A little boy dressed in his holiday finest is crouched by a display that features a small tunnel, perfectly eye level with his tiny stature. He is waiting for a miniature train to pass through. Whispers from his mother of “Be patient. It’s coming…” can be heard. Squeals of delight echo through the Regenstein Center of the Chicago Botanic Garden, as the train emerges through the tunnel and chugs by him! His mother smiles and is almost as excited as her son to wait for the next one to fly past.
It takes seven weeks and a team of hundreds to transform the Chicago Botanic Garden from a horticultural heaven to a winter wonderland fit for any child’s wildest imagination. Beginning on November 26, dreams truly come to life during the Garden’s Wonderland Express exhibit, a venerable holiday joyride of twinkling lights, garden-scale trains, and miniature Chicago landmarks. Adults and children can delight in miniature replicas of Navy Pier, Soldier Field, Millennium Park, The Shedd Aquarium, and, appropriately, the Stanley Cup to honor this year’s champion Chicago Blackhawks.
As expected, the exhibit is made from all-natural materials. Onlookers marvel at how tiny pieces of layered white pine bark and catalpa beans give the illusion of a brick façade on the replica of President’s Obama’s Kenwood home. The Old Stone Gate of Chicago Stockyard fame is crafted out of walnut shells, poppy seeds, and beech bark, and is topped off with magnolia leaves, pine cone scales, and leaves from a burning bush. Also keeping with the environmentally conscious theme, the Garden is reusing more than 75 percent of the outdoor LED lights from last year, cutting down on cost and refuse.
While the exhibit is a delight to children, adults have just as much fun at the sight of these miniatures. “Because Wonderland Express has such an array of components, the exhibition appeals to all ages,” says Jodi Zombolo, Director of Visitor Events & Programs at the Garden. “Adults appreciate the minute detail of the Chicago landmark replicas made out of all natural materials and revel in the stunning horticulture.”
To make a great tradition like Wonderland Express even more magical, realistic snow falls throughout the exhibit. And that can turn any adult into a kid again.
Wonderland Express hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., November 26 through January 2. The exhibit will be closed at 3 p.m. on December 2 and 24, and all day on December 25. Tickets are available at the Information Desk in the Visitor Center, or online at chicagobotanic.org. Cost is $10 for adults ($2 less for Garden members) and $8 for children ages 3 to 12 and senior citizens ages 62-plus. Admission on Tuesdays through December 21 is free. Parking for non-members is $20.