Shedd Gardens

Garden design: Right plant, right place!

We design gardens that are best suited to our landscape’s growing conditions. Our south terrace gardens feature a low-maintenance garden planted with native and drought-tolerant plants. The garden produces flowers throughout the season, making it a great place to watch the bees and butterflies at work collecting nectar.

Rain Garden

On the opposite side of the building, our rain garden uses native plants in a different way. Instead of tolerating very little water, our rain garden loves every drop sent its way! A downspout from the stone terrace above directs rainwater into a shallow depression filled with deep-rooted, water-loving plants. These plants slowly filter water into the ground, reducing the debris-filled runoff generated by heavy rains. Rain gardens filter polluted water that would otherwise flow through sewer systems into rivers and lakes.

Migratory Bird Garden

In Shedd’s migratory bird garden, native plants not only provide natural nutrition to our avian and apian friends (the birds and the bees, that is), but they also have eliminated the need for irrigation. Native plants are adapted to live in our soils and with our amount of rainfall. Because the garden is next to a large stone terrace, we have installed rain barrels to collect runoff rainwater that can be used for supplemental watering during droughts.

Water Conservation

In addition to rain barrels and the use of native plants, Shedd uses other methods to minimize water consumption. Mulching helps the soil retain moisture (and keep weeds at bay!) Our favorite mulch is cocoa shells from Chicago’s own Blommer’s Chocolates. The shells are a natural by-product from the chocolate-making process and do not require extra resources to produce. You’ll know when we’ve laid down a layer of mulch by the dark chocolate color and aroma!

Lawn Care

We use organic lawn care practices to nurture 1½ acres of lawn along Lake Michigan. Healthy lawns with deep roots can better fight weeds for soil, space, water and nutrients; to strengthen the root system, Shedd keeps our lawn around 3 inches high. The taller the grass grows, the deeper the roots go. Deep roots require less supplemental watering in summer, while taller grass shades out germinating weed seeds. 

Composting for your Garden

Compost is the result of natural processes that breakdown plant, animal and food waste into nutrients for recycling back into the soil. We use our own garden trimmings — weeds, grass, leaves—and leftovers from our kitchen mixed with bark, straw, woodchips, sawdust and chipped brush. Building soil is important to producing good yields. We don’t fertilize our gardens, we build soil.

Edible Organic Gardens

We take great pride in our organic gardens. We use compost to improve our soils instead of chemicals and conventional fertilizers. We hand-water where we can to reduce our water usage. This way every plant gets the right amount. We intersperse our vegetable plantings with ornamentals and native plants to increase diversity and attract pollinators and predators where needed. More pollinators mean more fruit production, plus it’s just FUN!

Edible Plants

Edible plants flourish at Shedd. Our restaurant visitors as well as our employees and animals enjoy the bounty of our fruit, vegetable and herb gardens. Our 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! This saves time — and energy. We have a traditional backyard vegetable garden where we grow in raised beds and rows. We make compost here and have a cold frame to extend our growing season.

Urban Demonstration Garden

In addition, we have an urban demonstration garden showing how to grow lots of vegetables in a small space. This garden is divided into six 4-by-4-foot squares with paths that provide access to each bed’s center. We plant intensively here, intercropping our beds to get the most from the space. Tomatoes, peppers and herbs all grow together thickly. We also grow a lot of crops vertically: melons, beans and cucumbers. Using trellises and fencing is a great way to grow more in less space.

Green Tips

Check out our green tips

Shedd Gardens Map

Check out our sustainable gardens map!

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