Midwest Regional Reports

Have You Visited the Garfield Park Conservatory?

A trip to this Chicago landmark is a great way to get your plant fix any time of the year

Garfield Park Conservatory
The sights, sounds, and scents of a naturalistic tropical landscape are especially soothing in the depths of winter, and Garfield Park Conservatory delivers on all counts.

The winter doldrums are a reality in the Midwest, especially for gardeners, but an immersive plant adventure at your local conservatory is a sure way to lift your spirits. Fortunately, midwestern cities and towns are blessed with many gardens under glass where visitors can experience the warmth and color of the growing season any time of the year. For me, an annual winter trip to the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago, just a two-hour drive from my home in southern Wisconsin, is the perfect way to get my plant fix and keep my sanity.

Garfield Park Conservatory from the outside
With two acres of indoor gardens, Garfield Park is one of the world’s largest conservatories under one roof.

While I’ve been to dozens of conservatories throughout the United States and abroad, Garfield Park Conservatory continues to be a favorite. With its mission “to change lives through the power of nature,” this conservatory ticks all the boxes as a welcome winter destination, and the surrounding landscape is exceptional in every season.

Desert House at Garfield Park Conservatory
The Desert House displays a gracefully arranged collection of water-wise plants from around the world.

Nestled within the 184-acre Garfield Park on Chicago’s West Side, Garfield Park Conservatory has two acres of naturalized landscape gardens under glass and 10 acres of outdoor spaces that include a sensory garden, a demonstration garden, and a play-and-grow garden for kids.

Fern Room at Garfield Park Conservatory
The Fern Room immerses visitors in a landscape designed to evoke the plant communities that could have existed in prehistoric Chicago.

The conservatory, which opened in 1908, was designed by the famous landscape architect Jens Jensen to be the world’s largest conservatory under one roof. Still one of the grandest glass houses in the world, it has persisted through trials, tribulations, and weather damage over the years, with the most recent restoration in 1994. Funded by the Park District of Chicago and the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, the conservatory’s mission is to exhibit “landscape art under glass.” Admission is free.

Aroid House with pond at Garfield Park Conservatory
“Persian Lillies,” an installation by glass artist Dale Chihuly, is part of the conservatory’s permanent collection in the Aroid House.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Garfield Park Conservatory features eight indoor show houses and is open to the public throughout the year. The Palm House is the largest room at 65 feet tall and 90 feet wide, but the Fern House and the Desert House are my favorites. Over 250,000 annual visitors, including many schoolchildren, enjoy the conservatory and its surrounding gardens.

Flower show at Garfield Park Conservatory
Flower shows bring in beautifully curated layers of seasonal color that enhance the permanent collections.

The conservatory typically presents five dynamic flower exhibits per year, as well as extensive education opportunities, events, programs, cultural performances, and demonstrations. Check out the website, garfieldconservatory.org, for directions, hours, and more information on this amazing destination. Reservations are encouraged in advance of arrival. I’ll be making my next trip soon, and I hope you will also seek out conservatories in your area this winter. It’s worth it!

palms in Palm House at Garfield Park Conservatory
Picture-perfect palms grace the largest room in the conservatory, the Palm House.

Mark Dwyer is the garden manager for the Edgerton Hospital Healing Garden in Edgerton, Wisconsin, and he operates Landscape Prescriptions by MD.

Photos: Mark Dwyer

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