Urban Oasis: Visiting Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory


It’s late winter. I’m surrounded by palm trees. Sweat beads are forming on my brow. …. and I’m in Chicago.

I’m not dreaming. I’ve just found my way to an urban oasis. Come see…. Garfield Park Conservatory Entrance

A visit to the Garfield Park Conservatory has been on my local-things-to-see list for a while.  I was recently reminded of  it while watching the movie The Dilemma with Vince Vaughn.  Well, not watching it with him… you know, starring him… and Kevin James. There are some great Chicago scenes including a key moment that was filmed at the conservatory.

So, on the next day off of work for both Mr. Sandonthebrain and me, I convinced him that we really did need to go to a building to look at plants.   Really.  Plus, I was not having any luck connecting with Vince… so… there you go.

So green. And so warm.
Immediately in the front door, just past the information desk, visitors find themselves under the 60 foot glass roof of the the Palm House. This is the primary reason for my visit: …..Palm….Trees.

The conservatory boasts 75 kinds of palms including the Sheelea Palm which dates back to 1926 and is the biggest and oldest plant in the conservatory.

The atmosphere in the building is humid and warm… I’d do well here if I were a palm too. But, instead I start peeling off layers of winter coat and scarf. Comfortable now, we start our way around the paths. It’s not a huge space. I felt like it was both bigger, and smaller than I expected. Yet if you really look at everything to be seen, you find yourself moving at a leisurely pace. Each plant specimen is marked with a sign indicating formal and common names and places of origin.

There is green everywhere! The sun must have peeked through the cloudy sky too because rays find me and cast a shadow from the trees. Whatever tension was in my shoulders seems to melt away in this environment. I feel like this is vacation;  I’m convinced I might stay right where I stand until they ask me to leave.

Colorful Flowers and Fruits
Walking through all of the houses of the conservatory you will note pops of color, delicate blossoms, fruit trees and variegated leaves with shades of green and yellow, red and white. There are water features here and there, including one accented with vibrant yellow glass by famed artist Dale Chihuly and swimming with koi who seem eager to say hello.

Desert House was still warmer than the winter day outside, but with the dry environment it was actually cooler than the other rooms and oddly refreshing.    The sparseness of cacti and other specimens in this house give it a more open feel even though it is a smaller space.  Most interesting to me are the textures. While the angel on my shoulder clearly says “don’t touch that”,  the little devil on Mr. Sandonthebrain’s shoulder convinces him –more than once — to “go ahead!.. see how it feels… it’s probably not really as sharp as it looks”.     He did.    It was.

The Promise of Spring
The Show House offered a peek at the spring colors ….. that are sure to get here sometime… with a prolific display of azaleas.  Although a small grouping of flowers, the bright pinks and magentas, soft coral and pure white blossoms were a feast for the eyes.

I’m pretty sure from what I read, that the Fern Room was to be the treasure of the conservatory when Jens Jensen designed it in 1906.  Meandering around the biggest water feature here, are ferns (which look a lot like palms to me), and mossy rocks.  Intended to suggest what Illinois might have looked like a million years ago, to me it is simply a peaceful place to pause. To reflect. To draw or paint if you are one of the many art students we pass along the paths.  With statues at the entrance there is the feel of a museum… a park really, where you would stroll with little care as to the passing of the clock.

There are outdoor gardens at the conservatory, but the winter still has it’s clutch on Chicagoland.  I’ll be back here and maybe the next visit will be timed for enjoying the outdoors…. But for now this visit has been great; an urban oasis to forget about blustery wind chills and snow advisories.

Here’s 6 seconds of atmosphere for you… via Vine video… until you visit the conservatory yourself! Loop away!

A peaceful moment in the Fern Room.

Going?  Getting There:

Located about seven miles west of the Chicago lakefront, the conservatory sits in historic Garfield Park at 300 N. Central Park Ave., Chicago.   Getting there is an easy hop off the highway (I-290 at Independence) and follow the signs, or by public transportation by the “L” Green Line to the Conservatory-Central Park stop just across from the conservatory building.  Admission and parking are free,  and it’s open every day of the year. Check their website for special events and displays or follow on Twitter @gpconservatory.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s