For 25 years, the University of Chicago campus botanic garden has functioned as an aesthetic and educational display, offering a thriving oasis within Chicago’s urban landscape. Home to more than 1,400 perennials and 4,500 trees, the garden recently received the Tree Campus USA honor from the Arbor Day Foundation for its ongoing commitment to promoting green space. With the campus’ spring plantings now in full bloom, it is easy to see why the campus has earned these distinctions.
President Hugo Sonnenschein first initiated the construction of a botanic garden at UChicago in 1996, acting on a concept first proposed by John Coulter of the University’s botany department in the 1890s. The Botanic Garden Initiative, an ongoing funding effort to enhance and beautify campus landscaping, was so successful just a year later in 1997 that it earned the University the official designation as a botanic garden by what is now known as the American Public Garden Association. To date, UChicago is one of the only universities whose entire campus is classified as a botanic garden.
Much of the improvements to the 217-acre landscape were cultivated by longtime Richard Bumstead, the longtime associate director for campus environment. After Bumstead retired following 35 years of service, Katie Martin Peck succeeded him in 2019, bringing more than 15 years of experience to the UChicago facilities services department.
On a given day, Peck works with her campus planning and sustainability team, the president’s office and many other departments to maintain campus beauty throughout the year.
"It’s a really interesting space to walk through that is not only an oasis in the surrounding urban context, but is educational and informative and has spaces I would believe for just about everyone to enjoy," said Peck, who works to evaluate the long-term viability of plants, maintain the garden’s biodiversity and promote overall sustainability.
Visit the UChicago College website to learn more about how the campus functions as a botanic garden—including responses from Peck and UChicago colleague Brandon Rux on some of their favorite spaces.