The Garfield Park Conservatory functions on the whole as a quiet oasis of flora in the middle of the still-rough-and-tumble west side, but its glass walls can contain a surprising buzz of activity: Park District gardeners tending to sick trees, art students sketching aroids, dazed couples planning wedding receptions, heedless toddlers hurling themselves out of the children’s garden into the perversely adjacent cactus house. For getting away from it all once you’re already there, there’s the Fern Room.
Designed by Prairie School landscape architect Jens Jensen to evoke the prehistoric Illinois landscape, it’s lush and improbably steamy; in the winter it’ll do wonders for your skin. The central lagoon is ringed by limestone ledges, tall cycads, tons of pteridophytes, and a paved path. At the far end there’s a trickling waterfall feeding a little brook that in turn feeds the lagoon; Jensen, the story goes, had very particular ideas about how this waterfall should sound. The stonemason was made to redo his work three or four times because he kept creating “an abrupt mountain cascade” before the architect sent him home with instructions to listen to Mendelssohn’s “Spring Song” to see what he was getting at. On the next try, the mason nailed it, the water tinkling “gently from ledge to ledge, as it should in a prairie country.” 300 N. Central Park, 312-746-5100, garfield-conservatory.org. —Martha Bayne
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