Lurie Garden Walking Tour

I recently spent a few days in Chicago, Illinois.  This is the third post in a series about the museums, architecture, public gardens, and art I visited while there.  The first post can be viewed here.

The less formal gardens in Millennium Park are complemented by the Lurie Garden.  The five acre garden that makes up the Lurie was designed by  Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd, Piet Oudolf and Robert Israel.  The design of the garden reflects Chicago’s history and combines landscape design with ecological preservation.  

While wondering through Millennium Park I happened to notice that free guided tours of the Lurie are offered weekly throughout the summer.  The 20 minute volunteer led tour focuses on the design, history, and plants that make up the Lurie Garden. 

When walking through the garden on my own I had a number of questions about which plants were used, the number of native plants incorporated, and the rational behind plant selection.  The tour guide did an excellent job of explaining the reasoning behind the plants and answering questions about specific plants.  The volunteer guide seemed to know what almost every plant was, why it was planted, and the history of the plant in the Lurie Garden. Considering the wide variety of plants found in the garden this knowledge was pretty impressive.

Our guide also spent some time explaining the elements of the garden that reflect the history of Chicago.  For example, the large hedges that surround the north and west portion of the garden were included to represent ‘big shoulders.’  The shoulder hedge appears to support the Pritzker Pavilion that is to the north of the garden and is a representation of idea that Chicago is a city with big shoulders.

The garden itself is divided into a dark and light plate.  The dark plate was designed to represent the early landscape of the site and city — a rugged shoreline and challenging land.  The light plate focuses on the future and the plants in this section are much more warm and controlled.  Had I not participated in the tour I would have had no idea of the historical connotations of the design.

If you’re interested in learning more about specific plants in the Lurie the garden’s website has information on all the flowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees planted in the garden. The information provided about each plant is fairly basic/encyclopedia styled but is useful if during a visit you saw a plant that you wanted to know the name of. 

I would definitely recommend the free walking tour to anyone who is interested in learning more details about the garden itself.  If you don’t have time for a tour or aren’t interested in learning that much about a garden – the Lurie is still worth a visit and is a beautiful place to take a walk.

Photo Credit: Andrew MacKay

Parks, Public Art, and Community Gardens

I recently spent a few days in Chicago, Illinois.  This is the second post in a series about the museums, architecture, public gardens, and art I visited while there.  The first post can be viewed here.

One of my favourite mornings in Chicago was spent wondering around Millennium Park and the numerous public gardens in the area. Millennium Park contains a number of great public art pieces, examples of great architecture, and regularly hosts free music events.


Vegetables in Millennium Park flower bed

 I loved the fact that so much of the downtown area had been preserved as green space. The space the Millennium Park occupies was  maintained by the Illinois Central Railroad and prior to 1997 the area was filled with railroad tracks and parking lots. Through a public and private partnership the now 24.5 acre park was turned into a public space built on top of the ‘unsightly’ parking lots. Photographs of the transformation of the land can be seen in the Chicago Public Library Millennium Park Digital Collection

The park is perhaps most well known for its inclusion of the work of architect Frank Gehry in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and BP Bridge.  Both are beautiful structures and during my visit we took in a bit of the Grant Park Music Festival in the Pavilion.

The park also has a number of public art installations including Cloud Gate (aka the bean), Crown Fountain, and currently 1004 Portraits by Jaume Plensa is on by the Crown Fountain.

Art In The Farm Garden

I was also enthralled by the integration of vegetables into the gardens of Millennium and Grant Park.  A number of the main gardens and flower beds in Millennium Park contain corn, tomatoes, herbs and other veggies.  When harvested the vegetables are being donated to local non-profits. 

Youth working in the Art In The Farm Garden

There were also a number of vegetable only gardens in other sections of the park.  The community driven nature of these initiatives is inspiring.  The Grant Park “Art in the Farm” urban agriculture project is managed by Growing Power which trains and employs at-risk youth in urban agriculture and community food system development.  The gardens were both beautiful and practical.  It was great to see people working in the gardens and actually engaging with the green space. 

The prevalence of community gardens reminded me a lot of wartime community gardens that were started during WWII.  In Chicago over 1,500 victory gardens were started in the city mostly by people who had never gardened before.  An interesting comparison between the 1940s victory gardens and contemporary urban gardening can be seen here.

You can easily spend hours wondering around the parks in Chicago taking in the public art, gardens, and examples of community building.  I also spent considerable time in the Lurie Garden, which I’ll talk about in a separate post.

Photo Credit: Andrew MacKay.