Chicagos Lurie Garden: a very public native space

So I was in Chicago last month with a camera.

So I was in Chicago last month with a camera. This self-portrait was looking into the heavily finger-printed reflective bean sculpture.

My husband and I visited Chicagos Millennium Park last month and were in full tourist mode taking photos of the reflective bean sculpture, the interesting fountain that spits water at you, the big heads and other famous attractions there. What a pleasant surprise to find Lurie Garden in the center of this very popular space. Designed by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd, Piet Oudolf, and Robert Israel, this 5-acre garden consists of a sustainable and mostly native plant collection.

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Lurie Garden is in a very public area. How wonderful that its planted mostly with natives.

We spent a lot of time walking around the garden. What a wonderful example to help redefine what a real garden is supposed to look like. In a way this is a follow-up to my last post on New Yorks High Line Park. (Piet Oudolf was also the planting designer for the High Line Park, so there are many similarities.)

We were there early on a Sunday morning for the good morning light and to avoid the crowds, but it wasnt long before thousands of Bears fans joined us as they headed to that days football game at the southern end of the park. There are no huge parking lots around Soldier Field—people come by mass transit and walk the rest of the way through the park. How sustainable.

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These cone flowers (Echinacea sp. probably xSunrise) glowed in the early morning light.

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Some coneflowers were almost orange in the center.

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Bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii), is bringing vibrant color to the autumn garden. This oddly shaped flower never opens, hence its moniker. Lurie Garden website.

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Even though the flowers dont open, the bees know what to do. They climb in!

This fat carpenter bee almost disappears as it works its way into the flower.

This fat carpenter bee almost disappears as it works its way into the flower.

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Many garden magazines, websites, and TV shows would never leave all these spent cone flowers, but wait

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If they had dead-headed the flowers, the goldfinches would not have a favorite snack.

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Another goldfinch finds some coneflower seeds. The garden invites people to rethink the purpose of gardens.

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While its not the pure native species, this cultivar (Echinacea Pixie Meadowbrite) brightens up the garden not only with its pink ray florets, but also with its metallic green bee.

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There were quite a few areas planted with several species of milkweed. Common milkweed (Asclepieas syriaca) is taller than the others. I bet the monarchs were happy to find this oasis.

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The 15-tall/8-thick hedges surrounding the space not only block out the city noise, but they also provide good habitat for the birds. The plants in the garden are mostly low and they end up looking like a rolling prairie.

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The garden looks good from any direction.

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Signs and tours help people understand whats going on.

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As we were leaving, this overview provides a different perspective. The tent is in place, because at 10am, the guided garden tours start. Maybe some of the Bears fans will slow down to take in the garden before the game.

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Closer to the football stadium, a more formal garden seems dead—no bees, birds, or people.

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Horsetail (Equisetum sp.) covers an entire green space not far from Lurie Garden. This may be the best use of this plant that Ive ever seen.

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Farther south in Illinois, a rest area has labeled this wildflower garden. Again, birds were thick.

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A good explanation for a lakeside park in Minnesota.

We still have a lot of work to do

The lesson we can take from Lurie Garden, the High Line Park, and less formal public spaces is that outreach is so important. Native plant enthusiasts have a lot of teaching to do to overcome those impossibly perfect landscapes touted as the best examples of what to do on TV, magazines, and websites.

Take-away lessons:

- Include informative signs when designing public gardens.
The name of the plant is nice, but what role it plays in the local ecosystem helps visitors begin to think differently.

- Plan for ongoing maintenance and ongoing support. Even with a native (or mostly native) landscape, you cannot plant it and forget it. Create a Friends of XX Garden to coordinate this. Both the High Line and Lurie Garden have a group that raises money, runs tours and other events, manages maintenance, and coordinates the PR including an informative website.

For more examples of people organizing efforts to preserve and maintain ecosystems, see Eco-activists: a few people can make a real difference, Supporting wildlife beyond your garden gate and as mentioned above, New Yorks High Line Park.

People come from far & wide to see this fountain in Chicago's Millennium Park. It really grabs your attention. Having Lurie Garden close by may change a lot of people's minds about natives.

People come from far & wide to see the unusual Crown Fountain in Chicagos Millennium Park. It really grabs your attention. Having Lurie Garden close by is an effective way to change a lot of peoples minds about natives.
How do you call attention to your projects?

For ideas on improving outreach for your eco-oriented organization, Sue Dingwell and I teamed up with a four-part series on outreach:

Outreach with Impact Part One: 
-the need for more outreach, and organizing a small regional event
Outreach with Impact Part Two:
-making an attractive booth
Outreach with Impact Part Three:
-organizing and publicizing larger events
Outreach with Impact Part Four:
-attracting and training volunteers.

 

Its been proven that even small isolated patches filled with native plants provide significant ecosystem services to the area.
So what are you waiting for?

 

 

© 2014, Ginny Stibolt. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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Comments

  1. Patricia C. Hill says

    The Echinacea that you are calling Pale Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea pallida) are not. In the first place, Pale Purple Coneflower bloom in June, not September; they are pale pink in color, not pale yellow, and the petals are narrower and droop considerably more than that photo. Also the cone is orange, not green changing to yellow. The designers used a lot of cultivars in that gardenit may be Echinacea xSunrise.

    Reply
    • Ginny Stibolt says

      Patricia, thanks for the correction. Coneflowers are only native to one county in the Florida Panhandle, so Ive not had much luck or long experience with them.
      Ginny Stibolt recently posted..Cole crops

      Reply
  2. suzanne dingwell says

    Ginny, thanks for putting the spotlight on these two highly visible plantings acquainting the public in such positive ways about the benefits and delights of native plants. I hope it gives people everywhere the inspiration to start and support similar initiatives in the places they live, too. We CAN do something! Great advice to have the follow-on care in place before getting started; an important component every project needs champions who will nurture the garden while it nurtures them on into the future.

    Reply
  3. Suzanne Dingwell says

    Ginny, thanks for putting the spotlight on these two highly visible plantings acquainting the public in such positive ways about the benefits and delights of native plants. I hope it gives people everywhere the inspiration to start and support similar initiatives in the places they live, too. We CAN do something! Great advice to have the follow-on care in place before getting started; an important component – every project needs champions who will nurture the garden while it nurtures them on into the future.

    Reply
    • Ginny Stibolt says

      Thanks Sue. Yes, too often people plan a garden as if its an event and once its done, its done. But a landscape of any type is an ongoing project and people need to plan for that.
      Ginny Stibolt recently posted..Cole crops

      Reply
  4. Jeannie Davis says

    Pictures from a bit earlier in the summer by Adam Woodruff taken while Piet Oudolf was at the Lurie for a visit.

    Reply
  5. Jeannie Davis says

    Sorry I forgot the link

    https://www.facebook.com/adam.woodruff/media_set?set=a.10203622259733693.1073741874.1132121759type=3

    Reply
    • Ginny Stibolt says

      Thanks for the photos.

      Reply
  6. Jeannie Davie says

    I was a volunteer at the Lurie Garden here in Chicago for the first 4, almost 5 years. I loved the seasonal changes and all the creatures the garden draws. Did a lot of planning and weeding in those years. The garden has evolved over the years, plantings changing a bit and I love the way they decided to mulch cutback in the late winter early spring and leave the organic matter to decompose in place. Still my favorite city garden but New York s new native plant garden is a real rival. It takes this kind of garden a step farther and is beautiful.

    http://www.nybg.org/exhibitions/2013/native-plant-garden/#slide2

    Pictures I took from the first years from every season at the Lurie in Chicago

    http://s101.photobucket.com/user/entwife_2006/library/Lurie%20Chicago?sort=3page=1

    Reply
    • Ginny Stibolt says

      Thanks for your perspective. Very helpful. The public gardens that use mostly natives are helping to redefine what is beautiful. Thanks for your work.

      Reply

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