern began in 2001, the Garden has helped train 800 volunteers who have contributed 23,600 hours to monitoring rare plants in this region. In 2015, data collected by Plants of Concern contributed to the removal of several species—including the ear-leaved foxglove—from the state’s threatened list.
- Windy City Harvest grew 74,000 pounds of organic produce and generated $189,000 in sales, a 10 percent increase from 2014.
- The Garden commemorated the 125th anniversary of its founder, the Chicago Horticultural Society, with two special exhibitions, lectures, and a book, Chicago and Its Botanic Garden: The Chicago Horticultural Society at 125.
In 2015, the horticultural therapy program served 3,800 people, including veterans through the Thresholds Veterans Project, a mental health agency that helps transform the lives of people struggling with mental illness. Headquartered in the Buehler Enabling Garden, the program consists of a series of ten retreats at the Garden for 15 veterans and their therapists. “There’s something magical about it,” one veteran said about horticultural therapy at the Garden. “This place, it’s safe for us…it’s very important to have a safe place because when we were in other places in the world, defending this country, we never felt safe.” Stories like his remind me of how privileged I am to be at a place where serenity and the beauty of nature can calm the spirit and mind, and rekindle hope for the future.
This is the challenge I think about every day: how to stay true to the Garden’s mission while paying attention to how the world around us is changing. We need to respond to those changes so we remain relevant now and for future generations.
On behalf of the Chicago Botanic Garden,
Jean M. Franczyk
President & CEO