Chicago Botanic Garden: Evening Island


Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’ (Flame Grass)

At the Chicago Botanic Garden last week, we bypassed several other gardens in order to see Evening Island before we had to catch the train back to town. It wasn’t yet evening when we crossed the bridge onto this 5-acre island garden, but the afternoon sun was setting alight the sweeps of grasses.


Two bridges access Evening Island. We crossed on the Serpentine Bridge (sorry, no photo), which undulates across the water from this curving, stone overlook.


The Arch Bridge offers passage through the willows. See the wind in the willows?


The stars of this garden are the ornamental grasses, making autumn a perfect time to visit. The perennials planted alongside them—echinacea, Russian sage—had mostly gone to seed, eliminating their color from the composition. But that allowed the spotlight to shine fully on the grasses, and they were amazing.


As you walk up the hill amid the grasses, you nearly disappear into them. My 6-foot tall husband patiently provides a sense of scale in this photo.


Over the miscanthus, the Carillon (bell tower) is visible.


Panicum virgatum ‘Dallas Blues’ (switch grass), with Russian sage in the background


A close-up of the panicum’s coppery inflorescence


Passing through the grasses and under a grove of trees at the top of a hill, you find the Council Ring, two low, curving stone walls.


A cool place to rest and reminisce on a day well spent


This lakeside combination caught my eye on the back side of the hill.


Trains won’t wait, so it was time to go. But the beauty of this New American-style garden was the perfect end to a lovely day exploring the botanic garden. When I think back on how much of it we didn’t see, even after six hours, I know I’ll have to plan another trip to Chicago someday. Next time, maybe in spring.

To see photos from the other gardens I visited at Chicago Botanic Garden, click here.

13 Responses

  1. […] Next up, for fellow ornamental grass lovers, is Evening Island, our final garden of the day. If you missed the Japanese Garden and Bonsai Collection, click here. […]

  2. Kim says:

    Oh my goodness. When you said your husband is 6ft tall I made a mental note to go out and move a couple of my miscanthus, just in case! You really do get a sense of the enormity of the grass beds from seeing him inside them–I’m glad he was so patient about you taking his picture like that.

    One other thing that struck me was that the simple stone paths provided a great counterpoint to those grasses. With the stones cut large and the grass foliage and flowers being so fine, it was a soothing combination.

    Hi, Kim. These miscanthus were very tall, but some varieties are more compact. My ‘Adagio’ is only supposed to be 2-3′ tall, and ‘Yaku Jima’ no more than 4′. We shall see. I like the decomposed-granite path too. It’s very commonly used here in Austin. —Pam

  3. Robin says:

    Pam, I love the garden tours. Wow the flowers and grasses are beautiful. I’m with you, the mixed borders are so much more interesting and colorful. I’m even more convinced than ever that a future visit to Chicago is a must.

    Glad you liked the tour, Robin. I really loved this garden and would definitely recommend a trip to Chicago to see it. —Pam

  4. Lori says:

    I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a good thing I don’t live in Chicago, because I would spend every spare moment at the Botanic Gardens and never get anything done!

    Ha, so would I! —Pam

  5. Ellis Hollow says:

    And it looks like everything was in motion that day, too.

    The wind arrived with the cooler temperatures. It brought movement and sound to the grass garden. —Pam

  6. LostRoses says:

    What a wonderful series of posts, Pam! Everything looks so wonderful (including your 6 ft. tall husband). Those bonsais certainly were the best I’ve ever seen. Do you see prettier things than I do or is it your camera? Either way, it’s a treat for the eyes!

    My camera does a fine job of capturing what I see, and it doesn’t hurt to shoot beautiful objects either. I’m happy that you enjoyed the posts. Thanks for the compliments. —Pam

  7. shirl says:

    Wow and Wow! Thank-you so much for sharing these photos Pam :-) I will definitley visit Chicago one day :-D

    You’re welcome, Shirl. I’m glad you enjoyed them. —Pam

  8. CarolJ says:

    Great photos Pam! Those massive grass plantings are breathtaking. I would love to add that type of feature to our property some day. Your talent for photography, along with your creative presentation and interesting and informative descriptions make me feel like I am walking through the gardens with you. Thanks for these wonderful posts!

    Thank you Carol J! You are fortunate to have space enough to contemplate adding a sweeping grass garden. I use a number of small-scale grasses, but I wish I had room for some of the dramatic giants. —Pam

  9. kate says:

    The grasses are breathtaking! With the wind whistling through, it must have been magical. I like the Council ring … very serene. Imagine having a garden like that to visit every day!

    It was magical, Kate. Actually, the whole garden was, especially at this time of year. Thanks for commenting. —Pam

  10. Layanee says:

    You have really captured the beauty of the grasses in autumn! And, the wind in the willows is a perfect shot. All beautiful! Again, thanks for sharing this garden!

    Thank you for visiting and for the nice comments, Layanee. —Pam

  11. This is another area that’s new to me – and how lovely it is, Pam! You’re doing a wonderful job of transporting us up to the far northern edge of Chicago. And they added a Council Ring! That was one of early designer Jens Jensen’s trademarks, along with grasses and wildflowers.
    http://chicagowildernessmag.org/issues/spring2001/jensjensen.html
    Jensen also designed Lilacia Park in Lombard.

    I grew several miscanthus varieties in Illinois, and think that in some years they were easily 7-feet tall, and after a few years, probably 5-feet in diameter.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Thanks for the link about Jens Jensen. Reading about his influence has added a new dimension to my experience of the Botanic Garden. —Pam

  12. Kim says:

    Pam, I had thought ‘Adagio’ was supposed to be 4ft. tall. I may have to take another look at that one. ‘Little Kitten’ is supposed to be a shorty–more like pennisetum-sized–and I can’t resist the idea of adding a few of those in the front garden next year.

    I like ‘Little Kitten’ too. I’m trying some small ruby grass ( Melinis nerviglumis) this year at the front of one of my sunny beds. —Pam

  13. […] first council ring I ever saw was at Chicago Botanic Garden on Evening Island. I loved the idea of simple, circular stone walls that double as benches, enclosing a peaceful […]

Follow