Lurie Garden is a Downtown Draw


By Beth Botts
Photo credits to Lurie Garden

One of the top tour stops at the #GWA2018 Conference & Expo in Chicago, is a relatively secluded gem in the middle of the city’s most visited attraction.

Millennium Park, the 25-acre playground between Lake Michigan and Chicago’s downtown skyscrapers, attracts more than 13 million visitors a year. Only about 4 million of them venture through 12-foot-high hedges to discover a sweeping vista of masterfully blended perennials and trees: the Lurie Garden. The 2½-acre garden was designed by famed Dutch designer Piet Oudolf (who went on to design the High Line in New York City) and opened in 2004.

Although Oudolf took inspiration from the midwestern prairies he visited, Lurie Garden is a naturalistic landscape, not a natural one. It’s a carefully composed tapestry that interweaves about 35,000 perennials—some 200 species and cultivars—with shrubs and trees. The character of the garden shifts through the seasons, from early spring bulbs through a purple river of salvia in May to golden grasses in autumn.


The garden is remarkably sustainable because the plants were chosen to complement 00each other in every way, including their needs. They thrive with minimal watering, no pesticides or fertilizers and are tended by a handful of staff members and a loyal crew of volunteers.

For visitors from around the world, downtown residents and workers who escape for a break or a brown-bag lunch, the Lurie Garden is a haven that surrounds them in nature. But it’s a man-made haven: The garden sits on the roof of a three-level parking garage built over a busy set of commuter railroad tracks running on landfill in what was once the shallows of Lake Michigan.


Conference attendees will get special tours and insights from the Lurie Garden’s director, Laura Ekasetya, as well as Scott Stewart, director of Millennium Park. Conferees also have the opportunity to enjoy Chicago’s wildlife. The city lies in the middle of the Mississippi Flyway, a major bird migration route, and the garden provides seeds and insects to attract them all year. It is thronged with butterflies and many kinds of bees.

Those who can spare an extra day will be free to explore the rest of Chicago’s front yard, a sweep of linked parks and gardens two miles long and a half mile wide between the Loop (Chicago’s downtown) and Lake Michigan. The northern corner is just three blocks south of the conference hotel, the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Photographers, be there in early morning when the sun rises out of the lake.

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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