– By Tom Schaffner
Where’s the warmest, sunniest place in Chicago during the winter months? The Garfield Park Conservatory, of course.
Located about four miles directly west of the Loop — and only a few short steps from the CTA Green Line L Stop (Lake St. and Central Park Ave.) — the verdant, lush 4.5-acre Garfield Park Conservatory is a tropical resort that you can escape to whenever the winter weather in Chicago turns nasty. With more than 2,100 plant species growing in 8 indoor spaces, the Garfield Park Conservatory is one of the largest greenhouse conservatories in the United States. Because of the variety of its plant collection as well as the unique design of the building, the Conservatory is often referred to as “landscape art under glass.”
A Little History
Constructed between 1906 and 1907, the Conservatory was conceived and designed by Chicago’s West Park Commission’s general superintendent and chief landscape architect, Jens Jensen. Hoping to create the “largest publicly owned conservatory under one roof in the world,” Jensen achieved his dream by consolidating smaller greenhouses in nearby Douglas and Humboldt parks into a new facility at Garfield Park. Many of the plantings that survive today came from these smaller greenhouses. Jensen firmly believed that “the country must come to the city” and wanted the Conservatory to reflect the beauty that nature had to offer.
Today the Conservatory still follows the basic tenants of Jensen. The huge Palm Room contains over seven dozen varieties of palm trees, of which only 2,700 varieties are known to exist today; the Fern Room provides visitors with a glimpse of what Illinois looked like millions of years ago; the Desert Room holds one of the region’s most varied collections of cacti and succulents; and the Aroid Room contains many popular indoor houseplants. The Conservatory also has a room that explains the process of photosynthesis, an indoor children’s garden, a show house that often hosts special shows and exhibits and 12 acres of beautiful outdoor gardens.
The Conservatory also hosts a number of special exhibits, concerts, classes and special events, including a Winter Flower show, a composting demo, yoga classes, botanical painting classes for seniors, a community holiday concert, beekeeping classes, and much more.
See the Conservatory on an L Stop Tour!
To help battle the blues this winter, L Stop Tours is launching a new neighborhood tour of Chicago that includes the Garfield Park Conservatory as its centerpiece. This special winter-only tour departs from the Loop every Friday and Saturday between Nov. 18, 2019 and March 28, 2020 at 10:30 a.m. and utilizes the CTA’s Green Line to travel to and from the Conservatory with a few points of interest in between. Approximately 90 percent of this tour takes place inside, making it the perfect antidote to our often nasty winter weather. For more information, visit the Green Line West Tour page.
Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, as well as the co-owner of L Stop Tours.