Thursday, October 8, 2009

Luminous and Inviting, The Lurie Garden, Chicago

Bottle Gentian .. Gentiana andrewsii 
Text  and  Photos © Alice Joyce
Late-summer in Chicago's Lurie Garden


Spanning the rooftop of the Millennium Park parking garage, the lush greenery of the 
Lurie Garden appears as a surprising tour de force: An achievment that’s received worldwide attention for the transformation of a former rail yard into a classic Modernist space.
Designed by the firm of Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf, & lighting designer Robert Israel, the park is a rejuvenating oasis for downtown office workers, 
tourists and travelers.

Knotweed  Persicaria a. 'Firedance'

Enclosing the 2.5-acre garden from the north and west, a massive wall of greenery dubbed the Shoulder Hedge pays homage to Carl Sandburg. Hornbeam, European Beech, Arborvitae varieties make up the hedging. Growing within steel armatures, the hedge provides a protective function, to separate the garden’s fields of perennials from the thousands of concert -goers who stream out of the Gehry-designed bandshell. 

Coneflowers abound.

Water channel, wooden walkway and a limestone wall interrupt the garden layout, dividing it into two distinct compositions: 
The light plate features a sunny, exuberant planting scheme, calling to mind a prairie. 
While the dark plate conjures up a dramatic setting, where plant selections take on muted tones. Some 130 North American natives, plant species and cultivars emerge in Oudolf’s plantings; his designs well-known for their celebration of grasses. 

Looking toward new wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, in background.

Coneflowers: blooms and seedheads meld with swathes of grasses.

Oudolf’s palette incorporates myriad shapes, together with feathery, airy, and bristly textures. The quality of movement associated with grasses is unparalleled, as is the unrivaled way the  flowerheads and translucent blades catch the light, adding layers of interest to the garden even after snow begins to fall.


Parthenium integrifolium

Giant Hyssop

Goldenrod - S. 'Fireworks'

Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' growing with catmint.

Looking out over the Lurie Garden through the glass wall of the Sculpture Terrace 
atop the new wing of the Art Institute of Chicago
where the garden's rill culminates in a sedate waterfall.

A work by Scott Burton, part of an installation on the museum's sculpture terrace,
overlooking Lurie Garden & Millennium Park's Pritzker Pavilion ... beyond the glass wall. 

During my September visit, the blooms were fading and the grasses had taken on burnished hues, yet I found it difficult to pull myself away from the garden's embrace.


  1. Wow! What a fantastic place. Thank you so much for taking us around it. Wonderful photo's I felt like I was there with you.

    RO :o)

  2. What a place! Thanks Alice, for showing the Lurie in September. We wondered how it would look in other seasons, knowing the grasses would play more of a role than the spring flower show. Love it and would like to be able to spend way more time there if we ever return.

  3. The mystery flower is quinine. I have some growing but it has yet to bloom. A state prairie restoration has a huge swath of this mixed with rattlesnake master that inspired me to try a small version of it in my own garden. Just beautiful.

  4. What an amazing job you have! Need a sidekick? Thanks for always including us in the garden travels, it's nice to see what goes onto my dream vacation lists!

  5. The last time I was in Chicago, the garden was just getting started. I'm a big fan of Oudolf and it is exciting to see how great the garden has come along. Thanks so much for the post -sure makes me want to get back there soon.

  6. I enjoyed your post and I love Chicago! I would love to go back and see this garden. It is beautiful!

  7. I really enjoyed looking at your post --we need to go there we don't since we don't live too far away. The periannl you were asking about looks like a Mexican Hyssop -we planted one in my Mothers garden a couple of years ago--beautiful plant.

  8. I especially love the last two photos as seen from the Art Institute... a wonderful museum I have not seen in too many years. Terrific garden. Great photos Alice. Carol

  9. Hello RO
    Happy to oblige... I had hoped to convey a sense of moving through the garden, and appreciate your comment!

    Your photos capture the garden's glowing beauty in spring....
    Kudos on the glorious vignettes you've posted!

    Kind of you to pass along the plant I.D. Seems likely if it was used in a prairie restoration that it would be the same plant. How cool for you to be growing it, and awaiting bloom in your own garden :~D

    Heather, Joel, Amy
    I'll count on seeing your unique perspectives of the Lurie Garden when you have a chance to visit! Cameras ready!!

    Vickie, Thank you for the I.D.! I'll work on confirming this mystery.
    Let me know if you get to Chicago...maybe you can catch the garden at a time when it isn't often visited?

    Carol, The last two photos are favorites of mine, as well. The new terrace is a simply stunning setting (to alliterate!),
    and the views....!!

  10. Thanks for the tour. It looks like an awesome place.

  11. The tour was fun. I love Oudolf's work and it was so nice to take a walk with you to see his gardens.

  12. Mary Delle,
    Glad you enjoyed the tour of Oudolf's inviting plantings.
    A designer that merits his legions of admirers!