In a building dedicated to plants, one of my favorite things was an animal. The fish with legs, to be more specific.
The axolotl, or Mexican walking fish, is a strange fish-looking amphibian in the pond inside the children’s room of the Garfield Park Conservatory. When it came out of its hiding spot, visitors gathered around to watch it walk-swim through the water.
The Conservatory has a huge supply of plants on display year-round, which makes it a good winter activity for tourists and locals. Though its outdoor gardens are not open during the coldest months of the year, the facility has enough plants inside to make you spend an entire afternoon here.
It’s not all flowers at the conservatory. There are fruit and spice plants (bananas! oranges! coffee! cinnamon!), 600 species of cacti, 40 species of palm trees, and a giant fern room that shows what Chicago would have looked like millions of years ago (spoiler: it was a wetland.) In total, you’ll find about 2,000 different plant species on the premises.
The Garfield Park Conservatory is located at 300 N. Central Park Ave on Chicago’s west side. It’s in a fairly sketchy part of town, but you’re fine if you drive there and park in their free lot. You can also take the green line train, which is reasonably safe during daylight hours.
Hours are 9 to 5 everyday, except for Wednesdays, when it offers extended hours from 9 to 8. Admission is totally free, though donations are accepted, particularly during special events. Photography is allowed and there’s a small gift shop that offers sandwiches and drinks. Outside the main facility are a few additional outdoor gardens. Most are closed during the winter, but the “City Garden” stays open year-round.
Since the Garfield Park Conservatory is a visual place, the best way to present it is simply to share many of the sights from inside.