Winter Beauty at the Chicago Botanic Gardens

Darkness slid slowly across the icy blue water of the lake towards Horaijima – the Island of Everlasting Happiness – as the sun set. On the island, Canadian geese bathed in the disappearing sunlight as a moon nearing fullness rose behind them. It was nearing sunset at the Japanese garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Picturesque scenes such as this make winter a good time to visit the Botanic Garden.

“It’s in its own way as beautiful as in the spring when the bulbs are coming up, or in the summer. In the winter, it kind of has that feeling of a refuge, and it’s quiet. You can see, you know, the birds more. It has a whole new level of kind of, peace, because we don’t have thousands of people here, too,” said Jennifer Groskopf, the manager of visitor services at the Garden.

She recommended visiting the Japanese garden, greenhouses, and Dwarf Conifer garden during the winter months. Because both the Japanese and Conifer Gardens have many evergreen trees planted in them, they are green and beautiful year-round, Groskopf said.

Inside the tropical greenhouse, Jill Zigler, 35, offered a reason for the popularity of the greenhouses: “In a typical winter, this would be my favorite garden – just because it’s so warm,” she laughed.

The winter season also offers the opportunity to take gorgeous shots for photographers. 72-year-old Marty Winn said he was part of the Garden photo club that meets once a month to take pictures. “Sometimes when it snows there are interesting snow patterns. When the snow sticks to trees, you can get a nice photo,” he said.

Like Winn, Joy Howard, 30, enjoys the beauty of the snow. She said she liked visiting the Japanese Garden after it snows because “the way that it shapes the plants makes it interesting.”

The Japanese garden is a favorite during the winter season for Howard, but also to part-time Garden tour guide Lynn McKary, 58. “The Japanese garden in particular – they don’t consider winter dormant. They consider winter as important as any other season, and I just love that idea. They don’t wait out the winter. They say, ‘okay, it’s winter, so what? It’s going to be great,’” she said, referring to the Japanese.

The simplicity of the Japanese garden appealed to Gordy Okeke, 51. “My window through which I see the world is beauty. For me, I think the most beautiful place in the Botanic Gardens is the Japanese garden. There’s an old saying: truth is simple, if it were complicated, everyone would get it. So there isn’t any cluster here, everything is free, like a breath of fresh air,” he said by a bridge in the expansive Japanese garden.

As the sun made its way down, Okeke looked at the water surrounding the garden and said, “I love the position of water and ice – because when we were coming down here, part of it was flowing water and part of it was frozen. I saw beauty in that.”