For more than 170 years, “Urbs in Horto,” which is Latin for “City in a Garden,” has been Chicago’s official motto. With more than 7,700 acres of parkland, 50 natural areas, 26 miles of lakefront and 2 world-class conservatories, the city truly lives up to this motto.
Chicago is home to two beautiful conservatories, both located in the city’s public parks. The century-old Garfield Park Conservatory (300 N. Central Park Avenue) is one of the largest public horticultural collections under glass in the world. Garfield Park Conservatory features the permanent exhibit called Sugar From the Sun that teaches the fundamentals of photosynthesis. The Inspired by Nature Photo Exhibit also offers photos, maps and other historical highlights of the conservatory and its West Side neighborhood. Lincoln Park
Conservatory’s (2391 N. Stockton Dr.) collection fills four greenhouses and includes a Scheelea Palm grown from seeds collected by The Field Museum in Brazil in 1926. Both conservatories host seasonal flower-garden shows and special events, while offering excellent free information for visitors to experience self-guided tours.
Just north of Lincoln Park Conservatory is the Notebaert Nature Museum (2430 N. Cannon Dr.). Visitors can connect with the natural world through environmental programs and scientific learning. Its Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, a 28-foot-high greenhouse filled year-round with butterflies from around the world, is especially popular with families. The nearby Lincoln Park Zoo (2400 N. Cannon Dr.) is a leading U.S. zoo with free admission.
Since its 2004 debut, Millennium Park (201 E. Randolph St.) has become one of the most popular destinations in Chicago. Among the public art and the spectacular Jay Pritzker Pavilion sits the Lurie Garden. Designed by Gustafson Guthrie Nichols Ltd., Piet Oudolf and Robert Israel, this 2.5-acre garden was inspired by Chicago’s long-ago transformation from its flat, marshy origins to a bold, powerful city. Its dramatically lit, 15-foot-high “shoulder hedge” represents poet Carl Sandburg’s famous description of the “City of Big Shoulders,” and encloses the garden on two sides, protecting the delicate perennial garden. A graceful hardwood footbridge over shallow water divides the garden diagonally between “light” and “dark” plates of perennial plants.
From nature hikes to fishing to bird-watching, Chicago’s parks provide visitors the opportunity to catch glimpses of wildlife in the big city. The National Audubon Society designated the lakefront, from Montrose Beach south to the city limits, as an “Important Bird Area” critical to bird conservation. Chicago’s Jackson Park, Burnham Park and Lincoln Park (two) are also home to four bird sanctuaries between them that focus on providing bird habitat. In addition to bird sanctuaries, a wide variety of wildlife habitats exist in the city, from the lagoon located at Gompers Park to river-edge parks located at Ronan Park to savannas at West Pullman to the South Shore Nature Sanctuary’s wetland.
To see a more pastoral side of the city, head over to the (5801 N. Pulaski Rd.). This 46-acre nature preserve includes an educational facility. Visitors interact with wildlife, plants and other natural resources through environmental education and access to improved natural landscapes. The Nature Center also has several festivals throughout the year. The Maple Syrup Festival in March is one such festival, where festival-goers can watch maple syrup being made the old-fashioned way, enjoy the tasty syrup and participate in other activities.
Chicago also offers a number of opportunities to tour city gardens. Millennium Park’s Lurie Garden offers free docent-led tours on Sunday mornings from May to October. From June to September, the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association sponsors the annual Gardens of The Magnificent Mile, a self-guided tour of the gardens along this historic mile filled with shopping, museums and restaurants. Another yearly event is July’s Sheffield Garden Walk on Chicago’s North Side. It features self-guided tours of nearly 100 gardens, guided Architectural Tours, live entertainment by some of Chicago finest bands, as well as food and beverages, and activities for children.
Visitor Information Resources :The Chicago Office of Tourism