A damp stroll across Chicago’s front lawn

Chicago's Millennium Park is where political muscle meets people-friendly landscaping.

Courtesy of Craig Summers Black
Cleome springs from the hedges in front of Frank Gehry's Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, between downtown Chicago's Lake Michigan waterfront and famous Michigan Avenue.
Courtesy of Craig Summers Black
The Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain in Grant Park. Because of the rain, we hardly noticed the spray.

So there we were, just the two of us, sauntering through the flowers in an early-morning semi-soaking rain off the lake in Chicago.

Devil-may-care romance? No, just another overzealous gardener bound and determined to take in a landscaping landmark before the weekend vacation came to a thudding halt.

Then again, in a former life I covered Portland and Seattle gardens for a large national magazine. So I’ve been wet before.

Our idea that Sunday morning was to take in Millennium Park before the six-hour drive home back to Madison County, Iowa

It was worth the dowsing.

How Chicago got its nickname

But first, before discussing that, a historical sidelight: The Windy City did not get its famous nickname because of the breeze.

You see, Chicago is no windier than most places, certainly less so than where I live. It was first called the Windy City because of the bloviage of city politicians. And Chicago is, first and foremost, a political city. I don’t think Rahm Emanuel was so much elected mayor as he was appointed.

Politics, politics

And Millennium Park, now the city’s No. 2 tourist destination (after the garish Navy Pier), is pretty much the result of city politics. What was supposed to be a $150 million project to turn railroad yards and parking lots into green space became a much-delayed $475 million project. Private donors did end up contributing more than $200 million, but still …

What the city ended up with is 25 acres of public space fully integrated with almost 300 acres in the existing Grant Park. Bless you, Mayor Daley.

Highlights for me: The Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavillion [see photo above]; Anish Kapoor’s 100-ton Cloud Gate (referred to locally as “the bean”), certainly the largest gazing globe I’ve ever encountered; and Piet Oudolf and cohorts’ 2.5 acre Lurie Garden.

Highlight for my wife: Getting into some dry clothes afterward.

What else I’m into this week: Painting the house, repairing the fence and gates and splitting wood. Which is to say, hunkering down for winter.


Craig Summers Black, the Transplanted Gardener, is an award-winning garden writer and photographer who blogs regularly at Diggin' it. You can read more of what he's written by clicking here. You may also follow Craig’s further adventures in gardening, music, and rural life on Twitter.

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