I am a writer and lover of nature. My knowledge of gardening is extensive, having used and applied many of the principles I preach.
A Garden in the Heart of the City
The Lurie Garden is a free, outdoor garden located just steps from the Modern Art Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. Opened in June of 2004, it offers the viewer awesome views of the Chicago skyline as the backdrop for some truly lovely gardens that incorporate perennials, trees, and shrubs into its landscape. The gardens feature both sun and shade options that are plotted out in a grid pattern with multiple sections. The plots consist of many native plantings that attract pollinators and birds. Visitors can view these garden plots from any number of benches scattered throughout the garden or have a seat on one of several retaining walls that envelop each plot.
Lurie Garden Location
How the Garden Came to Be
The Lurie Garden is so named after a generous benefactor, Ann Lurie, in conjunction with the Robert and Ann Lurie Foundation. The foundation, which was formed after Robert Lurie's (a prominent real estate and investment banker in Chicago) untimely death at the age of 48 from colon cancer, donated an endowment of $10 million for the upkeep of the gardens. The 13.2 million to build the park itself was raised by the Millennium Park Foundation by contributions from various private donors. Public support donations and the membership program help fund the garden's mission.
The plot on which it sits was once owned by the Illinois Central Railroad and also housed a few parking lots. In 1997 it was made available for purchase and the city of Chicago purchased the plot for park development, thus giving the property back to the people as it was originally intended by the Chicago forefathers and an 1836 Board of Canal Commissions decree.
The land east of Michigan Avenue between Randolph to the north and 11th Street to the south was designated as "public ground." The decree says: "A common to remain forever open, clear and free of any buildings or other obstructions." This decree is protected by legislation from 4 Illinois Supreme Court rulings.
As stated before, the garden is designed into several garden plots in both shade and sun, with trees and shrubs anchoring the design. Materials used in the creation of this garden are Geo-foam (lightweight polystyrene blocks used as fill) underneath the soil and hardscape elements like walkways, retaining walls, stairs, etc. The retaining walls are constructed of local Midwestern limestone.
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There is a man-made stream that runs through the center of the garden that is clad in granite, which is very popular during the summer months with the locals on their lunch break. I myself have walked over to the garden many times to dip my toes in the cool water while eating my lunch and enjoying the garden and the weather!
Types of Plants in the Garden
There is a very large assortment of plants located here and designed to bloom in succession from spring through late fall. The best times to visit are from June through September, when you will get several plants performing at their peak bloom time creating masses of flowers. See the chart below for the seasons and what is blooming in each season.
Lurie Garden Plants by Season
Wild White Indigo
Liatris (white & Purple types)
Purple Love Grass
Queen of the Prairie
Joe Pye Weed
White False Indigo
Glory of the Snow
Purple Prairie Clover
Important Information for Your Visit
It is important to note, while the gardens are free and open to the public the majority of the time, it is wise to check ahead of time to make sure the gardens are open. Large events held in Millennium Park and Grant Park, like Lollapalooza, can temporarily close the garden. This is for the safety of the plants to make sure they aren't getting trampled by large crowds. You can check the status of accessibility by going to its website.
Visit Often for Changing Views
The Lurie Garden is one of those places that you cannot visit just once; the landscape is constantly changing throughout the year. Visit often to view the garden in all seasons. The best part about the garden aside from the interesting and native plants is that it is FREE! So even if you are on a tight budget, you can easily take public transit downtown (the CTA and Metra have service very close to the garden) and stop by for a visit. There are also several other public artworks downtown you can visit for free, so you can turn your afternoon into a self-guided sightseeing tour of the iconic city works.