Flowers and fashion in Chicago

Each summer Chicago's Magnificent Mile bursts into bloom.

Courtesy of Greater North Michigan Avenue Association
CITY IN BLOOM: From June 26 until Labor Day, Chicago's Magnificent Mile is filled with flower gardens.
Courtesy of Greater North Michigan Avenue Association
RECYCLED BEAUTY: Design students in Chicago have creatively dressed forms in 'repurposed' materials and added them to the ComEd gardens.

If you’re in Chicago between June 26 and Sept. 1, do plan a stroll along the Windy City’s Magnificent Mile.

Not only will you gaze at great flower gardens, but the annual ComEd Gardens of the Magnificient Mile – dozens of small gardens funded by the high-end hotels, restaurants, and retailers along north Michigan Avenue – have some zany green inhabitants.

For the second year, students from the International Academy of Design and Technology and the Illinois Institute of Art - Chicago have been given dress forms and asked to adorn them creatively in recycled materials.

These could be anything from old chicken wire to a hat like one Queen Elizabeth might have worn in the mid-1950s. Think of it as a green take on the traditional department-store mannequin.

These creations are then placed in individual gardens. And they'll be auctioned off, with the funds going to the Magnificent Mile Charitable Foundation.

I was intrigued as I read the list of gardens and what plants the plots will contain. Experienced gardeners will get a chuckle from some of the plant descriptions – hibiscus trees, cherry wavy petunias, etc. – which were obviously compiled by nongardeners (and probably over the phone since many have phonetic spellings). But that's OK – lots of us don't speak Latin fluently.

It sounds like typecasting, but the Apple Computer store will host a Zen garden, which “gives a tropical feel of calm serenity.”

U.S. Equities Realty, at 840 N. Michican Ave., calls its garden Tropical Typhoon. Expect “a fiery vortex of Iresine [that] leads into a tropical paradise of reds, oranges, & purples parted by an electrifying lime Coleus.”

(Whoever wrote that description could have a great future in the gardening industry. If I read it on the cover of a gardening magazine. I wouldn't be able to resist buying a copy.)

The Westin Chicago River North calls its garden Simply Chic, noting that "the garden's modern clean look is created by using a combination of three plants. The backdrop is a Cordyline terminalis 'Kiwi' that has a variegated leaves of green, yellow, and chartruese pink. A blue 'Artichoke' Agave serves as the accent plant in the bed of 'Purple Heart' Tradescantia."

It does sound simple and appealing.

If you plan to visit Chicago this summer, you can download a map of the gardens.

And you'll definitely want the list of the student's sketches and where their creations will be located. And should you fall in love with any, they'll all be sold on eBay this summer.

Many cities plan summer promotions – to attract visitors, to keep tourists in shopping areas longer, and as just plain fun for residents. I like Chicago's gardens – and their recycled fashion – better than the painted cows, fish, and other critters that have been populating cities the past few summers.

It’s always good to add some greenery to the ordinary shopping scenery.

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