Chicago Botanic Garden: Glencoe, Illinois


What was once degraded land polluted by highway construction has for the past 40 years been home to the Chicago Botanic Garden, a 385-acre living museum with 2.5 million plants, 26 distinct display gardens, and a robust program of research, education and public outreach. Attracting nearly a million visitors each year, the Garden is Chicago's seventh largest cultural institution and 12th largest tourist attraction.

Designated Area

Located at 1000 Lake Cook Road, 20 miles north of Chicago near the Edens Expressway.

Bicycling along the Chicago Botanic Garden's East Road is a pleasure in any season. On this chilly spring day, cyclists pass in front of the 'Garden of Three Islands.' Courtesy Chicago Botanic Garden.

Planning Excellence

An integral part of the local community, the garden's community gardening program — called Windy City Harvest — distributed fresh food to an estimated 65,000 families, reaching a population of nearly 400,000 people. In 2011, the garden's 500 classes served kindergarteners through PhD students.

The garden is more than just a local treasure, but also a global trendsetter with Chinese, English, Italian, and Japanese design influences. It has collaborated with the United Nations World Environment Programme, Botanic Garden Conservation International (BGCI), England's Royal Botanic Gardens, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Bureau of Land Management.

First developed by John Simonds and Geoffrey Rausch in 1963, the garden's Master Site Plan is still being realized through the "Keep Growing" 10-year strategic plan that envisions further education and outreach programs. A new Horticulture Center is being planned to house the more than 250,000 plants that cycle through the garden's current production facilities each year.

Named for its circular boundary, the Circle Garden features a central dancing fountain with two intimate secret gardens off to each side. A central promenade invites strolling and close-up views of the cutting-edge plant combinations — here, a spring mix of tulips and narcissus. Courtesy Chicago Botanic Garden.

Defining Characteristics, Features


  • After first two plans rejected by Illinois court for poor planning, creation of Forest Preserve District of Cook County establishes largest forest preserve district in the U.S.
  • Inspired by Beijing's Imperial Gardens, landscape architects John O. Simonds and Geoffrey Rausch create first "green blueprint" (1963) and master plan (1968); garden opens in 1972
  • Noted architect Edward Larrabee Barnes' Education Center opens (1976), creating first space for botanical collection, education and research
  • Chicago Horticultural Society creates 1981 Master Site Plan, ambitiously expanding Simonds's original commitment to public education and research
  • TV-ratings heiress Gertrude Nielsen funds architect Geoffrey Rausch's Heritage Gardens (1983); plantings classified by family to honor botanist Carolus Linnaeus
  • One of only 17 public gardens accredited by the American Association of Museums, recognized for its living collection of 2.5 million plants, as well as for   its professionalism, public service, and planning excellence (2008)

Design excellence

  • Landscape designer Koichi Kawana designs Sansho-En garden to reflect tranquil Japanese feudal gardens (1982)
  • Architect Geoffrey Rausch models 1983 Heritage Garden after world's oldest botanic gardens in Padua, Italy
  • Landscape designer Dan Kiley's Esplanade (2005) bridges Italian Heritage Garden with 1993 Visitor Center by fusing classic European and modern architectural styles
  • Four preserved natural areas blend seamlessly into the gardens: 100-acre McDonald Woods, Dixon Prairie, Lakes and Shores area, Skokie River corridor
  • Krasberg Rose Garden (1985) displays nearly 5,000 roses, including one bed chronologically ordered from oldest wild rose to newest hybrid
  • Architect James van Sweden's New American Garden-style Evening Island features sweeping, naturalistic views and Dutch-crafted Butz Memorial carillon

Education and outreach

  • Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School offers 500 classes for more than 116,000 people; serves 80,000 children, two master's programs, and one PhD program offered in conjunction with Northwestern University
  • Lenhardt Library stores 110,000 historic documents and scholarly journals
  • College First program offers paid field ecology internships, college preparation, and career mentorship for 20 Chicago Public Schools high school students each year
  • Garden programs distributed 45,138 pounds of fresh food reaching 398,000 people, totaling 70 percent of all community market sales to low-income Chicago families

The 'Keep Growing' 10-year strategic plan, first established in 1963, envisioned further education and outreach, and is still being realized: rare plant species are monitored, ecology internships are offered, and fresh food is distributed. Courtesy Chicago Botanic Garden.


  • Chosen by United Nations Environment Programme as North American host of the 2008 World Environment Day celebration.
  • Collecting 10,000 seeds from each of 1,500 native tallgrass prairie plants as part of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Millennium Seed Bank Project; Plants of Concern project monitors rare species in northeast Illinois
  • Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center, designed by architecture firm Booth Hansen, awarded LEED Gold certification (2010)