Beauty abounds at the Chicago Botanic Garden

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(Last Updated On: October 17, 2018)

With 27 gardens and four natural areas, the Chicago Botanic Garden provides a lush oasis of calm and beauty just north of the Windy City.

Looking out the window into the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation.net

Flowers and more at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Whatever the season, the Chicago Botanic Garden offers visitors a chance to enjoy something green and beautiful.

Surrounded by color on a beautiful day

We visited the garden on a beautiful early fall day last September.

Despite the season, there were still plenty of colorful summer plants blooming in the formal gardens behind the visitor center and along the water.

Lakeside gardens at the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation.net

Waterlilies in the Heritage Garden

In a garden filled with stunning gardens, the Heritage Garden stands out for both its beauty and the range of plants on display.

The center of the garden features a flower-filled garden planted in a fountain.

Central fountain garden in the Heritage Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation.net

This garden-in-a-fountain is in a plaza encircled by walkways and a ring of waterlily ponds.

Technically, the Chicago Botanic Garden only has one aquatic garden. This is not it. However, with a mix of tropical and hardy waterlilies, Victoria lilies, lotuses, and a variety of other water-loving plants like cana lilies, the Heritage Garden’s formal water garden is one of the most beautiful I have seen.

And that’s not all. The ring of water gardens is enclosed by another ring with a walkway and yet another exuberant garden.

Heritage Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation.net

It’s a wonderful space.

Apparently the garden is laid out to reflect the layout of gardens from the past. The plants themselves are grouped by geographic origin and scientific classification.

That organizational structure was more-or-less lost on me.  However, it did explain the giant sculpture of a very young-looking Carl Linnaeus pouncing on a flower!

Linnaeus sculpture in the Heritage Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation.net

(The Swedish botanist developed the system used to name plants and animals.)

The English walled garden

There are other formal gardens at the Chicago Botanic Garden, including a rose garden that wraps around a lawn with a large fountain.

Rose garden and fountain in the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation.net

(You can see a few roses if you look closely.}

I don’t have anything against rose gardens, but I prefer the six peaceful “rooms” of the English Walled Garden.

While it was an inviting space on a fall day, I think these English gardens would be particularly lovely in spring. Not quite as good as England in the spring, but still a lovely place to linger.

The Japanese Garden

The Japanese Garden is another area of the Chicago Botanic Garden that would be particularly stunning in spring when the trees and shrubs are in bloom. But fall is also a great time to visit, as many of the leaves turn brilliant colors.

Japanese Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation.net

The garden is built on three islands (two of which you can visit) and has an enticing mix of plantings, dry gardens, bridges, and buildings.

Step into a warmer climate at any time of year

The Chicago Botanic Garden has three greenhouses filled with plants more commonly found in tropical rain forests, hot deserts, and semitropical regions.

The tropical greenhouse

The tropical greenhouse is where I’d want to be on a cold winter day, as daytime temperatures inside are in the 80s – 90s with 90% humidity. It’s a bit like being in a plant-filled sauna!

The desert greenhouse

Of course, the arid desert greenhouse wouldn’t be a bad place to hide out on a cold winter day either.

There’s a nice mix of cacti, succulents, and other odd things. A few were even in bloom when we visited.

The semitropical greenhouse

The third greenhouse is for plants that thrive in warm, but not tropical, areas. A lot of the plants here are familiar houseplants, but there are also more unusual plants and an amazing bog garden with carnivorous plants.

Bonsai

The Chicago Botanic Garden has a bonsai collection that includes almost 200 plants, a selection of which can be viewed in a sheltered courtyard from spring through fall.

Bonsai display at the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation.net

All of the bonsai have labels that indicate the age of the plant and how long it has been trained. One white pine in the collection has been trained for at least 100 years! I find that rather amazing.

Art Exhibits

Besides gardens, the Chicago Botanical Garden also has exhibition space that features a variety of plant shows and art exhibits throughout the year. The largest of these spaces is in the Regenstein Center, which is also where the greenhouses are located.

Exhibits change regularly and often include the work of fine art photographers and painters.

When we visited in September 2017, the featured exhibit included paintings, sketches, and textiles by Brazilian designer Roberto Burle Marx. I wasn’t familiar with Marx’s work, but having seen a few of his bold graphics and swirling colors I would love to see some of the landscapes he created. They must be an amazing mix of color!

Exhibit on Brazilian designer Roberto Burle Marx at the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVaction.net

Plan your visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden

The Chicago Botanic Garden is open daily throughout the year, although not all gardens within it have much to see all year. (Chicago has winters, after all.)There is also special programming throughout the year, including what looks to be a lovely Christmas display in December and a spectacular orchid show in February and March.

There is no charge to visit the garden, but there is a rather considerable fee for parking.

Entrance to the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation.net

The botanic garden is a popular location for weddings and other events. During those events, the general public may not have access to all parts of the garden. If there is a particular part of the garden you really want to see during peak wedding season, call ahead and make sure it will be open to the public while you are there.

Getting there

The Chicago Botanic Garden is located about 20 miles northwest of Chicago in Glencoe, Illinois.

The garden’s website provides detailed information and links, so the following is just a brief summary.

Dining at the garden

The Chicago Botanic Garden has several dining options during the summer.

The Garden View Café offers several options for breakfast, lunch, and Sunday brunch between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. throughout the year. Seating is available in the sunny dining room or outside on an expansive patio with wonderful views over the river to the garden.

Patio at the cafe at the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation.net

(That’s the patio at the Café. Looks pleasant, doesn’t it.)

During the summer, there are additional dining options. The Garden Grille offers burgers, brats, and daily specials. Along the rose garden, the Rose Terrace Beer Garden serves craft beers, salads, and sandwiches. Both of these seem to have limited operating hours that vary with the day of the week.

Resources for planning your visit

If you are interested in a particular part of the garden or just want a better idea of what to expect when you get there, the Chicago Botanic Garden has resources to help you.

Take a virtual tour

The garden’s virtual tour lets you see much of the garden using Google’s street view technology.  It’s a little clunky to navigate, but it provides a good idea of how the gardens are laid out.

Follow the map

A map of the garden is available once you arrive, but you can also view and download the map before you leave home.

Consult the app

Visitors with a smartphone should try the Chicago Botanic Garden’s  app. It’s designed to meet the needs of both casual visitors and serious gardeners and is available for both IOS and Android phones.

The app’s interactive map will be of use to everyone. Besides showing the layout of the garden, it aids navigation by showing exactly where you are in the garden. It also lets you mark favorite places – including the location of your car!

The app also offers several narrated walking tours and a guide to what’s in bloom at the time of your visit.

Serious gardeners will appreciate the app’s plant finder feature, which can be used to locate specific plants in the garden. Just type in a plant’s common or Latin name and the app will show you where to find it. There is also a plant guide that lets you search by plant characteristics to find examples of plants that might be right for your own yard.

What’s in bloom?

If you are interested in seeing a particular plant in bloom, check the garden’s What’s in Bloom page.

Beauty Abounds at the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation.netThis will tell you both what is in bloom at the moment (or thereabouts), as well as what is coming up in the next couple of months. You can also download a detailed list of plants in bloom.

Like much of the upper Midwest, winter weather has lingered longer than usual in the Chicago area. That means the only garden flowers in bloom are winter blooming trees and shrubs like witch hazel and pussy willow and early bulbs like crocus, reticulata iris (those really low-growing ones), and winter aconite. And, of course, the greenhouses are full of things in bloom!

The website says they will be planting spring annuals in mid-April. However, with daytime temperatures dropping into the 40s this weekend, those plantings are still likely to be pretty limited for a while.

Beauty Abounds at the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation
Beauty Abounds at the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation
Waterlily at the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation.net
Waterlily at the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation.net
Beauty Abounds at the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation
Beauty Abounds at the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation
Beauty Abounds at the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation
Painted waterlily at the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation.net
Waterlily at the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation.net
Waterlily at the Chicago Botanic Garden - ExplorationVacation.net
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I love botanic gardens. I expected the big city of Chicago to have a great one and I wasn’t disappointed. But wait, it might even be be more alluring in spring!

ourboomerblog

Thanks for this informative article on the Chicago Botanic Gardens. Our son just moved to Chicago this past weekend, so we will have plenty of chances to experience this place for ourselves.

Wow, what a huge botanical garden and what a great time to visit. Burle Max is huge here in Latin America, especially where I’m visiting now in Brazil and what a treat to see his paintings and graphic designs there.

I love visiting Botanical Gardens and Chicago Botanical Gardens looks beautiful. I like that entrance is free, but that is a pretty stiff parking fee.

I’ve been to Chicago so many times, but never to the Botanical Gardens. Next time.

I absolutely adore visiting Botanical Gardens when I travel. The Chicago Botanic Garden looks like a marvellous place to explore. Thx so much for introducing me to it.

debbra2015

Thank you for such an extensive post on Chicago’s Botanic Garden! You really covered it all. I love visiting them and will make it a point to incorporate it into my next Chicago trip. Your photos are fantastic!

Kristin Henning

Yes, hope springs eternal! What a comprehensive and inspiring post. I hope to visit the Chicago Botanic Garden after seeing this. Love the sculpture of Carl Linnaeus; we just came from Sweden where he is also frequently recognized.

During all of my years living in Chicago and years since then visiting the WIndy City, I’ve never been to the Chicago Botanic Garden. Love your gorgeous photos which have inspired me to make a visit next time. However, now that I live in the Sonoran Desert, I might look at the desert greenhouse with a very critical eye. 🙂

What a wonderful variety of plants and garden styles at the Chicago Botanic Garden! I particularly liked the look of the Japanese garden.