Photo credit City of Chicago

Article by Beth Botts

The sun rises out of a vast, sparkling lake. It sets behind some of the world’s most spectacular skyscrapers. In between and all around are some of the country’s most amazing public and private gardens. That’s why I can’t wait to show off Chicago—my city—to the members of GWA: The Association for Garden Communicators for the 70th annual Conference & Expo, co-hosted with the 2018 IGC Show, August 13 through 16.

From the Piet Oudolf-designed Lurie Garden in Millennium Park to community gardens, jewel-box courtyards, urban farms, green roofs and lakefront bird habitats, Chicago has gardens for miles.

This conference will be different than traditional GWA gatherings, because Chicago is not like most of the cities we’ve visited. For one thing, it’s a whole lot bigger—a metropolitan area of 10 million people that covers an area 70 by 100 miles. We won’t be able to see it all, but your days will be more than full of gardens, photo opportunities, networking, story ideas and learning.


For the first time, GWA will partner with another conference, the Independent Garden Centers Show, which is held at Navy Pier at the same time. Everyone attending the GWA conference will have full access to the largest trade show for garden 5retailers in North America. amusement arcade that extends half a mile out into Lake Michigan, with wide-open water and skyline views. From our centrally located hotel, you’ll be able to walk to dozens of lively restaurants and nightspots. Our tours will concentrate on urban locations within reach of reasonable bus or shuttle rides. Transportation to Chicago couldn’t be easier: Nonstops are available to O’Hare and Midway airports from most other North American cities.

Partnering with the IGC Show will help us keep the conference relatively affordable for GWA members, while retaining our own education sessions and trade show. However, it means major changes from the schedule and arrangements we’re used to. For example, this conference will run from Monday through Thursday, not the customary Friday through Monday. (Photo credit Choose Chicago)


Plan to come a day or two early and visit world-class museums, such as the Art Institute of Chicago or the Field Museum, take in a Cubs game, see a play or visit gardens a short walk or cab ride away. We’ll tell you more about plans for the conference in upcoming issues of On the QT. For right now, I’d like to tell you a bit about my city.

1Chicago’s defining glory is its lakefront. Of the city’s 28 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, 26 miles are public parkland, with 31 beaches. How many cities keep nearly all their most valuable real estate free and open to the public?

Still, it’s hardly pristine shoreline. The original dunes and marshes are long gone, and the parks we see today are atop landfill. But then nearly everything about Chicago, a great industrial city that burst into being in the middle of a swamp, is an engineering feat of one kind or another.

In the 1830s, when Chicago was a crude fur-trading outpost with a couple of hundred inhabitants, they adopted the motto “Urbs in Horto,” meaning “City in a Garden.”

Within a hundred years, the ragged hamlet grew into a factory-powered colossus of more than 3 million people. Still, throughout its history and through many fights and setbacks, Chicago has strived to live up to its motto. (Photo Credit Choose Chicago/ Adam Alexander Photography)


Industrial millionaires and social activists pushed for a great park system, with parks laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted and Daniel Burnham. Even as it sprawled out into the surrounding prairie in the early 1900s, Chicago became the first American city to set aside a green necklace of forest preserves. Their architect, Jens Jensen, who also designed the city’s boulevard system, was one of the early pioneering champions of native plants.3

Chicago continues to create gardens, including Millennium Park and the new Maggie Daley Park among glittering skyscrapers, green roofs and community gardens in the neighborhoods, and more than a mile of new downtown riverwalk where you can sit in green spaces and watch kayakers on what was once a scummy industrial canal.

Come see my city. Mark your calendar now for Monday, August 13, through Thursday, August 16, 2018, and watch On the QT for more details on this very special 70th anniversary Conference and Expo. (Photo Credit City of Chicago)

Meet the Author

Beth Botts has written hundreds of articles about gardens and nature for publications including the Chicago Tribune and magazines including Organic Gardening, Country Gardens and Chicagoland Gardening. Raised on the South Side of Chicago by an organic gardener, she now gardens in deep shade on the north side of a four-story apartment building. She crowds her roses into one small bed where the sun sneaks between the trees and grows tomatoes and herbs on the third-floor porch. Her website is

Author: GardenComm

GardenComm, formerly known as GWA: the Association for Garden Communicators, provides leadership and opportunities for education, recognition, career development and a forum for diverse interactions for professionals in the field of gardening communication. GardenComm members includes book authors, bloggers, staff editors, syndicated columnists, free-lance writers, photographers, speakers, landscape designers, television and radio personalities, consultants, publishers, extension service agents and more. No other organization in the industry has as much contact with the buying public as GardenComm members.

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