The garden is operated by the Chicago Horticultural Society, founded 1890, for collections, education, and research. Its ground-breaking was in 1965, with the official opening in 1972.
Today the garden contains some 2.2 million plants representing 8,310 taxa, displayed in landscape settings. One-third of the site is devoted to horticultural display; another third is native habitats; and the remaining third is lakes and facilities. Its 26 major gardens and natural areas are as follows:
- Aquatic Garden - waterlilies and lotuses.
- Bulb Garden - a fine display of flowering bulbs.
- Children's Garden - garden beds for children, with evergreen maze and prairie garden.
- Circle Garden - a formal garden of annual flowers, with flowering trees, evergreens, and shrubs.
- Dixon Prairie - restored prairies (15 acres), featuring six prairie types once common to northeastern Illinois (Bur Oak Savanna, Fen Prairie, Gravel Hill Prairie, Sand Prairie, Tall grass or Mesic Prairie, Wet Prairie).
- Dwarf Conifer Garden - dwarf and slow-growing conifers.
- Enabling Garden - demonstration garden for making gardening accessible to everyone.
- English Oak Meadow - a flowering sweep of bulbs, fragrant annuals, and flowering shrubs set between Asian, English, and native oaks.
- English Walled Garden - 6 garden "rooms" in English Gardening styles (Vista Garden, Cottage Garden, Pergola Garden, Daisy Garden, Courtyard Garden and Checkerboard Garden).
- Evening Island - 5 acres of hillside, woodland and meadow gardens in the New American Garden style, including 66,000 perennials of 66 species, along with 13,400 ornamental grasses of 12 species.
- Fruit & Vegetable Garden - demonstration garden for edible fruits and vegetables.
- The Greenhouses - 3 greenhouses (semitropical, tropical, arid) designed by architect Edward L. Barnes in 1978.
- Heritage Garden - modeled after Europe's first botanical garden in Padua, Italy, and divided into four quadrants highlighting the major plant families and geographic regions of the world.
- Japanese Garden - Sansho-En, "the garden of three islands," designed as a Japanese stroll garden with curving paths, featuring tea ceremonies in the Shoin Building, a recreation of a 17th-century Samurai's retreat.
- Lakeside Gardens - 1.25 miles circling the Great Basin, with 130 crab apple trees, as well as daffodils, tulips, and perennials such as day lilies, geraniums, and asters.
- Landscape Gardens - demonstration gardens for home landscapes, with plants hardy for the Chicago region.
- McDonald Woods - 100-acre oak woodland, currently being restored to pre-settlement condition.
- Native Plant Garden - three distinct communities of Illinois native plants (woodland, prairie, habitat).
- Rose Garden - more than 5,000 rose bushes.
- Sensory Garden - emphasizing scents, sounds, colors and texture.
- Shade Plant Evaluation Garden - testing area for evaluating the performance of shade-loving plants for the Chicago area.
- Skokie River - one-mile stretch of river, serving as a demonstration site for natural methods to control erosion, improve water quality, and increase biological diversity.
- Spider Island - an island meadow with naturalistic plantings of trees, grasses and native wildflowers, surrounded by birches, alders and service berries.
- Sun Plant Evaluation Garden - testing area for evaluating the performance of sun-loving plants for the Chicago area.
- Water Gardens - a major aquatic plant collection with more than 165,000 aquatic plants, including showy displays of lotuses and waterlilies, as well as 157 taxa of native aquatic plants.
- Waterfall Garden - a 45-foot waterfall with small pools.
- About a ten minute walk outside of the CBG grounds is the historic Skokie Lagoons.
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