The Street Gardens of Chicago


What IS it with these northern cities and their appreciation for gardens? We’ve covered Buffalo thoroughly here, and posted photos of Chicago’s Millennium Park especially its Lurie Garden from our Gardenblogger Spring Fling there in 2009.  But what struck me on this visit, in mid-August, were the street gardens…everywhere.  IMG_0019

Below, even the delivery side of Navy Pier, where trucks whiz by and pedestrians are rare, is planted up the wazoo in a sophisticated palette of annuals.


You’ve gotta see it up close.


Even more sophisticated!


And where else do you see prominent signs like this one from the mayor touting the city’s Flower Shows and Events?

IMG_9962 Mayor Daley is SO out in front on urban beautification that he received an Honorary degree from ASLA. Here’s what they had to say about him at the time:

“Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Honorary ASLA, is a national leader who has created planning, landscape architecture, and environmental programs for his city. Under his leadership, Chicago has added more than 120 new acres of parkland and many new recreation facilities. Newsweek columnist George Will called Mayor Daley the ‘Martha Stewart of mayors,’ and credits his green thumb with producing a ‘city chock full of gardens.’

“The Mayor’s initiatives include a Chicago Landscape Ordinance, which won the ASLA Illinois Chapter President’s Award in 2000, reforming the Chicago zoning code, and incorporating green space through all neighborhoods; creating award-winning streetscape and medians; and enacting environmental, urban forestry, and green roofs initiatives. Due in large part to his efforts, Chicago was voted one of the “10 Best Places to Live” by Money magazine in 2002.”

The closest thing in my neck of the woods is Bloom In Annapolis, another program with heavy mayoral involvement, and Annapolis has been named one of America’s 10 most beautiful cities for three years running now.  But Chicago is a real city, with buildings that took my breath away.  I’m particularly vulnerable to glorious shows of verticality because I’ve lived for so long in the skyscraper-deprived city of Washington.


  1. I went there after a brutal cold snap and the place looked pretty reasonable considering the non-hardy bedding had just been absolutely fried out of season. I’d imagine when the weather worked for them the team behind what I saw would create spectacularness and your photos suggest that’s right.

    What would be really interesting would be to see how their spend compares to other cities; I’d suspect they get a lot more bang per buck

  2. I was in Chicago this weekend, to visit the Art Institute, and saw the Lurie Garden firsthand. Lovely! I had no idea it existed. Now, if they could just do something about the traffic!

  3. Chicago leads the way in urban beautification, proving that going green can be very colorful. I just love that the Mayor has made this a priority. Kudos to all the designers, landscapers, and maintenance crews that keep Chicago looking so great! You know who you are – great job!

  4. I agree completely! And I thought, too, that Chicago was using some very nice specimen plants. In Houston, the powers that be hesitate to plant things like Japanese maples, rubber trees, etc. in street plantings. They’d be tempted to choose less expensive plants. I was knocked out by Chicago’s beautiful street scenes.

  5. Chiacago has been “flowered” long before green was a buzzword.

    “I was blown away by the green beautification in Chicago”


    Goes to show you what marketing does. Now that “green” is mainstream look at all the accolades of being green instead of just saying how beautiful the fowers are.

    My how we must tailor our comments to media buzz instead of just saying how we feel.

    The TROLL

  6. I understand that Chicago also has been leading the way on green roofs. All these plants in an urban environment absorb more rainwater and do a lot to offset the heat retention of all that cement and asphalt.

    Victoria in British Columbia is another city with beautiful plants and gardens.

    I agree with Susan about the beauty of Annapolis and I certainly enjoyed living near there for 30 years, but it’s much smaller–more of a town, really.

  7. “What is it with these northern cities and their appreciation for gardens?” It is an antidote to the omnipresent threat of 5 months of frost, snow, ice and greyness, a ‘let’s make hay while the sun shines’ syndrome. That said, Chicago’s street plantings are impressively gorgeous and imaginative.

  8. Kudo’s to Mayor Daley for appreciating and understanding how good landscape architecture and ornamental horticulture can enhance the lives of the locals and bring business revenue into the city from out of the area.
    ASLA was correct in awarding him an honorarium.
    This is what forward thinking landscape architecture can do for your city, your people , your income and your quality of life.

  9. Urbs in Horto is great, but you totally missed the rant here, which is who pays for those. The streetscape planters are paid for through extortion of any street level merchant who looks out their window at a planter. It is essentially protection money, and Bank of America pays the same as the little storefront not-for-profit. The city uses the merchant associations to do its dirty work and will resort to messing with trash pick up, police response, street cleaning, access to officials, and public humiliation to ensure compliance. When my little nfp moved south of Roosevelt Road several years ago we all breathed a sigh of relief because we wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore.

  10. What impressed me about the planters in the second photo is that they can move them around as needed by forklift. Beats the pants off a wooden horse as a barricade!

    And the city still maintains a pretty face in winter. Here’s a shot of the planters in the median of LaSalle Street at City Hall:
    La Salle Street

    ps – loved seeing you all in person at the show!

  11. One of the things that brings tourists back to Chicago is the flowers – I was also blown away, last October, by the Michigan Avenue planters. I’d think businesses along that stretch at least would get their money back in the form of people returning to that shopping district because of its beauty.

  12. Another tradeshow took me to Chicago the week before the IGCS, here is a link to my blog post on the Lurie , plus a few other random pics. Wish I’d had a full day to wander around and take photos..

  13. I really liked the images. Very imaginative use of the annuals, good combos. I would not have pegged Chicago for a flower town. But I bet that was said about Buffalo too. Nice to see so many businesses getting in on the act. What I noticed from the photos,was that the streets looked clean. Wonder if the flowers had anything to do with added pride?

  14. I’ve always been amazed at the amount of green space Chicago has. And I would love to know what their budget is for all those plants and flowers. They’re EVERYWHERE. Not just downtown, but in the suburbs, too. I was told last year that they change out many of the planters three times during the growing season. That has to cost millions.

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