City Oasis: Chicago Botanic Garden & Lincoln Park Conservatory

As spring was wrapping up around the country this May, I made my way from a tulip filled Michigan back to an unseasonably cool and rainy Chicago, Illinois where I finally fulfilled my dream to explore the Chicago Botanic Garden. After a day of exploring this botanic garden, I visited Lincoln Park and took the opportunity to amble through the Lincoln Park Conservatory. This time around Chicago’s spring had much more to offer.

Chicago Botanic Garden

The Chicago Botanic Garden spans 385 acres, which includes 9 islands, and has 6 miles of lake shoreline. Across this great expanse are 26 gardens and four natural areas that pay homage not only to plants native to the mid-west, but also to plants from around the world. This spring alone the garden had over 90,000 daffodil bulbs planted on their “Bird Island” to welcome spring in yellow and white. While the daffodils were spectacular, I was completely enamored with the colors bursting from around every corner. I walked the entirety of the garden and discovered new plants and colors at each turn. Some of the best discoveries were the Ostica Bronze African Daisy (Osteospermum ‘Ostica Bronze), the orchid ‘Sweet Fragrance’ (Oncidium Sharry Baby), and Icelandic poppies.

I was thoroughly impressed with the greenhouse collections, especially the arid greenhouse. The garden refers to the arid greenhouse as a “living laboratory demonstrating how plants naturally adapt to little water and very harsh conditions.” This greenhouse is home to a twenty year old golden barrel cactus and the top portion of their golden-spined Saguaro that became too tall for the conservatory. The tropical greenhouse is another fabulous conservatory that captures a tropical environment superbly with the air moisture being at 90 percent and tropical fruiting and flowering plants from Asia, Australia, and the Caribbean. I came across the emerald creeper again in the tropical greenhouse in larger, more fabulous form where the vines were literally 4 feet long and the flowers were the size of my palm.

Other than the greenhouses, I was also struck by the bonsai display, the physic garden, the heritage garden, and the Japanese garden. The bonsai collection has over 200 plants, and, according to the Chicago Botanic Garden’s website, one of the trees that was “donated by Nakamura was a Japanese white pine that has been trained for at least 100 years.” The Physic Garden is home to many containers of plants that are grouped by family. The initial purpose of a physic garden was to research plants and teach students how to identify plants. Seeing families of plants together was insightful because I learned that many of the plants I have an affinity for are in the Aster family.

The Japanese Garden was truly the most remarkable of the gardens. It spans 17 acres and 3 islands with 2- Seifuto and Keiunto- being the only islands accessible. The third island Horajima is inaccessible because it “is symbolic of paradise- in sight yet elusive.” The plants on these islands were remarkable, but I was most intrigued by the structures. For instance, rocks are used strategically throughout the Japanese garden because they are considered “the bones of the earth.” A rock is used to indicate if a path is open to pass; raking rocks around trees, bushes, and plants are meant to elicit waves; rocks are partially buried to give the appearance of age. The use is intentional, simple, and beautiful.

If you’re planning to visit the Chicago Botanic Garden make sure to give yourself the entirety of the day to explore every nook and cranny because this garden has everything and more to offer. Thumb through my gallery to see my favorites.

Lincoln Park Conservatory

Of all the places that I’ve visited, Chicago is my favorite to visit. The city’s moto is “urbs in horto,” which means “City in a Garden,” and it is a place that offers many garden gems throughout its neighborhoods. One of those is of course Lincoln Park Conservatory. Lincoln Park itself was constructed on land that had formerly been a cemetery for people who had died of cholera and small pox in the 1850s, and the conservatory was later built during the 1890s. According to the conservatory’s website, it was designed by “renowned architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee [..] in collaboration with architect M.E. Bell” in order to house palms, cycads, ferns, orchids, and show houses.

The Lincoln Park conservatory is not as stylized as the Garfield Park Conservatory, but it does have its delights including an impressive staghorn fern collection, orchid and Easter cacti, edible and tropical fruit trees as well as some toy dinosaurs roaming through the ferns. These are some of my favorite moments:

Do you have questions about my visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden or to Lincoln Park Conservatory? Are you looking to plan a trip? Or do you just have questions about your indoor and outdoor plant babies?  If you’d like to know more about my travel or if you have questions about your plant colony, leave a comment below or feel free to contact The Garden Generalist. I would love to hear from you!

Want to stay in touch with The Garden Generalist? Would you like to keep up with my visits to gardens across the country? Keep checking the blog for more features, and don’t forget to visit The Garden Generalist on instagram for sneak peeks of my garden visits and weekly plant baby spotlights. Check back next week for my post about the Florida Botanic Gardens and Tampa’s Sunken Garden!


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