Lurie Garden – A Chicago moment

What would you do if you lived on the prairie, had $13.2 million to make a garden with, and a further $10 million endowment? Maybe you would hire Piet Oudolf and create something like this:

This is the Lurie garden – quite the most stunning piece of municipal gardening I have seen. It is built on the largest green roof in the world, and contains 35,000 perennials and 120,000 bulbs. I would rather die than plant 120,000 bulbs – so I am glad they have someone else to do the job.

I can recognise the purple plant – a salvia of sorts (there are many different varieties, subtly graded)  but there were many I didn’t know. This, apparently, is geum triflorum – ‘prairie smoke’. None of my geums do this – more is the pity.

I was told that eighty-five man-hours of maintenance go into the garden every week. And it certainly looks fabulous on it. I wonder what my garden would look like with eighty-five hours work a week? Maybe a bit less muddy….

Evening light shows the undulations created by the landscaping and the planting. I could spend time here..


15 thoughts on “Lurie Garden – A Chicago moment

  1. What a stunning place. I love Piet Oudolf’s plantings and the contrast between the harshness of the city behind and the soft planting makes for such a great photo. Thank you for sharing this place.

    • I think that contrast between the amazing shapes of the skyscrapers and the undulating coloured flatness of the garden is just brilliant! I begin to see why some garden designers are worth their coin!

  2. Amazing planting, If we had 85 hours of maintainance a week, the garden would be perfect, no weeds, no dead flowerheads, everything perfect, but then the joy of gardening is being among the plants, doing the work isn’t it?

  3. Oh! My! God! Beautiful! I thought you visited some Oudolf’s garden in UK when you told me but you went to Chicago instead! I hope you’re not finished and this is only the 1st part of a longer post, right? I want more pictures, details, impressions…. Please tell me yes…

    • I had far less time there than I wanted, Alberto, so I don’t have many photos. I’ll e-mail you some of the ones I didn’t use. Also, since Americans are so efficient, Lurie gardens has a website with the plants they use: It’s at I am sure it will give you some ideas! Most of the plants I am not familiar with – but the climate (and latitude) is closer to yours than to mine. The soil too, I gather is alkaline prairie clay. Impressions? As I said, stunning, but equally quite impossible for me to do anything like that – differences in length of season, rainfall (and above all that 85 hours of maintenance) mean that my equivalent would be full of strong-growing Scottish weeds in no time at all. Incidentally, right in the middle of the city – the garden was full of wonderful butterflies and birds.

      • As a moderator you can see my email address, I’ll wait for your pictures and I owe you one. Maybe I could pay you off with some blue flower picture…
        Thanks for the link, I sometimes visit The Battery website which is pretty similar in concept.
        Anyway that is a public garden, far more care demanding than a private garden and a little wider, right? 85h work per week means 2 full time gardeners which isn’t that much, I think.

  4. Oh now look, you’ve caused Alberto to hyperventilate and faint–

    The built environment in contrast hugely enhances the plantings– amazing juxtaposition. I have only seen Chicago from inside its airport… But Kininvie you don’t mention Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd and Robert Israel, who seem equally to be the garden’s designers, along with Oudolf, according to the efficient garden website.

    • Dear Linnie,
      I was looking forward to the effect on Alberto. As you see, I have linked him to the plant list, so I expect further turmoil at Ca’ Rosa as he plants 120,000 bulbs this Autumn….

      Since I knew you would be coming along with some deeply-researched comment, I checked with the amiable Catherine, who is the horticultural director at Lurie, and indeed the people you mention were most certainly involved in the design and growing of the whole (which includes hedging, water, and pathways etc.), but it is Oudolf whom she skypes nightly…..(well maybe not that often)

      And you are quite right about the built environment and the plantings. It’s the wonderful contrast between them which makes the garden what it is. You should go visit – it’s only just up the road

      • Really Kininvie, just because Catherine is entranced by Oudolf is no reason to minimize the efforts of the other possibly less magnetic individuals.

        Actually ‘just up the road’ is maybe Seattle or San Francisco. Chicago is more like a couple thousand miles east.

        • Dear Linnie,
          Rather than arguing the toss about who is magnetic or not, or whether two thousand miles is ‘just up the road’ or not (I thought in US terms it was – )…..

          ….shouldn’t you be writing your post about how your clematis cuttings are just about to bloom????

          Seriously, you’ve been neglectful. I need reading material.

          • Hyperventilate and faint… How did she know?!
            OK, I’ve just placed my 120.000 bulb order, now I only need to take possession of a couple of fields in the neighborhood to plant them and I’m done. Easy busy….

  5. Hello Kininvie, i also have not been visiting and also not posted much for the past two months, but i have another blogsite. Thanks for you comment i am reminded to come here too, haha! I thought those photos are just in an ordinary ground level, as from that angle the buildings are still so far high up! Yes if i have those dollars, i can also build wonderful gardens, forests, reservations, etc, etc, maybe even better than that! I love most especially those purple flowers.

  6. Oudolf is constantly skyping me too, Mr K. Day and night. He’s nice enough but it’s not like we’re best friends or anything. Wish he’d lay off a bit actually. Die or plant 12000 bulbs? I personally might just go with the latter. D

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