Garfield Park Conservatory

Designers: Jens Jensen | City: Chicago, IL | Project Type: conservatory
Date Visited: 10.22.12

Location: 300 N Central Park Chicago, IL
Size: 4.5 acres
Official Opening Date: 1908

Often referred to as “landscape art under glass,” Garfield Park Conservatory is a 2-acre beautiful cultural gem and internationally significant horticultural facility.

Jens Jensen, one of the leading landscape architects and naturalists of his era, led the design of Garfield Park Conservatory in collaboration with the engineering firm, Hitchings and Company. Under his guidance, the conservatory displayed a series of naturalistic midwestern landscapes. This departed in style from its 19th century predecessors, where greenhouse exhibits would consist largely of showy displays of potted plants. The conservatory’s exterior was meant to emulate a simple haystack. Inside, beautiful stratified stonewalls concealed mechanical systems and piping so as to create an uninterrupted view of the lush plantings.

Despite having visited a number of conservancies on my trip already, I’m continually impressed by the conservatories I visit. Like other conservancies, Garfield Park Conservatory is divided into a series of indoor and outdoor rooms with the Palm Room at the heart and center of the building. Dale Chihuly’s yellow, Persian glass lilies hover above a pool in the Aroid Room; children play and plant seeds in the Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Gardens; art is featured on rotation within the conservatory; and an outside lies terraced gardens and labyrinth. Thousands of plants are grown here each year for displays in Garfield, Lincoln and Grant Parks.

My favorite room is the Fern Room, which provides “a glimpse of what Chicago might have looked like millions of years ago.” Coined Jensen’s “imaginative tribute to prehistoric Illinois”, the naturalistic design of the Fern Room is a lush, humid and dense environment of green. With many plants dating back to the time of dinosaurs, some of the oldest plants in this room are estimated around 300 years of age.

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