Biking to Garfield Park Conservatory in Search of Spring Flowers

Dale Chilhuly Persian Lilies in the Aroid Room

Dale Chilhuly Persian Lilies in the Aroid Room

Last weekend Mr. Ding and I had a Sunday afternoon date/bike-ride to the Garfield Park Conservatory.  The Conservatory is sort of one of those ‘hidden gems’ of Chicago.  It’s been tucked away on the west side of the city for 100 years and it kept quite a low profile until 2001/2002 when they hosted an amazing exhibit of glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly.  The exhibit had an extended stay and brought thousands of people to the Conservatory who had never ever been there before. A group of Chicagoans raised a few hundred thousands bucks to keep the set of Chihuly lilies that you see in the picture above at the Conservatory after the exhibit was over.  The Chihuly exhibit generated a lot of much-needed revenue for the Conservatory as well as some new attention.   On a chilly, windy,  supposedly spring afternoon though, the warmth of the tropical rooms in the Conservatory and the promise of spring flowers is what got us on our bikes to head west.

 

The Conservatory itself it a pretty cool building. It sits in the midst of 184 acres of one of Chicago’s historic parks – Garfield Park.

The Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago, Illinois is one of the largest and most stunning conservatories in the nation. Often referred to as “landscape art under glass,” the Garfield Park Conservatory occupies approximately 4.5 acres inside
and out, and includes cold frames and propagating where thousands of plants are grown each year for displays in City parks and spaces. Garfield Park Conservatory is located in Garfield Park — an 184-acre site located on Chicago’s redeveloping Westside designed as a pleasure ground by William LeBaron Jenney — and is the oldest of the three great original Westside parks (Humboldt, Garfield, and Douglas).

Constructed between 1906 and 1907, the Garfield Park Conservatory was designed by Jensen in collaboration with Prairie School architects Schmidt, Garden and Martin and the New York engineering firm of Hitchings and Company. It represents a unique collaboration of architects, engineers, landscape architects, sculptors and artisans.

 

When you enter the Conservatory you walk into the giant Palm Room – full of soaring palm trees, many of them rare, and all sorts of interesting plants. The picture below is of the Double Coconut Palm – probably the largest one growing under glass in the world.  The staff grew it from a seed in 1959. I guess it’s not an easy seed to grow and the see itself can be 50 lbs!!  The tree can grow up to 150 feet tall (twice the height of the Palm Room) and can only be found on the Seychelle Islands off the coast of Southern Africa.  Right now the palm is looking a little sickly and they are researching it’s condition.

Double Coconut Palm

Double Coconut Palm

From there we moved onto the Fern Room – a humid, tropical forest that makes you forget you are in Chicago Illinois.

Garfield Park Conservatory Fern Room

Garfield Park Conservatory Fern Room

They even have a small set of mangrove trees that reminded me of the mangrove forests I saw on a trip to Costa Rica.

Garfield Park Conservatory - Magrove Trees

Garfield Park Conservatory – Magrove Trees

Mangrove Forest - Costa Rica

Mangrove Forest – Costa Rica

From the Fern Room we walked through the Desert Room – one of my favorites.  They have a huge Century plant and some other very cool desert plants, including a Saguaro cactus.  Saguaros take 75 years or so to grow an ‘arm’ so the 20-year old one they have seems sorta small.

Garfield Park Century Plant

Garfield Park Century plant

Garfield Park Conservatory Joshua Tree

Garfield Park Conservatory Joshua Tree

Garfield Park Conservatory - Saguaro Skeleton

Garfield Park Conservatory - Saguaro Skeleton

Garfield Park Conservatory - 20 yr old Saguaro Cactus

Garfield Park Conservatory - 20 yr old Saguaro cactus

 

After the dry, dusty desert, we wandered into the bright, colorful,  and aromatic Spring Flower Show. What a sensory delight for some winter-weary mid-westerners!  I think I saw every kind of Azalea in existence!

Garfield Park Conservatory - Spring Flower Show

Garfield Park Conservatory - Spring Flower Show

Garfield Park Conservatory - Spring Flower Show

Garfield Park Conservatory - Spring Flower Show - Persian Violets

Garfield Park Conservatory - Spring Flower Show - Persian Violets

Garfield Park Conservatory - Spring Flower Show

Garfield Park Conservatory - Spring Flower Show

Garfield Park Conservatory - Spring Flower Show

Garfield Park Conservatory - Spring Flower Show

Eventually we had to leave and head back out into the blustery day.  And it was blustery too – the wind was blowing off the lake that day right in our faces as we headed back east towards home.  Oma was waiting patiently for me at the bike racks they have out front.  I think she would have preferred to be inside with the flowers.

Garfield Park Conservatory Bike Parking

Garfield Park Conservatory Bike Parking

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