Visit to Garfield Park Conservatory


I’m going to reveal my innate geekiness by comparing the Fern Room in Chicago’s excellent Garfield Park Conservatory to the lush, edenic world created by Project Genesis in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Come on, you know you’ve seen it. Don’t you agree?


A century old, the conservatory opened to the public in 1908 and houses rare tropical plants, including gigantic palms whose fronds press against the peaked roof, as well as desert plants, a small Chihuly display, a children’s play area, and more.

I have never been very interested in glass houses. Who needs them in the Deep South, where winter rarely brings more than a light frost and plants stay green all year? Nevertheless, I ended up seeing two glass houses during Spring Fling Chicago : the Lincoln Park Conservatory and the one at Garfield Park. The latter is huge by comparison, and, frankly, it knocked my socks off. The tropical plants were enormous, and beautifully and naturally arranged, and I felt transported to another world as I strolled among them.


Forest primaeval! It’s easy to imagine a dinosaur poking its head out of the ferns.


Snapping a few pics of his own is Christopher of Outside Clyde, one of the garden bloggers I was most happy to meet, having read him for so long. That’s Christopher in the very top photo as well.


Ferns stood tall and crouched low. Fronds of all descriptions created a mass of intense greenery.


Patterns appeared and shifted.


Kylee was among the small group of Spring Flingers who made this Sunday tour, the last on the official agenda.


I fell in love with silver dollar fern (Adiantum peruvianum ) because of the ginkgo-like leaves and black stems. Beautiful!


And what is this shiny, curly thing rising from the leaves? Is it even from the same plant?


In the Aroid House, a striking installation of Dale Chihuly glass titled “Persian Lilies” lights up a small pool.


Part of a larger Chihuly exhibit from 2001, the Lilies were purchased for permanent display in the conservatory.


How I wish I could have seen the entire exhibit.


Maybe one day Chihuly will have an exhibit in Austin, or at least Dallas or Houston, which are close enough to easily visit.


Hey, these plants look a bit more familiar. The conservatory also houses desert plants, many of which we can grow in Austin.


Austin is, of course, much more lush than this. We’re fortunate in that we can grow a nice mix of both tropicals and desert plants, so long as we’re careful about drainage.


I’m always a sucker for the texture of these spiny plants.

So am I a convert to the wonders of glass houses? Well, I don’t know. Perhaps the Garfield is particularly magical. For magical it was, even with flowers blooming outside. Just imagine what it would be like to stroll those warm, humid paths in the dead of winter, with snow blanketing the world outside.

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

20 Responses

  1. Stuart says:

    I’m not sure I understand the Star Trek analogy but this certainly is a plce I could easily blow a few hours…maybe even days. Nice photos Pam they definitely add to the enticement.

  2. Gail says:

    I do love glass houses on cold days and would have enjoyed the beautiful plants and seeing Dale Chihuly’s work; but by Sunday, I was too tired to think about another tour! Your photos are wonderful and I think the the Adiantum peruvianum is lovely….wouldn’t it be striking in any of our gardens! gail

  3. janet says:

    Sorry I can’t identify with the Star Trek comparisons, but those ferns are amazing!! I especially like the closeup shots of the ferns. It is really interesting when you scroll down the page, the last photo has a bit of an optical illusion. Pretty cool.

  4. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    We didn’t go here. I did get to go when the Chihuly exhibit was there in 01. It was spectacular. Garfield Conservatory is a marvelous place to visit.

  5. I get the Star Trek Genesis analogy. In real life gardening it is called wood chip mulch.

    After 20 years in Hawaii, like you I was a bit ho hum, a glass house full of tropicals. Once you walk inside, the enormous space under glass, the extensive collection and the size, health and arrangement of the plants is quite amazing. There was not a brown leaf or plant debris to be seen anywhere and that is so not real in a tropical garden. The maintenance was impeccable. Also amazing and a bit worrisome was the complete lack of insects. I suppose that is easier to accomplish with Chicago’s winters, but I also had to wonder how they did that.

    The Chihuly glass was an added bonus. That installation in the pond was perfect and I am not the biggest fan of glass or some of Chihuly’s work.

    I noticed the lack of insects too and wondered about it. I didn’t give any thought to the lack of plant debris, but you’re right, it was impeccably maintained. —Pam

  6. Layanee says:

    Wish I had seen the Chihuly exhibit in person but you captured it beautifully for all of us. As always, great shots and also a Star Trek fan! Miss ya.

    I’m thinking of Spock’s affirmation of friendship to Kirk, Layanee, but I can’t quite geek myself out enough to write it. Till we meet again, friend. —Pam

  7. Kim says:

    I’m with you on wanting to see a Chihuly exhibit – I love his work. I loved your photos – it was like being there in the conservatory with you.

  8. Brooke says:

    Ooooh….love all the lushness, of course I love the ferns and palms. Us northerners don’t see those nearly enough!

  9. Lola says:

    Great pics Pam. It seemed I was there with you looking at all that lushness of the tropicals. Glad you had a wonderful fun filled time.

  10. “From Hell’s Heart, I stab at thee!” Yes, I agree, it does remind me of Project Genesis. (Have I out-geeked you?) Your photos bring out the magic of the conservatory.

    Good one! I recognized that quote immediately, MMD, and it made me laugh out loud. —Pam

  11. Cheryl says:

    I love those Chihuly lilies! I wish he would come to Austin!

    Maybe if we start a letter-writing campaign to the Wildflower Center they’ll entice him into an exhibit there. :-) —Pam

  12. Meredith says:

    Star Trek fan here, and yes, the lushness reminds me of Project Genesis. We’re in the process of geeking up our kids — i mean, showing our kids old episodes so that they can then watch the movies. They loved the new movie, but they didn’t know the characters. Those glass lilies are excellent — let’s get the artist to Austin! Your photos have given me an idea for my pond…

    We’ve been geeking up our kids too, Meredith, and we all enjoyed the new movie. I’m curious to know about your pond idea. —Pam

  13. Loree says:

    Wow! Thanks for sharing…I am drooling over a couple of those photos!

  14. I LOVE Chihuly! I have a gorgeous book on my coffee table full of pictures of his garden and conservatory installations. If you’re ever in Vegas, be sure to check out his ceiling installation in the Bellagio lobby, and then check out their glass conservatory, where they do amazing garden displays that change with the seasons, including one with dragons for Chinese New Year.

    Thanks for the tip, Becky. —Pam

  15. eliz says:

    We tried to get a Chihuly show for our botanical gardens, but couldn’t. Maybe we’ll try again! I’m sorry I missed this conservatory, but I was happy to spend the time in the Art Institute. And of course I am very familiar with ST II. Just watched it recently! Khan!!!!!!

  16. Germi says:

    That fern garden is SEXY! Lush and big and full and OoooLALA!

    Being a total geek, I will admit to loving Spok so much that for years I only dated very tall, skinny, dark haired men who were very very smart. One even let me give him a Spok haircut (which looked so stupid we ended up shaving his head)

    I love that you are a Star Trek Fan! All the COOL bloggers are!

    XOXO!

    I can’t help wondering whether you ended up with a Spock guy for a husband, Germi. Or had your taste in men changed by then to, perhaps, the Captain Kirk or Bones type? —Pam

  17. linda says:

    Glad you enjoyed the conservatory Pam! I’m glad we went in the morning – It was wonderful having the place practically to ourselves. Sunday was a relaxing counterpoint to Saturday’s pace. The visit to Garfield Park Conservatory was was one of my favorite Spring Fling events, and I was grateful for the chance to finally have more time to visit with people. I only wish more people had been able to make it – I was so busy with logistics, arrangements, and assisting many of our guests on Friday and Saturday, I didn’t get a chance to meet and visit with everyone who came to SF.

  18. The only Chihuly show I’ve seen was on his home turf in Seattle, many years ago. It was all indoors. Too bad because some of his cooler work is meant for the landscape. I like the lily pads you show. The weird stem on the fern you show almost looks like it’s part of some of the more twisty/spiky Chihuly glass pieces.

    As far as glass houses–I spent my first years in the tropics and always feel a deep sensation of homecoming when I step into one of these, particularly when it’s cold or dry outside. And the plants look thrilled to be there too. But as you point out, on a hot, muggy day outdoors, more of the same indoors is less special.

  19. LOL I hadn’t realised that there were so many Trekkies amongst us garden bloggers. Mr Spock was also my favourite but I didn’t let that influence my taste in men. Much. ;-)

    Pam, I’m shocked that you only took 400 pics during your SF. Tsk, tks, a measly 400 will not do! I had a little SF of my own in Britain at the same time and took over 900 pics. ;-)

    I love conservatories, not surprising as I live in a rather cold and damp country, and it amused me to read that both you and Christopher are now fans of them.

    I went to Scotland last year where I saw the most gorgeous Victorian fernery ever! The fern room reminded me of it.

    Those Persian Lilies are fantastic, wish I had some for my (still to be built) pond.

  20. Diana Kirby says:

    Ah, Pam — what an ESP-ish post! But you’re absolutely right about the similarities to Genesis, I also reluctant to admit. Your Chihuly glass photos turned out very nice afterall and you really captured the black stems on the Silver dollar fern. I just kept wanting to touch them, didn’t you?