That Chicago winters are brutal is no secret. Even though I grew up in the Midwest, I dreaded the seemingly endless winters that descended on Chicago for 6 months or longer. The Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the city’s oldest and best-kept secrets (though it shouldn’t be a secret at all), offers the only glimmer of warm-weather hope for the city. In the dead middle of winter, I would head there just to fantasize about being in Florida or the Caribbean or any other reasonably warm place.
Even though I grew up in the Midwest,
I dreaded the seemingly endless winters that
descended on Chicago for 6 months or longer.
But the conservatory is not just a faux tropical escape that reminds me of the green days of summer. It also helps usher in the very necessary spring season.
Once, I was commuting to work in the western suburb of Oak Park on the elevated Green Line from downtown. As we passed the conservatory below, I saw something surprising: a vast field of springtime flowers in popping colors, scattered on the grassy hills in the often-forgotten exterior part of the conservatory’s property.
It was the first sign that spring was on its way. I had to see it up close.
As soon as the weather permitted, I hopped on my bike and pedaled south on Sacramento Boulevard until I hit Lake Street, which runs under the train tracks. From there, it was a short ride west to the conservatory, whose exotic interior deserves its own post. So I’ll skip ahead to the outdoors portion of my visit.
Green. Pink. Yellow. Orange. Colors nature had been holding back from me for too long. If the rest of the city was still muddy and and grey, the conservatory didn’t seem to care. It had fully embraced the change of the seasons.
I wasn’t alone in my quest to view the fields of tulips and daffodils. There was a small gathering of photographers, nature lovers and flower junkies walking through the paths, soaking in the colors and fresh aromas.
As if to remind us that we were still in the confines of the city, the El train rumbled through, disrupting the peace. But I liked the contrast between the old, rusty tracks and the rainbow of new life below it.
Just like spring and the flowers that come with it, the show of tulips and daffodils at the conservatory came and went fast. A few weeks after I visited, I peered down from the El train during my morning commute and the blossoms were gone.
Luckily, the display of spring flowers isn’t the only thing on the conservatory’s spring calendar of events. They also host the Spring Flower Show in the Show House, which has finally been revamped after a devastating hail storm in 2011 that shattered the glass ceiling in this and other display rooms.
If you’re into fashion, you might dig Fleurotica, the annual fashion show extravaganza where models are decked out in floral designs. I covered this event back in 2009 for the now-defunct Chi-Town Daily News. That event marked my first time at the conservatory, and the beginning of my love affair with this special place.
Go – Seriously
I encourage anyone and everyone to visit the Garfield Park Conservatory during any season. You’ll be blown away, even if you don’t think of yourself as a “plant person.” It’s free to enter, offers ample free parking, and is open until 8 p.m. on Wednesday nights. Those things alone make it pretty special, but it also happens to be one of the most romantic places in Chicago, in my opinion.
300 N. Central Park Ave
Chicago IL 60624
Open daily 9-5; Wednesdays, 9-8