The Shedd Aquarium Gardens Review – An Unexpected and Delightful Surprise

Recently, I had the unusual opportunity of joining the North Shore Garden Club on a visit to the gardens at the Shedd Aquarium.  When I think of the aquarium, garden is not the first thought that comes to mind.  However, on this visit, I learned that there are extensive and varied gardens at Shedd.  All about the Shedd Sustainable Gardens


The North Shore Garden Club arrives

Christine Nye was our very knowledgeable and charming guide. I was curious about Christine and the gardens of the Shedd Aquarium.  When I asked for help from Nicole Minadeo, Director of Public Relations who shared following  answers.

1.     How long has Christine Nye been in her position?


a) She has been at Shedd since 1993 (working part time on exhibits) and in her role as Manager of Horticulture programs since 1998.


Chritine tells about the Paw Paw trees


2.    What is Christine’s correct title?


 a)      Manager, Horticulture Programs



Christine tells about the edible garden


3.    How is the produce from the edible garden used?


a) The produce is used in a variety of ways. Our gardens are used as a teaching tool for Shedd guests to see how they can use Shedd’s practices of sustainable gardening in their own backyards, using methods like composting to replace chemical laden fertilizers and strategies to keep their gardens healthy without the use of pesticides. Edible plants flourish at Shedd and our restaurant visitors as well as our employees and animals enjoy the bounty of our fruit, vegetable and herb gardens. Shedd’s edible plants are grown organically and don’t have to travel far — a quick snip and they’re inside the aquarium being fed to lizards and tortoises, or staff! Additionally, since 2011, Shedd has donated more than 360 pounds of food from its organic gardens to the Pacific Garden Mission – a homeless shelter and rescue mission -- in Chicago’s South Loop.



Christine explains an area that had a lot of problems


 4.   From the perspective of Shedd, how do the gardens enhance a visitor’s experience?


a)   In addition to keeping Shedd’s exterior beautiful and vibrant for visitors, the gardens are a living classroom for patrons to learn about sustainable gardening practices in their own backyards, and to learn about the native plants that call the Midwest home. Each of Shedd’s 13 gardens have a unique story to tell. Shedd’s low maintenance gardens show guests what types of plantings can thrive will little water to save resources. Shedd’s urban vegetable garden proves just how little space is needed to grow a bounty of crops – its intensive use of interplanting techniques can show how even the most space-cramped urban Chicago rooftop or backyard can yield healthy produce. The bird and wildlife gardens along Lake Michigan’s shoreline are an example of how native plants and insects attract a diverse group of migrating birds each year for nesting. For a full map of Shedd’s gardens and descriptions, click here.



Cactus survives in the winter


5.   Is there a tour of the kind that was offered to our group or any similar garden tour available to the  general public?


a)  Shedd’s gardens offer a dynamic system of signage throughout the campus, allowing patrons an   opportunity for a rich self-guided tour using maps and way-finding.


The water garden approaching the Shedd


6.    If you can share a bit of Christine's history at Shedd, it would be great.


a)   Christine joined Shedd in 1998 as horticulture manager. While her career at first was working inside exhibit spaces, Christine was quick to transfer her skills to the acres outside Shedd, establishing a thriving ecosystem of gardens stocked with native plants, organic lawns and wild-life friendly habitats. Aside from being an expert caretaker of all plant life around the Shedd, Christine’s role is very much that of an educator and advocate. She works with about a dozen teens each summer teaching sustainable landscaping and instilling in them a sense of pride for native plants. Additionally, she’s an ambassador for Shedd’s composting and pesticide-free plantings, working with local landscaping companies to share her knowledge. She is also responsible for the removal of an acre and a half of lawn around Lake Michigan, which was replaced with native plants and shrubs that are much more efficient to maintain, and that attract local birds and wildlife.


Looking at the retaurant and a wataer garden



An area for future planting

Because of Christine’s knowledge, enthusiasm and wit, our group had the opportunity to see and learn about areas at the Shedd Aquarium we never knew were there.  It was fascinating to learn about which plants worked and which did not. There were also plants that were new to us. This was all in addition to the aquarium, the show and the great food at the restaurant.  It was a delightful and memorable day, made even more special by the wonderful weather. 


A home for insects

Photos: B. Keer



From the steps near the restaurant at the Shedd Aquarium










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