On the night of June 30, 2011, a fierce storm in northeastern Illinois uprooted trees, tore large branches out of ancient oaks and produced golf-ball-sized hail that caused great damage to the Garfield Park Conservatory. The Conservatory, a national treasure, needs our help. Individuals who wish to help the GPC recover from storm damage may send a check to the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, 300 North Central Park, Chicago IL 60624 (mark check “for conservatory repairs”).

Garfield Park Conservatory is one of the largest indoor gardens in the world.  This major conservatory was designed by Jens Jensen, who is famous for designing landscapes that blended with nature.  Built in 1907, the conservatory covers over 10,000 square feet and is world-famous for its collection of tropical plants.

The palm room contains over 80 different varieties of palms. One example is a very rare double coconut (Lodoicera maldivica) (perhaps the only one in captivity) that produces the world’s largest seed weighing close to 60 pounds.  The fern room, designed to recreate the Chicago area as it was in the age of the dinosaurs, contains some plants that are over 200 years old. Originally the conservatory was built for passive recreation. It is still a great place to visit (especially in winter) to visit and restore a wilted spirit. However, with the help of the Friends of the Parks starting in the late 1970s its mission has grown.  The Friends and the Chicago Park District in the 1980s, along with interested individuals, made a request to the Lila Wallace (co-founder of Readers Digest and restorer of Monet’s garden) fund for urban park development. The result was a million plus dollar challenge grant that required a 1-to-1 match. At least 60% of the matching money had to come from private funds. The effort was successful and as a result the Garfield Park Conservative Alliance,
a not-for-profit corporation, was
established in 1994.

Since then, the conservatory has become a booming community center and a great idea place. There are special gardening programs for children and adults. There are educational programs for teachers and students and much information is available on healthy lifestyles and green living. Check out the Alliance website for scheduled activities and mark on your calendar for the County Fair on Saturday, Sept. 17. It is a great example of what can be accomplish when city and citizens rally and work together.

Anyone who has never visited Garfield Conservatory can take the Lake Street “L” west to the Conservatory stop at Central Park, or drive and park in the free parking lot next to the main entrance.