One of the major reasons that I wanted to come to Chicago was to visit the Millennium Park. Opened in 2004 – (four years late, so the Brits are not the only ones who can’t meet a deadline!), it’s on the site of the Illinois Central Rail yards and is now Chicago’s second most popular tourist destination after Navy Pier. It comprises gardens with beautiful planting, imaginative sculptures, fountains and performance spaces. For anyone who knows me, you’ll be unsurprised to find that it was the gardens and planting that particularly attracted me, and I wasn’t disappointed. The Lurie Garden, designed by designed by Kathryn Gustafson, Piet Oudolf, and Robert Israel is simply delightful. The planting is very informal with drifts of prairie and herbaceous plants mixed with grasses in beautiful waves. Running through the centre of the garden is a stunning river of blue Salvias.
Understandably the garden is very popular, it even has its own volunteer greeting team who give out information about the plants and design. While I wandered around the garden Mike and Bonnie started a conversation with the volunteers and by the time I’d returned to them one of the greeters was telling Mike all about the gardens she’d visited in England. Human visitors were not the only ones attracted to the planting. As I snapped away with my camera, out of the planting popped a tiny bunny rabbit who hopped around on the path a while before jumping back into another planting bed – I wasn’t expecting that in downtown Chicago!
After a little longer enjoying the park, the humidity of the day gave way to a heavy summer storm. It was nearly lunchtime so we dived into a small French café and grabbed a bite to eat. The rain was still coming down when we’d finished so Bonnie took us across the road into the Chicago Cultural Centre, a beautiful building with marble and mosaic walls and stunning Tiffany glad dome. Originally built in 1897 as Chicago’s first public library, it was turned into venue for music performances and art exhibitions when the new public library was opened in 1991 – although shockingly it was under threat of demolition for some time before then. Our visit coincided with a gospel singing festival so we were treated to some fine (if very loud) music too.
We were also fortunate to stumble across a small free exhibition on the lives of Chicago modernist artists Alfonso and Margaret Ilanelli. The exhibition was a real treat, featuring their sculpture and graphic design work from the start of the twentieth century through to the 1960s. Amongst the work on the display was a pier capital for an Indiana elementary school designed by Alfonso and a wonderful children’s story book, (never published) by Margaret – both featured a rabbit, so it felt as though the bunny in the Millennium Park had been a foretaste of what was to come! By the time we’d finished wandering around the cultural centre the rain had stopped so we hopped on our bikes (get it!) and our tour of Chicago resumed.