I accomplished a somewhat long-standing goal of mine on Saturday: go to the Garfield Park Conservatory during the winter. I visited the conservatory when I did my internship in Chicago in 2011, but hadn’t been back since I moved to the city after college. Two years ago, Erin posted about going to the conservatory to take pictures among greenery in the dead of a Chicago winter, and I was immediately inspired. It took me two years to actually act on said inspiration, but better late than never, right?
The Garfield Park Conservatory is really something. It opened 110 years ago as the brainchild of renowned landscape architect Jens Jensen with the intention of creating the largest public conservatory in the world. The design, featuring plants in landscape instead of lined up in pots, was a brand new idea at the time and made the conservatory a particularly unique place. Over a century later, I still think it’s particularly unique, if for no other reason than that it transports you to a totally different world right in the middle of the West Side.
The conservatory has eight rooms, each with a different theme: ferns, palms, aroids, and others. I particularly enjoyed the Show House, which featured so many beautiful flowers (though I’m sure it will soon feature even more: a spring flower show starts on Saturday and runs through Mother’s Day.). The Sugar From the Sun room was also really cool. Many of the plants in that room grow food, like oranges, grapefruit, papaya, bananas, cinnamon, turmeric, coffee, and cocoa. Living in the Midwest, I’m pretty disconnected from how most of those things grow–as far as I’m concerned, they grow on the shelves at Jewel–so seeing them actually growing was awesome.
The Aroid House, unsurprisingly, had an abundance of aroids (I am more familiar with these as “church plants,” since one of the churches I regularly attended as a child had fake versions of these in the narthex year round, haha). On top of the aroids, this room also has a Chihuly glass installation (!!) in the pond.
The Desert House, as you may expect, features a ton of cacti and succulents. I really enjoyed the variety, from itty bitty little guys to towering plants. Several of the plants were flowering, and some of the flowers were so unique and different from what I expected.
The Horticulture Hall had Birds of Paradise, which I didn’t realize were plants and birds until Saturday. Both the flower version and the bird version (obviously not on display at a conservatory) are quite unique and beautiful, though I’m guessing the plant, being a plant, doesn’t have as elaborate courtship habits as the bird 😛
The Horticulture Hall also has a beautiful Moroccan fountain, gifted to the City of Chicago by Casablanca.
The Fern Room is the literal centerpiece of the conservatory, being that it’s in the middle of the building. If you’re looking for heat and humidity during a cold and dry Chicago winter, this is the place to be. It was STEAMY in there, but also so green and so lush and so worth it.
The Garfield Park Conservatory is free to visit, and even though this post admittedly sounds a bit review-y, no one asked me to go and write about it (I just had too many pictures I wanted to show off to squeeze this into a Thursday Things post, so it gets its own shoutout 😛 ). I really, really needed a respite from winter, and a couple hours at the conservatory proved to be just what the doctor perhaps would’ve ordered if I had complained about my need to see the color green again without having to travel far. The conservatory has a parking lot, but it’s also immediately off the Green Line–really, the stop is called Conservatory. You can’t miss it.–so even though it’s a bit west, it’s perfectly easy to access. If you, too, are tired of winter, I can’t recommend an afternoon at the conservatory enough.
Have you ever been to the Garfield Park Conservatory?