Before I recap last night’s excellent Wine & Wildflowers Garden Party, I have to confess something I learned just recently about zoo grounds. This summer we’re showcasing a pink color scheme.
We saw it first in the rows of tulips announcing the early arrival of spring in March. It continues now in the bubblegum and mini-me petunias blooming in planters throughout the zoo, the impatiens and coleus thriving in shade.
Fuego pink verbena (smaller) and mini-me petunias are among the flowers highlighting the season’s pink color scheme in the zoo’s gardens.
The pink palette was just one of the garden highlights shared at last night’s sold-out celebration, hosted by Judy Keller, a member of the Board of Trustees and a longtime friend of the zoo.
Director of Horticulture Brian Houck, Senior Vice President of Operations Troy Baresel and me with board member Judy Keller, who hosted the garden party.
Guests strolled the grounds to see all the flowers in full bloom. They sampled a range of wines, enjoyed barbecue hors d'oeuvres and listened to a live bluegrass performance. More than anything, they came to appreciate that while Lincoln Park Zoo will always be a home for wildlife, it’s also a carefully cultivated showcase for stems and sprouts, petals and leaves.
In the spirit of the event, here are a few other things I’ve learned about the zoo’s gardens.
The oldest plant of zoo grounds is the burr oak tree west of the gibbon exhibit at the Helen Brach Primate House. Its exact age is unknown, but our experts estimate it’s approximately 150 years old. There are several other oaks of similar vintage scattered throughout the zoo—see if you can spot them next time you visit.
About 100 garden volunteers do most of the lifting, pulling, planting and trimming to make the zoo beautiful. Headquartered in landmark Carlson Cottage, they split their time between the main zoo and the prairie landscape of Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo. Even the animal exhibits grow under their guidance—although those touch-ups have to be scheduled more carefully than others.
More than 700 species of plants have been identified on zoo grounds, all catalogued in a massive database managed by Director of Horticulture Brian Houck. As he tells me, “You can’t be a proper garden without a proper database.” Whenever a new species is spotted, volunteers call in Brian’s staff to identify it. More than aesthetic concerns are at stake; we have to ensure every plant is safe for the zoo’s animals.
Last night, beyond enjoying the current bounty of the zoo’s gardens, we also shared a glimpse into the future. We’re in the process of crafting a long-term garden master plan. The goals are to enhance the gardens throughout the zoo, offer spectacular views in all seasons and integrate the landscape and wildlife habitats into a truly immersive visitor experience.
Brian shares future ideas for the zoo’s gardens.
The plans are still in draft stage. But it was fun to see some of the possibilities, from converting the Main Mall into a tree-lined promenade to using topiary and sculpture to announce the zoo’s presence to every passerby on Lake Shore Drive.
I’ll keep you informed as these ideas make the transition from possibility to reality. In the meantime, as you visit the zoo’s world of wildlife, be sure to extend your appreciation to the gardens as well. There’s even a free garden tour scheduled August 11. If you couldn’t make last night’s Wine & Wildlife Garden Party, it’s the next best thing to grow your understanding—and appreciation.