When you grow up in a family that owns a plant-based business, you spend a lot of time rolling your eyes as your parents discuss things like what kind of lavender is growing in front of Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyland. You also live in constant fear of family vacations becoming outings to local nurseries and greenhouses. The worst of these are trips to botanic gardens. Botanic gardens are, in the eyes of a child who lives in a giant plant science lab, endless expanses of space filled with absolutely nothing to do except read Latin names on weathered stakes. Such a child does not comprehend why her parents want to spend hours trekking around examining plants they already grow at home, for pete’s sake. (In fact, my most vivid botanic garden memory is of visiting the National Botanical Garden in DC 6 or 7 years ago. I’d not slept in 36 hours and could barely even stand up without falling asleep. I believe I ended up sacked out on a bench somewhere.)
Mom has been visiting me for the past couple of weeks. Today, I suggested — of my own free will! — that I drive us up to the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe. She asked multiple times if I were sure that were really what I wanted to do with my spare time. She remembers dragging her pain-in-the-butt kids around to botanic gardens, too. But nowadays, far removed from the 20 acres I grew up on, open space is something I crave desperately. Finding solitude in the middle of Boystown is difficult even in my own apartment.
Today, I had a wonderful time walking around the 300+ acre grounds of the Chicago Botanic Garden, feeling like I could breathe again. We watched a French chef prepare a delicious pickled beet salad and learned what lemon confit is. We saw swans, hills of zinnas, a bell tower, vibrant water lilies. We made stupid faces. We imagined white-gloved soirees taking place on the manicured grounds — and then we saw a wedding reception being set up that fit our imaginary bill. We made fun of women who wore high heels to a 300-acre garden. If it had been nothing else, it was fantastic quality time with my best friend.
But there was a business side that I’d never appreciated before, too. Mom pointed out plants that she wanted photos of, and I obliged. She showed me plants she and Dad had previously sold, told me about the difference between true geraniums and scented geraniums, ranted about how it made no sense to refer to the Lamiaceae family as the “mint family” because rosemary and many other things are in it. (I even properly identified a Nutmeg Geranium. I was proud.) I am truly in awe of the knowledge she has that even these massive, well-staffed organizations don’t possess. She has assembled bits of truly ancient history with more recent narratives to form a more complete picture (like exactly why a certain variety has been bred, or why we use one herb for something today when historically it wasn’t used for that). Hell, she recently spent an entire day researching the Moroccan mint tea custom and its roots.
And you know what? This stuff is fascinating. Take that, 12-year-old me.
Mom and I drove home in heavy traffic which, we later discovered, was caused by a Bruce Springsteen concert at Wrigley Field. And we had to walk home more than a mile through throngs of drunken humanity, carrying the newspaper-wrapped parcels of dried flowers we’d bought at the garden. You want to trip out a bunch of concert-goers? Carry around something that looks like roses wrapped in newsprint. One crossing guard even chuckled and said to Mom, “Bringing roses to Bruce?”
We decided that the best concerts are the ones that you don’t actually go to and can therefore lie about:
“I still can’t believe Bruce threw his underwear at you.”
“Bruce and I go way back, honey. Maybe someday I’ll tell you about it.”