August 21, 2018

The Garden in the City in a Garden

Chicago’s skylines and urban landscape might be the coolest and most interesting this side of Manhattan, but did you know that there’s a totally different kind of landscape right in the middle of the city’s West side? The Garfield Park Conservatory is one of the biggest and oldest greenhouses and indoor nature preserves in the US. Dating back to the early 20th century, the Conservatory functions as a funny combination of museum, garden center, and community center. Each of its greenhouse rooms are dedicated to something a little bit different. Visitors are greeting by dozens of different types of exotic palm trees (which are pretty are and apparently very difficult to cultivate and maintain out of their natural environs) in the very first room, followed by a number of different rooms and garden arranged with some interesting things in mind.

The Fern Room, as you might imagine, has a lot of ferns. But it’s more than that—it’s an exotic swampland filled with luscious shades of green and blue, complete with a lagoon in the middle—nothing less than a vivid recreation of what the land our great city lies on might have looked like thousands of years ago. It’s a drastic shift, then, to the Desert House, which might sound a little self-explanatory, but you’d be shocked at how many colors, shapes, and sizes a cactus can come in. The exhibits only get more interesting from there. The “Sugar From The Sun” room, for example, is all about photosynthesis, and using the themes of water, air, sunlight, and sugar, you learn all about the process that allows these plants to grow and thrive, even in the heart of a Chicago winter.

There’s plenty of labeling, signs, posters, and helpful employees, so you’re always going to be learning something. And if you just want to see some pretty flowers, there are rooms upon rooms upon rooms of those, and the outdoor butterfly garden is a beautiful place to sit and eat lunch during the spring, summer, and early fall. It’s one of those unexpected sites that makes this city so great. You just never quite know what you’re gonna find.

(cover photo/Lee Adlak)