Chicago Botanic Garden
Chicago Botanic Garden
There was something extra-special about the Chicago Botanic Garden that was evident crossing the plant-strewn bridge to the first of the nine islands that make up this unique property. To have all the horticultural attractions situated on land that was fully surrounded by water made them seem removed from the world. There were even smaller islands with gardens that were meant only to be viewed from afar. All together, the gardens created a floating oasis of flower continents to be explored, each with its own collection of horticultural rarities that I could not get enough of.
The islands that could only be viewed from a distance made for some of the most striking views, which seemed by design. Coming out of the fragrant Rose Garden, I first caught sight of the first of the three islands making up the Japanese Garden Horaijima (Island of Everlasting Happiness), which seemed like a painting come to life, too perfect to be real. Expertly-clipped trees struck elegant poses against the green grass hillside of the picturesque island, looking almost like bonsai from a distance. Even though I ached to luxuriate on the shores of that faraway isle, it was precisely its unattainability that made it so painfully enticing.
Sweeping vistas and dramatic displays of water, flowers, grass, and trees could be taken in from numerous vantage points, but there were also many quieter moments that made the experience more personal. Just across the main entry bridge was the Crescent, a spot I could have happily sat all day long. Attention-grabbing flowers in an array of bright colors and jagged Bismark palms flank rows of sharply-cut boxwood hedges of a curved terrace. Giant weeping willow trees protectively encircle the contemplative spot, their drooping branches mesmerizingly waving in the breeze. Across the water from the crescent, a crowd of tall belladonna flowers stood atop a small hillside of Bird Island, looking as if they were wildly waving to rescue ship from a desert island. Help was not coming anytime soon, since there was no way to access that small island (to my slight disappointment!).
After the dazzling first impression of the Crescent came the historically-inspired Heritage Garden, which continued the circular layout with dark pools filled with aquatic plants and giant ceramic pots overflowing with bromeliads and various colorful floral attractions. The grand Linden Allée reminded me of the rows of squared-off trees typical along the streets and parks of Paris. There was even a titan arum “corpse flower” on display, only days away from unfurling and releasing its rotten aroma, which was pollinated from a plant from DC’s own U.S. Botanic Garden.
Final Rating: After my visit to this watery Chicago garden paradise, I wondered why more gardens aren’t located on islands. Attention to detail at CBG was evident everywhere, and every available surface seemed to contain a hanging plant, overflowing planter, or impressive water feature. It’s a truly breathtaking space, and gave me much more than I expected. This unique, site-specific garden world is worth going out of your way for. FIVE BLOOM RATING