The sun is out and the birds are chirping. What better way to spend a spring day than taking time to admire all the bursts of color and textures that Chicago has to offer? Here’s where to discover the city’s colorfully lush gardens and conservatories.
Take a short trip north of the city to Glencoe to visit the delightful Chicago Botanic Garden. Every year more than one million people are drawn to the 27 gardens and four natural areas. The Garden is beautifully situated on 385 acres that include nine islands with six miles of shoreline. Visitors will experience greenery from across the world, including a Japanese Garden, an English Walled Garden, and Bonsai collection, while getting better acquainted with plants native to Illinois and the Midwest. The Garden is open every day of the year with hours changing seasonally.
On the border of the Hyde Park and South Shore neighborhoods, tucked away inside Jackson Park, lies a traditional Japanese garden. The Garden of Phoenix originated in the 1893 Columbian Exposition when Japan built its pavilion–known as the Ho-o-den (Phoenix Temple)–on Northerly Island, one of the most visited parts of the Fair. Dedicated to the relationship between the United States and Japan, the pavilion included a small garden, illuminated at night with paper lanterns. In the 1930s the Chicago Park District restored the pavilion, created the more extensive Japanese Garden we see today, and dedicated it to Chicago’s Sister City, Osaka. The best time to visit the Garden is in late April to early May when its 160 cherry blossom trees burst into bloom, the spectacle lasting for 6 to 10 days.
Hidden away inside bustling Millennium Park is a seemingly secret garden. Celebrating Chicago’s transformation from a marshland to a city in a garden, or “Urbs in Horto” (Chicago’s motto), Lurie Garden is a garden in the city, a place of peaceful retreat. The Garden – designed by renowned Dutch landscape architect Piet Oudolf (also known for the High Line in NYC) – was intended to be a healthy habitat for a wide variety of plants, animals, and insects. You can enjoy Lurie Garden year-round as its appearance changes texture and color with the seasons.
Visit one of the largest and most stunning botanical greenhouses in the nation, Chicago’s own Garfield Park Conservatory. Through eight indoor displays, the Conservatory showcases thousands of plant species from around the world. Open year-round, visitors can explore the lush flora and fauna in tropical temperatures indoors, or the 10-acres of gardens outdoors. The Conservatory features nature play spaces for children, a water lily pond with koi, and works of art throughout. Parking and admission are free to the public, but donations are always welcome.
In the South Loop lies an intimate space that honors the contributions of women to the city. This small urban park features evocative sculpture honoring Chicago activist and social worker Jane Addams, indigenous plants and trees, pathways, a classical fountain, lovingly tended community garden plots, and the Clarke Museum, Chicago’s oldest house (open to the public). Popular for weddings, childrens’ play, and events such as the Night Out in the Park, Chicago’s Women’s Park and Gardens is a city gem.
Looking to be transported to another time? The Lincoln Park Conservatory hearkens to the late 19th century, when it was built to provide glass-covered green space for city dwellers. This indoor park within Chicago’s largest outdoor park invites you to explore tropical palms and ancient ferns, just as people have done for over a century. The Conservatory offers a tropical experience in four display houses. The thousands of plants grown in the Conservatory can be appreciated year-around with free admission.