In 1996, the concept of creating a Botanic Garden at The University of Chicago was reborn. John Coulter approached President William Rainey Harper in the 1890s with the concept of establishing Botanic Gardens when the campus was in its infancy. Though the idea was dismissed at the time, President Hugo Sonnenschein heeded his advice more than a century late and saw the possibilities that such an initiative could bring to the University.
In 1997, the University moved forward with establishing ongoing funding for the Botanic Garden initiative. That year, the University requested and received the designation and as a Botanic Garden from the American Association of Botanic Gardens and Arboreta (now the American Public Garden Association), and has been a proud member ever since.
Our campus is one of only a few Universities where the campus itself is a botanic garden or arboretum. Swarthmore College’s Scott Arboretum, which encompasses the entire campus, has served as the model for much of the work that has taken place at Chicago. Other institutions that have a garden associated with the campus, but do not consider the entire campus its garden, such as the Sara P. Duke Gardens at Duke University and the Morris Arboretum, about 10 miles from the University of Pennsylvania.
As such, our garden is unique in many ways being located within an urban context, near Lake Michigan, and on a campus that is over 100 years old.