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Regenstein Learning Campus at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Landscape Performance Benefits


  • Reduces stormwater runoff volumes by 12% for a 2-year, 24-hour storm.
  • Reduces the amount of water needed for irrigation by an estimated 63% in July by planting native and adaptive species, saving $1,300 in irrigation costs for July alone, the month with the highest irrigation demand.
  • Removes 81% of total suspended solids through natural areas, grass filters, and manufactured water quality treatment devices.
  • Expands the flood storage capacity of the site by 27,078 cu ft.
  • Added 57,201 sf of new habitat, resulting in 101,572 sf of habitat for pollinators and wildlife. The site attracts at least 11 observed species of birds and mammals including chipmunks, red-winged blackbirds, and grackles.


  • Supports engagement with the outdoors and a greater understanding of nature. 65% of 17 field trip teachers reported outdoor activities as helpful for their field trip program.
  • Contributed to an estimated 30% increase in participation in drop-in educational programs between 2014 and 2018. In 2018, the Nature Play Gardens attracted 53,222 participants for 1,233 formal programs including field trips, camps, nature preschool, scouts, and family programs.
  • Supports important developmental skills in children. When observed playing together through almost 4,000 observations, 27% of children demonstrated motor skills, 22% problem-solving, 20% risk-taking, and 15% empathy.


  • Created 1 full-time and 6 seasonal teaching positions along with 1 part-time maintenance position.
  • Generated $2.25 million in capital funds and catalyzed over $130,000 in scholarships for youth education, part of which supported 15 student scholarships for free or reduced-cost camp and Nature Preschool sessions.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Mikyoung Kim Design; Jacobs/Ryan Associates

  • Project Type


  • Former Land Use


  • Location

    Nature Preschool
    Glencoe, Illinois 60022
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  • Climate Zone

    Humid continental

  • Size

    6 acres

  • Budget

    $21.8 million

  • Completion Date


The Regenstein Nature Play Garden located within the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois is a 6-acre educational landscape that expands upon the Garden’s already nationally recognized facilities and programming for early childhood development. The new, more cohesive learning campus consists of a nature play garden, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation Plaza, an entry drive, and Learning Center building with outdoor classrooms. These elements provide a stronger connection between the existing Kleinman Family Cove and the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden to encourage exploration of the entire learning campus and reconnect youth with the natural world. Open seven days a week, the campus allows over 125,000 visitors each year to explore rolling hills and water features, learn in outdoor classrooms, engage with plants to understand ecological systems, and have an interactive experience through nature play. Woodland plant communities and nature play elements run along the perimeter of the site, creating a natural link to the surrounding Chicago Botanic Garden facilities and core grounds.


Project goals:

  • Facilitate connections between visitors and the environment.
  • Stimulate nature play to encourage development of children’s social, cognitive, and physical skills.
  • Enhance and support existing child and adult education programs and create opportunities for outdoor learning.
  • Expand Chicago Botanic Garden woody and herbaceous plant collections.
  • Create universally accessible play areas for people of all ages and abilities.
  • Accommodate up to a 100-year flood per regulation and reduce runoff volume by 10%.
  • The site is host to various landscape typologies from an upland play mound area to a lowland fountain. 
  • The interactive stone water runnel loop is a space for children to play within the watercourse, dip their feet in, and touch the water as it flows through the loop and shoots out of universally accessible boulders. The runnel was created from local materials from the Midwest. A water recirculation and treatment system recycles water used in the water runnel.
  • 3 rain gardens, natural areas, grass filters, and manufactured water quality treatment devices remove total suspended solids, retain stormwater, and mitigate flooding on the site. The rain garden plantings include Viking black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa ‘Viking’), Brandywine viburnum (Viburnum nudum ‘Bulk’), and ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’)
  • 6,950 sf of permeable pavers and 900 sf of grass pavers in the emergency fire lanes detain stormwater runoff.
  • The site’s planting design reestablished native plant communities including woodlands and native prairie grass. 66,876 perennial plants representing 92 species and 1,838 woody plants representing 79 species were planted on the site. More than 58% of plants are native to the region. 
  • 11 large existing trees on-site were preserved including chinkapin oak, Sunburst honeylocust, and Norway spruce. 65 existing trees including Kentucky coffeetree, maple, and hawthorn were moved from the site to temporary planting locations nearby during construction and then replanted onto the project site. 32 other trees were transplanted to other locations on the greater Chicago Botanic Garden property.
  • The multisensory experience of the site is supported by the planting palette, which was designed to provide color, scent, texture, and sound. The nature play elements, for example, the hollowed out logs and water runnel, also encourage touch and sensory development in children. 
  • The woodland perimeter of the site hosts other nature play elements including a willow tunnel, hornbeam council ring, and climbable logs. 
  • 1 parking space for a low-emitting and fuel-efficient vehicle and 9 bike racks accommodate alternative transportation.
  • Because the site is located within a floodplain, special measures and mandates to improve flood resilience were required by Cook County. this included a mandate to provide compensatory storage, which requires the equivalent amount of fill and lost storage to be compensated on a 1:1 basis plus 50% of additional capacity to improve flood resiliency. While these special measures and mandates do help to mitigate flooding, they are not foolproof. The site continues to reach its capacity of water containment and floods during heavy rainfall and significant stormwater events. Flooding poses a challenge to the site for multiple reasons including the ability to use the site for nature play and education and the survival rate of some of the plant species. As a result, the design team has continued to monitor which species survive (Andropogon gerardii ‘Dancing Wind’ and Stokesia laevis ‘Blue Danube’, for example) during these storm events and which do not (Hypericum kalmianum ‘Blues Festival’ and Heuchera ‘Carnival Rose Granita’, for example) to improve the planting plan’s flood resiliency.
  • While the project team saved soil from the existing site with the intention of reusing it on the site post-construction, it was not all needed for the project. In the end, the team had to find other locations on the Chicago Botanic Garden grounds to place the excess soil.

Natural stone/limestone pavers: Eden/Valder Stone
Hardscape/permeable pavers: Unilock
Lighting/light bollards: Louis Poulsen
Furniture/benches: Shackleton Thomas
Modular suspended pavement system: DeepRoot Silva Cells
Path paving: Old Tyme Screening by Thelen’s
Grasspave2 system: Invisible Structures

Project Team

Client: Chicago Botanic Garden
Landscape Architect (concept): Mikyoung Kim Design
Landscape Architect (design development through construction): Jacobs/Ryan Associates
Landscape Subcontractor: Clauss Brothers, Inc.
Architect: Booth Hansen
Civil Engineer: Gewalt Hamilton Associates
Fountain Equipment: HydroDramatics
General Contractor: Turner Construction
Runnel Contractor: Masonry by Fernando
Irrigation Contractor: Halloran & Yauch

Role of the Landscape Architect

The original landscape architect provided conceptual landscape design services while the prime landscape architect for design development and construction administration developed specific designs for play areas, outdoor classrooms, rainwater gardens, and campus layout connections along with the civil engineer.


Stormwater management, Water conservation, Water quality, Flood protection, Habitat creation, preservation & restoration, Health & well-being, Educational value, Job creation, Other economic, Play equipment, Trees, Permeable paving, Bioretention, Native plants, Local materials, Active living, Biodiversity, Learning landscapes, Play, Resilience

The LPS Case Study Briefs are produced by the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF), working in conjunction with designers and/or academic research teams to assess performance and document each project. LAF has no involvement in the design, construction, operation, or maintenance of the projects. See the Project Team tab for details. If you have questions or comments on the case study itself, contact us at email hidden; JavaScript is required.

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