Garfield Park Conservatory
There’s a reason why the Garfield Park Conservatory shows up on so many Chicago travel guides (including mine!). Actually, there are about a million reasons why, but all those reasons are really wrapped up in one moment. Distilled down, the concentrated essence of what this place is and does for us is simple.
Go there in the winter. On a horrendously frigid day, preferably in the middle of hard, gray February, open the door to the Palm House and remember what it feels like like to breathe. Recall that the color green comes in infinite shades and shapes. Slowly peel off your layers of down and wool and let the humidity in the air (remember what that is?) smooth the creases another endless winter has embedded in your face.
If you’re lucky, find an open bench to sit on and watch the people, children, couples hand-in-hand, wander down the pathways. Dazzled smiles on parade, each in awe that something so beautiful can really exist, here, now. If you planned ahead, eat your packed lunch of cheese sandwiches and clementines and forget, just for a moment, about the sharp wind waiting for you on the other side of the glass walls. Promise yourself, and anyone within earshot, that you’ll return once a month until the trees bud again. Once a week! Everyday if you know what’s good for you.
This place is magic any time of year. In the summer, you can wander through acres of outdoor urban plantings, vertical gardens, and working farms. In spring and fall, you can search for narcissus bulbs sprouting from the hard earth, or leaves changing color in the mighty Hawthorn grove. Visiting the Conservatory in winter, however, teeters on brushing up against the divine. That first step into the first climate controlled room restores your faith in life, in the belief that at some point in the future, we’ll have warmth and growth again. That one day, clouds won’t shield the sun for weeks on end, fingertips won’t always be numb and blue, sidewalks won’t always be one boot wide, chiseled down to tiny canyons of icy snow and salt.
Chicago can be a rough place for a plant lover. The growing season is lush and welcoming and almost makes you forget what the other side of the coin looks like. Once the air goes cold for good, indoor refuge is the name of the game. The Garfield Park Conservatory will grant you sanctuary. Pack that picnic, wear some layers, bring a book, and enjoy.
The Garfield Park Conservatory is located a short walk from the Conservatory-Central Park Drive stop on the CTA Green Line. Open 365 days a year, admission is free.