Chicago’s Millennium Park is a huge draw for tourists. With sights like the public sculpture Cloud Gate, (affectionately known as “The Bean”), free classical concerts in the summer at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and a view of Chicago’s magnificent skyline, Millennium Park can be packed with visitors.
I am a fan of hidden gardens and for tourists visiting Millennium Park, a quiet secret garden, the Lurie Garden, surprises visitors with its fields of hedges and flowers.
Discretely hidden behind tall hedges next to the Pavilion’s Great Lawn, visitors almost stumble upon the garden by accident. I actually had to stop at the park welcome center for help with directions.
The garden almost seems like a field of wildflowers, similar to what might be seen on the prairie. I almost forgot where I was as the plants and flowers are positioned to seem distant from the nearby skyscrapers and the Art Institute of Chicago. It’s a colorful wild field in an urban setting that actually seems far away. Interestingly, this area of Chicago used to be a swamp that had to be filled in, as anything east of Michigan Avenue used to be a swamp.
The garden’s plants were designed by Piet Oudolf who used a mix of native and non-native plants. The layout is set in plates including a light plate and a dark plate with a seam at an angle. I happened to visit in July when the garden was still catching up from Chicago’s especially severe winter this year.
Colors are spectacular and some of the flowers are designed to attract butterflies. I was told the garden is most vibrant in July and August and that most of the blooming occurs between May and September. During the winter, the Lurie Garden is dormant.
I loved the fields of coneflowers, small petunias, lilies, wild indigo and ornamental onions. The colors are subtle and I felt like a child running through an open field, completely forgetting I was in the heart of a major city.
The Lurie Garden offers free informative twenty-minute tours during lunch on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. Tours meet in Millennium Park at a white tent just off Monroe Street.
The tour provides guests with an idea of what is in bloom during their visit as well as an idea of how the garden is laid out. A special surprise is also revealed in the walk as I was shocked to learn that the garden is built over parking garages and a commuter railroad. I had no idea what I was standing over and was told that this garden is the second largest roof garden in the world! For extra added views of the Lurie Garden, climb the Nichols Bridgeway where visitors can view the layout from above.
Like the children’s book “The Secret Garden”, the Lurie Garden feels like a special gift that few people know about. In a park packed with people, the Lurie Garden is a peaceful escape where visitors can imagine vibrant open fields and even chase butterflies.