City In A Garden

– Posted in: Garden Design

I’ve always thought of Chicago as a great American city where urban greening, ecological landscaping, and beauty for beauty’s own sake matters.

The Lurie Garden, Chicago Botanic Garden, Chicago’s immense park system and green roof program are enough to make any nature lover’s heart sing with joy.

Chicago - City In Garden

Lurie Garden In Millenium Park

But when you add the magnificent containers, window boxes, hanging baskets, and island plantings on Michigan Avenue into the equation, then the motto, ‘Urbs in horto’, a Latin Phrase meaning city in a garden adopted by Chicago’s emerging government in the 1830s, not only has proven to be visionary but also hits the nail on the head.

**It is also the name of an excellent book –The City in a Garden: A Photographic History of Chicago’s Park

Below are some photos that I took while visiting last week. More to come later.

City Island Gardens

Island Plantings on Michigan Avenue


Gardens in The City

Exuberant Plantings In Millenium Park


Garden In The City

Cabbage on Steroids


Giant Mustard Leaves In Garden

Giant Mustard Leaves With Chrysanthemums in Garden Beds


Chasmanthium - In Chicago Garden

Chasmanthium latifolium in Lurie Garden


“I foresee a time, not very distant, when Chicago will need for its fast increasing population a park or parks in each division. Of these parks I have a vision. They are improved and connected with a wide avenue, extending to and along the lake shore on the north and the south, and surrounding the city with a magnificent chain of parks and parkways that have not their equal in the world.”  John Wright, Real Estate Speculator, 1849

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at

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Fran Sorin
29 comments… add one

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Marianne Taylor October 15, 2013, 9:57 am

Hello Fran,
Love your articles! Are you available as a speaker for an Eco/Xpo May 17 & 18 2014, in San Juan Capistrano CA?
Your expertise in so many amazing areas in the garden and life would be a welcome site!
Debra Lee Baldwin confirmed as a two day guest Speaker, How about you?

Thank you for considering,
Marianne Taylor
XPO Event Ccordinator

Cherie smith October 15, 2013, 10:03 am

I so enjoyed your posting. I have visited Chicago- it is a photo -graphers paradise. I always learn from your photos. Today I noticed the angle of the planter bed shot at Millenium Park,which included the green hedge. Thanks!!
Cherie in SLO, CA

Kelly October 15, 2013, 11:10 am

Beautiful pictures. I cannot believe the size of that cabbage!

Sheila Schultz October 15, 2013, 4:21 pm

Hi Fran… I’m so happy you had the opportunity to spend some time in Chicago. We lived just N of the city in Wilmette for 34 years prior to moving to Denver. The change in the look and feel of this beautiful city over the years has been extraordinary. The in-ground gardens, container gardens and rooftop gardens all contribute to making Chicago a unique destination for plant lovers all over the world. I miss that beauty and creativity. And, by the way… the food is equally wonderful!

Debbie Zonca October 16, 2013, 6:13 am

I live just north of Chicago and couldn’t agree more, the city in a garden is gorgeous. One of the benefits of the Chicago plantings is they are suppose to slow down traffic…i have to be careful not to crash while looking at the plantings. Too bad you didn’t make it north to Highland Park. There’s a art & street garden display along our main shopping district, Central Ave, that rivals Chicago.

kate October 17, 2013, 9:15 am

I love going to the Chicago Botanical garden… I unfortunately did not make it this year. Thank you for sharing these. I will make it a priority next spring.

Fran Sorin October 21, 2013, 8:04 am

Sheila- Ah ha – so you lived outside of Chicago for 34 years? No wonder I love your gardening sensibility ~ Yes, Chicago has certainly transformed itself from a city that takes gardening seriously to a city where gardening/nature is integral to its beauty and sense of place. When I returned to my alma mater, The University of Chicago – that I hadn’t visited in the last 10 years – I was stunned by the well thought out borders that lined pathways – and which looked magnificent in early fall. Whoever thought that a college campus without an arboretum would have such a display? REALLY – I do think Chicago is the great American city. I totally understand why you miss its beauty and creativity ~

Fran Sorin October 21, 2013, 8:05 am

Kelly – Yep, the cabbages are that big. What I wouldn’t do to have a few in my container plantings 🙂

Fran Sorin October 21, 2013, 8:07 am

Yes, Chicago is a paradise on several fronts ~ photography is certainly one of them. Am glad you enjoyed the photo of the garden surrounded by – as I recall – yew hedges- which I love. Thanks for your comment. Fran

Fran Sorin October 21, 2013, 8:08 am


Just got back into town after and found your note. Am replying to you via your e-mail. Fran

Fran Sorin October 21, 2013, 8:32 am

Debbie – I laughed when I read your comment about not crashing you car while looking at the plantings. That is something I would do! Not only did I not make it to Highland Park but I also didn’t get to the Chicago Botanic Garden – plus dozens of other places. I would need to spend at least a week in Chicago to feel like i had made a dent into the depth and beauty of its gardens/parks/etc…. Will make a note of Highland Park for my next trip to the Windy City. Thanks for your input ~ Fran

Fran Sorin October 21, 2013, 8:33 am

Kate- Am glad you enjoyed. I am sorry that I didn’t get to Chicago Botanical Garden on this trip. But there is always a next time! Fran

Julia Bachrach October 22, 2013, 8:50 am

Hi Fran-
Thanks so much for your nice comments about my book The City in a Garden: A History of Chicago’s Parks. I am the historian for the Chicago Park District and I recently published a second edition of the book. I’d be happy to send you a copy if you send me a mailing address. I recently noticed that there are not yet any reader reviews of the book on Amazon:

If you or any of your readers would be interested in writing one, it would be greatly appreciated! Thanks, Julia Bachrach

Debbie Zonca October 22, 2013, 7:54 pm

Sad news Fran, we’ve had our first frost with traces of snow here in Chicago. Some of those lovely flowers may be mush after tonight. Come back in February and take photos. That would be a challenge!

Fran Sorin October 24, 2013, 12:06 am


I didn’t know you worked for the Chicago Park District. I have skimmed through your book before and found it very interesting. Will write a personal note to you about what you wrote. Fran

Fran Sorin October 24, 2013, 12:10 am

Debbie – So sorry to hear that but I guess this is usually about the time of year when a frost hits Chicago. My Dad told me that in Philly it was down to the 40s. Pretty funny about returning in February – when I was a student at The University of Chicago, I remember walking backwards to get home from class in the winter because the wind was so terrible. But other than your winters, you’ve got yourself one heck of a city. I’d be curious to know what folks think about the job that Rahm Emanuel is doing as mayor! Fran

Michael October 25, 2013, 1:44 am

Love Your Photo Especially Giant Mustard Leaves . I Wish I have beautiful garden like this on my home

Levi Scott July 6, 2015, 6:56 pm

Those are great pictures. I’ve never been in Chicago, but I would love to go. I’m sure there are lots a great spots like the ones one the picture.

Fran Sorin July 7, 2015, 11:09 pm

Levi Scott- There absolutely are. Chicago is one of the great American horticultural cities. The street plantings and highway strips are festooned with perennials and other fantastic plantings. Fran

Debbie July 8, 2015, 5:42 am

hi Again Fran, can’t believe your original post started in 2013, seems like it was just yesterday! Theres a new spot to add to your Chicago list…the 606 bike path. You asked about Mayor Rahm, in typical fashion no one seems to happy with him but he seems to get things done, like this 606 path. Its a 2 mile bike walking path combining plantings and artwork.

Fran Sorin July 15, 2015, 1:14 am

Hey Debbie- Thanks for that update. Will check it out. I love the fact that it also includes artwork as well as the plantings. Can’t wait to see it. Hope you’re having a good summer! Fran

karl July 15, 2015, 2:18 am

SOme great photos you took there, look forward to your next update

kevin July 24, 2015, 8:01 am

Great post and some beautiful pictures

garden design December 16, 2015, 1:32 pm

thank you for post good blog 🙂

Fran Sorin December 17, 2015, 5:36 am

Thanks so much. am glad you enjoyed! Fran

Justin Hamilton January 24, 2016, 8:33 am

I love these kind of places. There is nothing like a nice garden in the middle of a busy city to help you get away from the fast life.

Fran Sorin January 27, 2016, 3:36 am

Justin- How true! And because so many more Americans are living in urban areas today….and the trend continues….it’s critical that our cities maintain and create thriving green spaces and gardens. Fran

Heckler Power February 11, 2016, 6:56 am

These images are great!

Samantha February 20, 2016, 4:17 am


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