Thursday, June 09, 2022

Fern House at the Garfield Park Conservatory

A glimpse of what Illinois may have looked like 300 million years ago. That was the vision of landscape architect Jens Jensen when he conceptualised the Fern House within Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago, Illinois. The plans were made in 1906 and opened to the public in 1908 much to the delight of locals and visitors alike. It was reported to have been a sensation...

Fern House at Garfield Park Conservatory
And it still looks sensational now. What we have seen is perhaps the best large scale indoor/glasshouse fernery we have seen so far, in maintenance and presentation.

We recently spent several days in the city of Chicago, a trip dominated by admiring skyscrapers and architecture, and other things usually associated with a city break. But we also made sure to include a visit to a plant haven and the nearest large scale one from the city centre was Garfield Park Conservatory, within it's namesake park which is worth exploring too. It can be easily reached by taking the Green Line on the city's L Train system from the city centre, alighting at Conservatory - Central Park Drive station. From there you are in the middle of the park and the glasshouse is just a couple of minutes walk away.

You enter the glasshouse (free of charge, with a suggested donation) and you are greeted by the Palm House section, and connected from there are other sections (Aroid, Desert, etc) which we'll feature on future posts. For now we'll feature it's most spectacular section, the truly outstanding Fern House.

Let's have a look around..

Like most gardens and attractions, the pathways are interconnected and mainly goes around on a loop so it's just a choice whether go left or right first. Either way you'll be in a for a treat for a glasshouse that is very well planted and maintained.

As you can see, the planting is mature, dense, and well maintained. Plenty of use of rocks and crevices with suitable ferns established on them. The variety of their fern collection is outstanding as one would have expected of an old glasshouse. 

Despite the namesake, ferns are not the only plants found in this section, but plenty of cycads too which complements them, to imbibe that Carboniferous era feel as visualised by Jens Jensen. 

And then of course, no fernery would be complete without majestic Tree Ferns. Plants on the ground are usually planted straight on to Illinois soil rather than raised beds.

The Fern House also has waterfalls and several small interconnected ponds that leads on to the spectacular main pool. Truly beautiful staging.

Such a magical place that both satisfies in presentation and botanical interest. If you ever find yourself in the vibrant city of Chicago and you are into plants, put Garfield Park Conservatory very high up your list of things to do in the city. Visit and be prepared to be amazed!

Mark :-)


  1. Well, as plant havens go, I doubt you could make a better choice than visiting this one. I can't say I've seen many conservatories that large in SoCal - I'm not sure even the one at The Huntington is as big as that one appears to be. As my own local botanic garden (which had a tiny greenhouse masquerading as a conservatory, now closed) recently borrowed 70 flamingo topiaries from the Garfield Park Conservatory, it was also interesting to see their home turf.

    1. Sounds like the park/conservatory has got a very good botanical operation going on :)

  2. No exaggeration! As you say, the presentation, the layering of what are essentially all-green plants that manages to create separation and highlight distinct shapes is amazing.

    1. It's just superb and truly astounding how they have done the planting, a major highlight of the trip!

  3. WOW! It would take me quite awhile to move along those paths, stopping to stare at all the small wonders tucked in here and there.

    1. There's so much to take in. It's waiting for you :)


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