Tuesday, February 7, 2012

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A Winter Walk in the Lurie Garden

Chicago skyline Lurie Garden winter
The Chicago skyline from the Lurie Garden
The Lurie Garden, with its New Wave mix of native perennials and ornamental grasses, is a popular attraction on Chicago's lakefront. About 1 million visitors ramble its paths annually. You'll see very few of them in February, though, due to the Windy City's often brutal and unpredictable winters.

This year has been different, with temperatures that have seemed downright balmy, so I decided to take a guided walk offered by the garden this past weekend. While the views might have been improved with a touch of snow or frost, there was still plenty to take in.

Wild quinine winter Lurie Garden
Wild quinine

Colors ranged from the grey of mountain mint to the red of Moorhexe moor grass to the light tan of prairie dropseed. They were punctuated throughout by the spiky seedheads of cone flowers and rattlesnake master. And when the wind blew, the dried leaves of the European beech trees and the Northern sea oat grasses rustled softly.

Rattlesnake master Russian sage Lurie Garden winter
Rattlesnake master intertwined with Russian sage
All of this is framed by the Chicago skyline, the Art Institute’s Modern Wing and Lake Michigan. Yet, thanks to its “Shoulders” -- a large hedge of arborvitae, beech and hornbeam-- the site is peaceful and serene. It's a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life as well as the rest of Millenium Park.

Culver's Root winter Lurie Garden
Culver's root

Allium foliage winter Lurie Garden
Ornamental onion  'Summer Beauty'

There are "communities" here as the various plants intermingle and weave a tapestry of sorts. Some of the subleties now apparent in planting plan by Dutch designer Piet Oudolf actually may have been lost in the snow most winters.

Bottle gentian Russian sage Lurie Garden winter
Bottle gentian, Russian sage and Culver's root
Horticulturalist Laura Young, who led Saturday's walk, said the garden is being effected by this year’s warmer-than-usual temperatures. The Lenten roses, for example, have already bloomed -- a couple of months ahead of schedule.  The chickweed (unfortunately) is doing well and needs to be pulled.

The garden, usually mowed during the first week of March, also may get its annual haircut a bit earlier this year as a result. So if you want to see the winter garden in all its glory, you probably should go sooner rather than later.  I hope it will inspire you, as it did me, to add more winter interest to your garden this summer using native plants.

Rattlesnake master winter Lurie Garden
Rattlesnake master silhouetted by the
Modern Wing of the Art Institute
Winter north view Lurie Garden
The view to the north

Latin names:
Arborvitae                    Thuja occidentalis
Beech, European         Fagus sylvatica
Bottle gentian              Gentiana andrewsii
Cone flower                 Echinacea
Culver's root                Veronicastrum virginicum
Hornbeam                   Carpinus betulus
Lenten rose                  Helleborus orientalis
Moor grass                   Molina caerulea
Mountain mint            Pycnanthemum muticum
Northern sea oats        Chasmanthium latifolium
Ornamental onion      Allium lusitanicum syn A. 'Summer Beauty'
Prairie dropseed           Sporobolis heterolepsis
Rattlesnake master      Eryngium yuccifolium
Russian sage                Perovskia atriplicifolia
Wild quinine                Parthenium integrifolium

For a complete list of plants in the Lurie Garden, click here.

By Karen Geisler


  1. Great shots of nature with the city in the background! The juxtaposition is great for photo ops.

    1. Thanks Beth. I really liked your photos of the hoar frost!