Chicago’s Urban Oasis, the Garfield Park Conservatory

As someone who considers himself a knower of Chicago attractions, I’ve managed to somehow never visit the Garfield Park Conservatory. Now, I can’t say enough good things about it, and I highly recommend that you visit.

To my credit, the conservatory is not as well promoted as comparable attractions like the Chicago Botanical Garden, or Morton Arboretum, and it’s not as conveniently located as say, the Lincoln Park Zoo.

One could absolutely be forgiven for turning blind eye to this special place for its location on Chicago’s west side, a rundown and blighted part of the city with little else to visit save for its namesake park. This, however, has not stopped millions of visitors from around the world from enjoying this unique urban oasis.

The Palm House at the Garfield Park conservatory is the largest room in the conservatory.

The conservatory itself is a two-acre indoor space divided into seven tranquil greenhouses and an event space, each of which are host to a unique temperature zones and specific families of plant life. 

The indoor green space is open to visitors all year round and during the warmer months, visitors can wander through an additional twelve acres of outdoor gardens and exhibits.

The first house you will enter off the lobby is the Palm House and it is downright humid in there. You may want to hang your jacket in the lobby on the coat rack, and just bring your valuables with you.

The Palm House features 70 different varieties of palms and plants from tropical habitats around the world. There’s green as far as they eye can see across this 90 foot wide room with 65 foot greenhouse ceilings, curvy pathways, and a handful of colorful surprises.

tropical plant found in the Palm House of the Garfield Park Conservatory

An adjacent room, titled Sugar From the Sun features a variety of plants that actually smell sweet including a chocolate tree, vanilla orchids, and ginger plants.

Signs and displays about the room shed light on the process of photosynthesis wherein plants use sunlight energy to change water and carbon dioxide from the air into sugar.

Naturally, I felt most at home in the Desert House filled with varieties of cacti and succulents. This space is welcome relief from the humidity and almost claustrophobic reach of the jungle like displays of the Palm, Fern, and Sugar rooms.

cactus varieties from all over the world populate the dry Desert House room of the Garfield Park Conservatory

On this recent visit, my greatest moments of intrigue occurred in the Aroid House. Apparently these plants are fairly common as a houseplant, but you might not get that sense from the unbridled size and volume of the plants.

One thing you might notice in the Aroid room are hordes of fruit flies hovering about. That’s because the tiny flowers of the Aroid plants emit fruity fragrances to attract pollinators which transfer pollen from one flower to another.

three Black Queen Anthurium inside the Aroid Room of the Garfield Park Conservatory

Take special note, there is no specific order for visiting each greenhouse. When you enter the lobby to the Palm House, your choices are simply, left or right, and there are two short “jungle trails.” These are marked and windy footpaths that lead you through the thicket of palms and various ground cover plants.

One specific ground cover of note is the Mosaic Plant (fittonia verschaffeltii) also known as Nerve Plant which you can buy at the store, potted.        

a wide patch of the Mosaic Plant fittonia verschaffeltii as ground cover in the Palm House at the Garfield Park conservatory

My first visit to the conservatory was on a weekend, and was a little crowded, but it didn’t diminish my fascination. There was an origami workshop in the community room that day, and still plenty of places to sit down when I needed a break. On the weekday afternoon that I visited for the second time, the parking lot was a third full, and I certainly had the run of the place for taking photos.

When You’re Ready.

According to the front desk steward, the Garfield Park Conservatory is dead silent at 9:00 am when doors open, and is virtually empty during the summer months. They have a hard time getting people out the door around closing at 5 pm, which speaks of the magnificent staying power of this destination.

The CTA Green line station is just steps from the entrance and is called Conservatory – Central Park Drive.

Suggested donation is $5 for adults and $2 for children. I’ve never spent a red cent there, but I suspect I will toss a few bucks their way the next time I head over.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio is 5 miles away in Oak Park, the adjacent Chicago suburb. With some comfortable shoes, and a full day to kill, you could probably plan a visit to both landmark attractions on the same day.  Both are accessible from the CTA Green Line or by car off of I-290.

Family and children’s events are scheduled weekly, and several excellent annual events for adults are scheduled throughout the year including:

  • Beer Under Glass. Craft Beer Festival featuring 100 local brewers and souvenir beer glass.
  • Fleurotica. Runway fashion show featuring fashion design and botany.
  • Music Under Glass. Monthly live concert series on Sundays featuring high caliber musical performances in the Horticulture Hall.

Find additional photos & information using the hashtag #gpcnofilter

You’re on your way!

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