Joan Johnson, Lake Forest

Joan Johnson
Board Member, Chicago Botanic Garden
Lake Forest

A native of Glencoe and mother of three, Joan Johnson grew up thinking of the Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG) as an extension of her own backyard. Life took her through the halls of Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, a career in marketing, and the warm climes of Argentina, but when she and her family moved back to Lake Forest, going to the Garden was like coming home. In 2006, she joined the board.

“Being asked to be on the board was the pinnacle of a welcome home,” says Joan, an avid vegetable gardener herself.

As part of her board membership, Joan helped raise funds for the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center, which was completed in 2009. The center, which houses laboratories and teaching facilities for scientists, students and the public, was awarded a Gold LEED rating for its sustainable construction, water efficiency, innovation and design.

“Being a teaching program, we had to walk the walk,” Joan says of the center’s design. “We wanted to be at the forefront of environmental and sustainable change.”

And the CBG tried to cut down on waste as much as possible. “Sure, it’s one thing to recycle, but can we come up with a way to reuse something instead?” Joan says. “We attempt to change the habits of visitors.”

As part of this endeavor, instead of selling plastic bottles of water, the Garden offers more durable bottles, made from recycled plastic, that can be reused. The bottles even come with clips to attach to backpacks.

The center is also the headquarters for the Garden’s plant conservation efforts, including a public Green Roof Garden and a Northwestern doctorate program specializing in plant biology and conservation. The seed bank contains seeds that date back to before the Midwest was colonized.

“We mark history through these plants and seeds,” Joan says. “The seed bank shows the evolution of this area, and how suburbia has affected the ecology.”

Johnson also serves on the board’s Summer Dinner Dance Committee and the Visitors’ Program and Marketing Committee. She’s gotten Lake Forest Country Day School involved in activities at the Garden, including field trips with her daughter’s class to learn about the sustainable building designs.

For World Environment Day on June 5, the Garden will be hosting farmers’ markets, tours and horticultural demonstrations, as well as collecting plant containers for recycling. For Johnson, it’s all part of why she loves exposing her family to Garden’s diverse blooms.

“There’s a deep connection among people, plants and enriching the lives of everyone—that’s the goal.”