Capturing the Holidays at The Chicago Botanic Garden

Article by Anne Belmont. Photos by Anne Belmont and Tony Reynes.  Featured photo by Tony Reynes.

The holidays provide some fun opportunities for photography at the Chicago Botanic Garden.  If you are a kid at heart or have children, don’t miss Wonderland Express, which runs from now until January 4th.  The exhibit is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (closed on Christmas Day and 3 p.m. closing on Christmas Eve).  Wonderland Express is a magical experience for all ages.  Regenstein Center is transformed into a winter wonderland of plants, miniature trains and detailed replicas of over 80 of Chicago’s buildings and landmarks.

Image by Anne Belmont

The trains, of course, are the stars of the show for the children, as well as the “snow” that falls within the exhibit. Capturing the faces of children as they watch the trains and delight in the holiday fun is the best photographic subject by far.  Adults will marvel at the beautifully laid-out plants – a collection of dwarf and mini conifers nestled in with the city landscapes along with other small plants, poinsettias and brightly-colored kalanchoe.

The detailed replicas are what capture my imagination, with many of our favorite photographic subjects from Chicago – “The Bean,” Willis Tower, the Hancock, the Navy Pier ferris wheel, to name a few. Each is meticulously constructed from natural materials – pine cones, bark, twigs, acorns, pods, seeds, grasses, and other bits from nature. Krehbiel Gallery, the main hallway of Regenstein, features landmarks of the North Shore, including scenes from the Garden and Baha’i Temple.   For more information and to order tickets in advance, check the CBG website:

Image by Anne Belmont
Image by Anne Belmont

While you are inside, take a stroll through the greenhouses to see the holiday displays.  The main path of the Tropical Greenhouse is lined with beautiful poinsettias. The palm trees along that path are wrapped in festive white lights. Look up to see the large balls of poinsettias hanging from the ceiling. Poinsettias are a common holiday flower and often overlooked in flower photography but they have beautiful patterns, textures and color variations when photographed up-close.

Image by Anne Belmont

The Arid Greenhouse features many pots and hanging baskets with bright red kalanchoe.  My personal favorite during the holidays are the amaryllis displays in the Semitropical Greenhouse.  This year they have ‘Pink Surprise’ amaryllis and they are beautiful to photograph.  Tripods are allowed in all greenhouses but not in Wonderland Express.

Image by Anne Belmont
Image by Anne Belmont

Because Wonderland Express is open until 6 p.m., well-past sunset, you can linger on the grounds of the Garden and photograph the light displays.  The seven cherry dogwood trees in the Heritage Garden are full of lights, as is the large fir tree in the center of the fountain.  The Esplanade features a 40-foot lighted fir tree, which is brought in each year by helicopter!  Across the lagoon are the festive lighted twig balls.  The Garden changes the layout of the light displays slightly each year.  Tony Reynes’s fabulous shot of the balls and tree in the Esplanade is from a previous year, so it is slightly different but no less beautiful this year.

Image by Tony Reynes

Make the Chicago Botanic Garden one of your holiday destinations! Happy holidays to all of you in the Out of Chicago community and may the new year bring many great photographic opportunities!

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