On Cloud Nine in Lurie Garden

One of the highlights of Spring Fling Chicago was a guided tour of Lurie Garden by chief horticulturalist Colleen Lockovitch. Colleen provided the ultimate insider’s guide to the garden, pointing out her favorite plants and explaining how she and her staff maintain them, suggesting we ask our favorite independent nurseries to stock certain hard-to-find but super-performing plants, and telling us that certain aspects of plant designer Piet Oudolf’s design were muddied due to an overzealous initial tree-planting, and recently the staff has had to work hard to remove a number of aggressive trees.

Who hasn’t had to do that in their own garden? I sure have.

A closer look at the salvia “river.” At one point Colleen was talking about it, and two college-age guys walking by did a double-take at the word “salvia.” One murmured to the other, low and appreciatively, “Salvias!” I just know they weren’t gardeners except for the grow-light in a back-bedroom kind, if you know what I mean.


I fell in love with prairie smoke (Geum triflorum ), heat-hardy only to zone 7, unfortunately.

All you colder-climate gardeners should be growing this (in large sweeps, not onesies!) if you aren’t already.

Helpful signs identified the seasonal displays.

The other side has more. I’ve visited the Lurie once before, in October 2007. If you’d like to see how Lurie Garden looks in fall, when the grasses are in full bloom, click on the link.

Two mornings later, Diana and I took an early-morning stroll back over to Millennium Park to see “Cloud Gate,” popularly called the Bean, a marvelous sculpture by Anish Kapoor.

Reflections of the surrounding city skyline wobbled uncertainly in its mirrored surface.

It felt like viewing the city from underwater.

One’s own image appears like a circus-mirror reflection—not always flattering, but irresistibly fun.

Wheee! Looking up into the underside, or gate, of the Bean feels like swirling down a stainless-steel sink drain. I spun under it a few times, just as I do with the Zilker Christmas Tree in Austin, and staggered off to the hotel for breakfast.

All material © 2006-2009 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

19 Responses

  1. Frances says:

    Wonderful captures of the Lurie, Pam. Colleen was a fabulous speaker and we tried to write down every word. Those geums maybe could live here, I am on the trail to get some growing here. I liked them as much as the salvias, which we do grow, although not in rivers. :-)

  2. You know I’m going to be planting those Geums (prairie smoke) in my garden. I loved the realization that I could grow all the plants I saw in Chicago in my own garden… except those in the conservatory, of course!

    Beautiful pictures. I could look at pictures of the Lurie Garden all day!

  3. Gail says:

    I love the Lurie. It is a wonderful example for other cities…I keep hoping Nashville will listen! The Cloud Gate sure brings out the little kid in all of us. What a delight it is to see the city’s reflection while clowning around. Beautiful photos Pam~~my two favorite natives…amsonia and baptisia with my new I must have Prairie Smoke! gail

  4. Layanee says:

    Pam: Your pictures are exquisite! It is worth visiting ‘the bean’ at different times of day isn’t it? I am going to work harder at taking pictures….:)

  5. Les says:

    The Lurie looks like a spectacular public garden, and that field of salvia is something else. We have had more than a few young men come into the garden center with an uncharacteristic interest in salvia. It took us a while to figure out what they really wanted was Salvia divinorum.

  6. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Oh yes, I’m going to be having Prairie Smoke wafting through the garden sometime soon.

  7. janet says:

    Love that last photo of the bean….great perspective. I love the sweeping rivers of purples, light and dark. A couple college-age guys and salvia and grow lights? Pam! ;-)

  8. Jean says:

    Too cool. I do wish I’d made that tour but thank you for covering it so well.

  9. Wow–that salvia is unbelievable! I couldn’t believe it was real. You really take great pictures Pam. I am so glad you are sharing them–makes me feel like I was there! :)

  10. Sande says:

    Wonderful photos and very interesting descriptions. My favorite has to be the last one. It looks like an huge archangel with wings raised up over the tiny little people down below.

  11. ESP says:

    Ahhhh that prairie smoke is so cool, if only it would grow here! Imagine what it would look like with the sun setting behind it. Great purple color, as is the salvia “river”. Wow! Now that is how to plant.
    Looks like you had a great Spring fling Pam, wish I could have been there… loved the pics.

  12. Great photos of the Bean — esp. the vertical shot. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a piece of public art that draws people to it like that one. No matter their age, people are charmed by it and let down their defenses! Nice shots of some of the bloggers. I am adding names to my CBG group photo so I can keep track of everyone.

  13. Waist-deep in a river of salvia…the photos are so impressive but I’m sure it was even more dramatic in person. It’s a garden of major seasonal shifts. The autumn grasses and your spring flowers look so different, and both so different from February when I was there–admittedly not its best month, but still with things to look at in the dead of winter. A garden with lots of lessons we can use.

  14. Kerole says:

    That prairie smoke looks a lot like my hair in the morning. Sadly there’s not a chance it will grow here (zone 9b).

    Who keeps the bean clean I wonder?

  15. Wow – the salvia is stunning! Funny about the college students, too!

  16. Meredith says:

    I took so many pictures of this beautiful wildflower while hiking in Colorado — I’m glad to now know that it was prairie smoke! Of course, next time I travel anywhere I’m more likely to read up on wildflowers first! I’ve never been to Chicago, but the gardens are stunning. Thanks for such a wonderful blog, Pam!

  17. […] Click here for my post about Lurie Garden in spring bloom. Comments […]

  18. Jeanette says:

    I have had two full days of working outside so today was just a half day. I was reading a blog by Thomas Rainer (http://landscapeofmeaning.blogspot.com/2010/07/gardeners-throw-away-those-glossy.html) and he had a design of Lurie Garden in Chicago and I thought I would love to see all the salvias in bloom so I googled Lurie Garden images and saw how beautiful the shades of purple are in Piet Oudolf’s plan. I planted a salvia bed on a hill years ago and it was beautiful but the only salvia that overwintered was the Mexican Salvia. I took photos but that was before digital cameras. I was surprised to see your photos in my Google search. Did you think the various shades of violet were awesome? You probably have seen the original Oudolf plan. I do enjoy reading Rainer’s blog as well as yours. I lack the designer gene, unfortunately.
    Stay cool,

    Hi, Jeanette. Thanks so much for letting me know about Grounded Design. It’s a wonderful blog! I thought the sweep of salvias in Oudolf’s Lurie Garden was incredibly beautiful. I’m glad you enjoyed my pictures of it. Thanks for your comment. —Pam