Exploring Wilmette: Chicago Botanic Garden

Situated just a short drive from Optima Verdana in Wilmette, the Chicago Botanic Garden stands as an architectural testament to the harmonious blend of art, nature, and community. It is a verdant oasis that transcends the traditional boundaries of urban landscaping, offering visitors an unforgettable experience.

This sprawling sanctuary covers an impressive 385 acres, strategically mapped out into 27 distinct gardens and four natural areas. It’s not just a garden; it’s a living canvas where architectural genius and nature’s beauty come together in a vibrant display of community spirit. Strolling through the winding paths reveals the careful landscape curations. The structures dotting the garden offer more than functionality; they’re creative landmarks contributing to a magical environment. From the modern flair of the energy-efficient Regenstein Learning Campus or the timeless elegance of the English Walled Garden’s trellis design, each corner unfurls a tale of architectural innovation.

These architectural marvels are not standalone elements. They enrich the landscape, facilitating coexistence between tranquil spaces like the Japanese Garden and the energetic vibes of the Model Railroad Garden. Such diverse experiences demonstrate the incredible potential when architecture underpins community spaces. It’s a place where families spend sunny afternoons, where friendships blossom over shared plant care tips, and where the community comes together to celebrate the natural beauty that is inherent in the surrounding city. The garden encapsulates the essence of community living – shared spaces that inspire, invigorate, and engage.

The Sensory Garden, Chicago Botanic Garden

In addition to its aesthetic charm and natural beauty, the Chicago Botanic Garden bustles with an array of special events. This summer, visitors can immerse themselves in the Love in Bloom exhibition, a captivating showcase of floral beauty, running until September 24, 2023. The After Buzz Hours offers a unique twist, allowing visitors to chat with garden scientists over cocktails. These events represent just a glimpse into the Garden’s dynamic calendar, which can be fully explored on their official website.

The Chicago Botanic Garden is more than an assortment of plants or an architectural accomplishment. It stands as a beacon of what can be achieved when architecture and nature unite.

Visiting hours are 10 AM to 8 PM daily, with tickets available for purchase on their website.

Zen Gardens 101

Zen gardens are synonymous with peaceful moments, stress reduction and thoughtful design. At Optima Kierland, our exclusive Club One amenity space features a zen garden to encourage those tranquil moments for our residents. To better understand the space and its history, today, we’re taking a look at zen gardens 101.

Purpose and History

As the name suggests, zen gardens were first designed to inspire meditation at Zen Buddhist temples. While Japanese rock gardens (inspired by the Chinese rock gardens that predated them) have been around since at least the Heian period (794-1185), the first rock garden considered a zen garden was built in 1334 by Buddhist monk and zen master Musō Kokushi. The idea was that monks would view the gardens while sitting outside of them and focus on the elements to hone their meditative practice. 

The development of zen gardens also pulled inspiration from Japanese ink landscape paintings at that time. Both art forms focused on winnowing down their composition to include only the essential elements of nature, which was then to be surrounded by an abundance of white space (in a painting, the blank page, and in a garden, the sand or gravel).

Elements of Zen Gardens

Zen gardens are defined by their unique stylized landscaping. The main eight elements are composed in intentional, meaningful arrangements. These elements include rocks (ishi), water elements (mizu), plants (shokubutsu), lanterns (tenkeibutsu), the borrowing from existing landscapes (shakkei) and bridges (hashi).

Each element is a meaningful symbol in Japanese culture, and their arrangement in the garden represents and honors that. Typically the gardens are brought together by gravel or sand, which is raked to represent rippling water. Emphasis is also placed on the principles of naturalness (Shizen), simplicity (Kanso), and austerity (koko).

At Optima, we’re honored to borrow from this deep and meaningful tradition. The zen gardens at Optima Kierland seamlessly blend the ancient tradition with the Modernist discipline, utilizing water, landscaping and open space to bring meaningful moments of zen and tranquility to our residents. 

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