Beautiful Native Plants

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Chicago’s Lurie Garden: a very public native space

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

My husband and I visited Chicago’s Millennium Park a while back 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 provides a sustainable and mostly native plant collection.

Helping to redefine what a beautiful garden should look like

Lurie Garden is in a very public area. How wonderful that it’s planted mostly with natives.
We were there early on a Sunday morning to avoid the crowds. 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 York’s High Line Park. (Piet Oudolf was also the planting designer for the High Line Park, so there are many similarities.)

The pale cone flowers (Echinacea pallida) glowed in the early morning light. Some coneflowers were almost orange in the center.

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

Even though the flowers don’t open, the bees know what to do. They climb in! This fat carpenter bee almost disappears as it works its way into the flower.

Many garden magazines, websites, and TV shows would never leave all these cone flowers after blooming, but wait…
If they had dead-headed the flowers, the goldfinches would not have a favorite snack.
Another goldfinch finds some coneflower seeds. The garden invites people to rethink the purpose of gardens.
While it’s 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.
The 15′-tall/8′-thick hedges surrounding the space not only block out the city noise, but they also provide good habitat The plants in the garden are mostly low and they end up looking like a rolling prairie.
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.
The garden looks good from any direction.

Lurie Garden is in a very public area. Signs and tours help people understand what’s going on.

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 Bear’s fans will slow down to take in the garden before the game.

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

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.
- Provide tours in public space with high traffic to educate people what a real garden is supposed to look like.
- 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.

© Ginny Stibolt