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Visiting the Lurie Garden in Chicago

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Lurie Garden in summer with skyscrapers in the background

Lurie Garden in summer with skyscrapers in the background

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.

Pale Purple Coneflower

Pale Purple Coneflower

Lurie Garden Location

White Coneflowers inside Lurie Garden

White Coneflowers inside Lurie Garden

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.

Coneflowers in late summer with view to the south

Coneflowers in late summer with view to the south

A refreshing dip at lunch.

A refreshing dip at lunch.

Purple Prairie Clover

Purple Prairie Clover

Design Elements

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!

Queen of the Prairie

Queen of the Prairie

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.

Species Tulip in Spring

Species Tulip in Spring

Lurie Garden Plants by Season


Prairie Smoke

Globe Thistle

Sea Oats

Virginia Bluebells

Giant Hyssop


Species Tulips

Butterfly Weed

Switch Grass

Shooting Star





Rattlesnake Master

Wild White Indigo

Pale Coneflower

Tennesee Coneflower


Liatris (white & Purple types)

Purple Coneflower

Giant Tulip


Wood Aster


Bee Balm

Purple Love Grass



Toad Lily


Queen of the Prairie

Compass Plant

Persian Lily

Joe Pye Weed

White False Indigo

Mountain Mint

Culver's Root


Glory of the Snow

Meadow Sage




Yellow Coneflower


Sea Holly

Golden Alexanders


Iron Weed



Swamp Milkweed

Russian Sage





Wild Quinine



Purple Prairie Clover


Common Milkweed


Late summer garden with red daylilies and purple coneflower.  Art Institute modern wing in the background.

Late summer garden with red daylilies and purple coneflower. Art Institute modern wing in the background.

Swath of Alliums in the foreground with Rattlesnake master and Russian Sage in the background

Swath of Alliums in the foreground with Rattlesnake master and Russian Sage in the background

Phlox with Culver's Root

Phlox with Culver's Root

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.

Rattlesnake Master

Rattlesnake Master

Globe Thistle

Globe Thistle

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