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I had the privilege of presenting a workshop at  The Morton Arboretum  recently while I was speaking in the Chicago area. I could see straight away that this was somewhere special; 1700 acres of stately trees and gardens including lakes and natural areas. The casual (cold) visitor might just head straight for the coffee shop (great food) or could be forgiven for being tempted to browse in the gift store (especially since it sells my book Fine Foliage) but I think the children had the best idea – bundle up and head outside to PLAY!

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Children want to explore and experience life not just observe it from a distance and this arboretum has the best Children’s Garden I have ever seen and encourages them to do just that. The award winning four acre garden combines learning and play with plenty of sturdy nature-inspired things to climb up, over and through for the super-energetic (that would have appealed to our son) but also wonderful boards and illustrations about leaves and roots (definitely more our daughters style who insisted on reading EVERY sign in the museums….)

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Great use of pathways and playground equipment to show children different leaf shapes and how they attach to a branch

Chicago has been buried under an apocalyptic amount of snow this year so you might wonder what there could possible be in the garden. I can assure you that there was plenty to see, touch, smell and listen to. I loved watching children squeal with delight as they stroked the velvety pussy willows, discovered the spicy scent of  a witch hazel, listened to the rustling oak leaves still clinging tenaciously to the branches. Even the seed pods of the silverbell tree (Halesia tetraptera) tinkled like tiny bells and frozen grasses waved stiffly in the breeze on this cold winters day – and it was all beautiful.

Left to right from the top; beech nut, London plane tree, white oak, pussy willow, silverbell seeds,

Left to right from the top; beech nut, London plane tree, white oak, pussy willow, silverbell seeds,

Then there was the huge European beech tree with its bark that looks just like an elephants skin and branches that dipped down to the ground as well as a magnificent weeping willow – eye catching even without its leaves.

beech

Several people told me that they wished I could see this garden in summer in all its splendor. I replied that it’s easy to create an exciting summer garden – this takes far more skill and attention to detail. In fact I have barely touched on all the fun elements this contains.

If you live nearby, take time to visit this wonderful garden – even in winter – even without children. You’re never too old to play a game of discovery. You can always thaw out later with a hot cup of soup -or two.

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My special thanks to the wonderful staff at the Arboretum who took such good care of me; from those in the education department who helped me coordinate my workshop to the ladies in the office who kindly babysat my luggage while I took these photographs before flying home.

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