Visit to Chicago Botanic Garden: English Walled Garden

After unseasonable heat for the Chicago Marathon weekend, our last day in Chicago, October 9th, dawned clear and cooler, with highs in the 70s. Ahhh, much better! Taking advantage of the beautiful day, we took a 45-minute train ride north of town to the Chicago Botanic Garden. We had to hoof it a mile or so from the train stop along a suburban road to the entrance, but once we stepped through the gates, the gorgeousness on display made the journey worthwhile.

With 23 display gardens and three native habitats luxuriously spread on 385 acres, the garden is too big to be seen in one day. But, oh, how I tried. I walked my DH’s marathon-tired feet off in an attempt to soak up as much of the garden as I could. Fellow garden lovers will understand how six hours of walking and admiring vignettes of plants simply flew by. Our baffled spouses will merely shake their heads and continue, I hope, to humor us.

Today I’ll show you my favorite display garden, the English Walled Garden, designed by John Brookes.


To get there, we passed The Crescent near the Botanic Garden’s entrance. The garden occupies nine islands, and you cross a long bridge to enter this space.


The formal elements caught my eye on the way to the English Walled Garden. This allee divides the Rose Garden from the Walled Garden. Don’t worry, fellow romantics—colorful borders and cozy, relaxed garden rooms are just around the corner.


At the Walled Garden’s entrance, a long, sunny border was tricked out in autumn’s rich hues.


All sorts of visitors were drawn to the flowering perennials.


More riotous color


Pineapple sage keeps company with Mexican bush sage.


Once you tear yourself away from the border, a charming gate marks your arrival. Beyond, brick walls, hedges, and pergolas mark the boundaries of the various gardens within the English Walled Garden.


I was drawn to this formal garden, a white urn anchoring the center amid a froth of white flowers.


The Checkerboard Garden. Normally the boxwood squares offer counterpoint to artemesia clipped at the same height. But a sign explained that the artemesia had suffered some sort of setback and was regrowing. I always find it encouraging to see that even artistically designed and professionally staffed gardens like this one have less-than-perfect moments.


A blue bench tucked into the corner of a wall offers a place for quiet reflection.


Behind it, a morning glory wall plaque


Life imitates art : a morning glory swags over the pergola nearby.


Classical columns and heavy beams support a wisteria as well.


Satyr wall fountain, one of many, many aquatic focal points in the Botanic Garden


Japanese anemones


Arched doorways open up the tall hedges. Very “secret garden.” Very romantic and charming.


It’s easy to visualize this muted hydrangea blossom in a dried arrangement, a reminder of summer all winter long. If, in fact, you lived in a climate where you wanted to be reminded of summer once you’d gotten through it.


I’ll leave you to rest on this bench, with its back cut precisely to match the circular window behind it. Next time I’ll show you the Japanese Garden and the Bonsai Collection.

12 Responses

  1. Layanee says:

    Pam: You are taunting all of us with Chicago! Let’s all meet there someday and take the tour in person! The next best thing, of course, are the glorious photos, each a work of art. Thanks for the walk through. I also found it interesting that the checkerboard garden with the clipped squares of box and artemisia were suffering aesthetically. That is a problem with monoculture isn’t it!

    Not taunting, Layanee—tempting! I think anyone in the vicinity would be crazy not to take advantage of Chicago’s beautiful gardens. And wouldn’t it be fun to have a blogger meet-up there one day. Or in Austin. ;-) —Pam

  2. Phillip says:

    I’ve only been to Chicago once and I didn’t get the chance to tour any gardens. I think I was there in October too. I love this garden and hate that I didn’t try and seek it out. Thanks for sharing!

    I’m sorry you missed it, Phillip. I’ve decided to start looking for gardens when I travel. It’s always interesting to see what grows in other places, and I enjoy the relaxing tourism of a garden visit. —Pam

  3. […] Tune in soon for a look at the gorgeous Chicago Botanic Garden, where we spent most of Tuesday. I’ll leave you with another look at the Bean. […]

  4. Pam, seeing your beautiful post is making me weep. Philos and I used to visit the Botanical Gardens a couple of times a year, usually with one or more offspring in tow, and we watched both English Walled and Japanese Gardens announced, laid out, constructed and planted from the ground up. The English Garden now has a maturity that was missing on my last visit, more than 8 years ago.

    I copied the use of a burgandy Smoke tree/Cotinus in the hot colored border, cutting it back severely each year so it never became a tree.

    I must somehow get back to this place.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Yes, you must, Annie, especially because of your history with the place. When my children were babies and then toddlers, I went to the Wildflower Center gardens a couple of times a month, just to stroll and see what was growing. Gardens are wonderful places to go with children.

    It’s pretty cool that you saw the English Walled Garden and Japanese Garden constructed. While we were there, crews were busy reworking the Dwarf Conifer Garden. I imagine going back one day to see how it turned out. —Pam

  5. Thanks for showing so many pics of this wonderful botanical gardens. John Brookes is no stranger to me as I have several of his books. Love those classical urns; it’s a pity they cost the earth otherwise I would have a few dotted about in my garden.

    Which of his books do you especially like, YE? If they show scenes of other beautiful English-style gardens, I may have to get one for the eye candy. —Pam

  6. I’m so glad you appreciate the professionally tended imperfections – every public garden has them! I loved the hot border because it’s even more outrageous than some of our color combos. That pineapple sage…

    Yes! That pineapple sage. I’m already thinking about where I could squeeze it in. And what you said about imperfection, even in professionally tended gardens—relaxing acceptance of it offers some comfort to home gardeners, I think, without diminishing their enjoyment. That’s why I appreciated that the Chicago staff had put up a sign by the stunted artemesia, explaining what had happened and describing the vision they were working toward. Likewise, we amateur gardeners are trying to realize our visions on limited budgets, with limited time. Imperfection will always be part of the process, but the vision keeps us going. —Pam

  7. […] When a travel opportunity knocks, I’m usually grabbing my suitcase on the way to the door. This year I resolved to mesh my love of travel and of gardens by visiting local gardens on my trips. Since August I’ve explored and blogged about Chicago’s and San Antonio’s botanical gardens. But until today I hadn’t taken the time to post about the one right here in Austin—the beloved but woefully underfunded (and occasionally defaced) Zilker Botanical Garden. On this mild, sunny fall day, I strolled its paths, so familiar to me from family walks, and tried to see it anew. […]

  8. […] I’ve been spending a good deal of time outdoors lately, in clients’ gardens-to-be. They know that summer is for planning your garden, not planting. While a hard summer like this one makes planting risky if not impossible, it’s the perfect time for hardscaping—adding paths, patios, edging, fencing, trellises—and generally planning your garden. How about the image above for inspiration? I saw this arbor last fall on a visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden. […]

  9. […] kicked things off last year, and I can’t wait to attend. Chicago is a vibrant city with a first-class botanical garden, not to mention a Piet Oudolf-designed public garden, Lurie Garden, pictured above. As in Austin, a […]

  10. Cheryl says:

    Wow, this place is wonderful…so strange to see our natives that far north. I’m not a big fan of classical arrangements but that checkerboard must be stunning when it’s filled out. I hope we get to visit here in May! I did drop MMGarden a note:) See you Wednesday in class!

  11. […] The massive pergola pictured at top is located in the English Walled Garden in the Chicago Botanic Garden. I admire the combination of classical columns and rustic, heavy […]

  12. […] I join 10 designers from Garden Designers Roundtable in posting about focal points. (Photo: English Walled Garden, Chicago Botanic […]

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