Garfield Park

Many people have visited the Chicago Botanical Garden located in toney Glencoe. Covering 385 acres, the facility features a Japanese garden, an English garden, a rose garden, a collection of Bonsai trees, indoor gardens, a horticultural library, indoor and outdoor dining facilities, nature pathways, lily ponds, a waterfall, a miniature train, and many activities.

I suspect fewer people have visited the Garfield Park Conservatory, which is located in a rundown neighborhood on Chicago’s westside. It drew lots of attention in 2002 when it hosted glass sculptures created by master glassblower Dale Chihuly, but most people I have spoken with have either never been or have been only once.

I headed out to Garfield Park this afternoon, taking the Green Line “L” from downtown (Clinton Street station). It is a ten to fifteen minute trip, with about seven or eight stops. I arrived at the Conservatory’s dedicated subway stop, and walked one block to the front door. Much of the facility is located in indoor greenhouses, which include the Palm House, Fern Room, Desert House, Aroid House, and the Show House. There are also 12 acres of outdoor gardens, which include a lily pond, a sensory garden, and some gently rolling fields that appear to have been returned to their natural state.

In the 1870s, Chicagoans were enamored with conservatories. Three were built on the Chicago’s westside in Humboldt, Douglas and Garfield Parks, but after two decades, they fell into disrepair. All were demolished in 1905, to be replaced by “the largest publicly owned conservatory under one roof in the world,” which located in Garfield Park.

That same year, Jens Jensen, who was the West Park Commission’s general superintend and chief landscape architect, began work. During the next two years, Jensen worked with Schmidt, Darden and Martin, a Prairie School architectural firm, and Hitchings and Company, a New York-based engineering firm, to design and build what we now know as the Garfield Park Conservatory. The result is an intentionally haystack-shaped glass structure housing multiple spaces, with each space devoted to a different climate or type of plant.

It is a lovely facility. Unlike its big brother in Glencoe, it does not suffer from overcrowding. I encountered the occasional passerby as I walked in the outdoor gardens, but much of the time, there was no one in sight.

I haven’t checked the Form 990s or the Conservatory’s budget, but I suspect it receives nowhere near the private philanthropic support as does the Chicago Botanical Garden. While the main attraction—the flowers and plants—are excellent, the Conservatory lacks some of the basic amenities that people have come to expect when visiting museums, garden space, and other public cultural or recreational facilities. There is a meager gift shop that also sells ice cream confections, cold drinks from a refrigerator, candy, and chips. The restroom facilities are clean, but rather worn-down. The lobby is poorly lit and spartan.

Despite those shortcomings, the Conservatory is well worth a visit. I will be back in the winter with a macro lens.

[Click on an Image to Enlarge It]

Garfield Park Conservatory “L” Stop”

The Entrance

Lily Pads (Infrared)

Lily Pond (Infrared)

Commentary Along an Indoor Pathway

An Indoor Waterfall


Woman and Bull (from the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893)

Dale Chihuly Sculptures (Persian Lilies) in an Indoor Pond

Koi Swimming in a Pond

View from the Prairie Fields Toward an Adjacent Plant I

View from the Prairie Fields Toward an Adjacent Plant II

Honoring the Jens Jensen, the Landscape Architect Who Designed the Interior Gardens and Houses