Monday, April 20, 2009

Whirlwind Chicago Trip

About two weeks ago, I was so inspired reading accounts of the Macy's Flower Show from Garden Girl and Mr. Brown Thumb that I went ahead and booked tickets on megabus for a Chicago day trip for April 18. I issued an open invitation for any local bloggers to meet me there, and Garden Girl, Mr Brown Thumb, and On the Shores of Lake Chicago (Shores for short) met me around 11:20 outside Macy's.

That big flamingo isn't any of them, or even me, but one of my favorite floral displays. I realize pink flamingos aren't everyone's cup of tea, but I love them. They add a touch of whimsy and, yes I'll say it, class, to the garden. Or garden show.

But wait, here are Garden Girl and Shores posing (I made them do it!) along the main aisle, which had several okame cherry trees down the center and which was flanked on either side with flamingos. (Apparently, they swapped out the cherry trees into refrigerated trucks over night so the blooms would stay fresh longer.)

At Mr Brown Thumb's suggestion, we looked at the same aisle from one floor up...

...and from seven floors up. Cool perspective, huh?!

They also had floral arrangements on top of display shelves...

... and in the aisles. This was the "flower of the day" display, which was changed regularly. I took this shot because all those fuchsia hues just demanded to be photographed, but the display also incorporated a bunch of interesting "found" items along the bottom, such as a bowling ball, pull cart, a big purse, an old cash register, shoes, a hard hat, and a lunch box.

The fountain in the Walnut Room restaurant was also decked out. I was sorely tempted to sneak one of the plastic flamingos out in my purse, but I am happy to report that decency prevailed.

Aside from the flower displays, the Macy's building itself was very interesting. It's been a long time since I've been in a department store full stop (I'm not a big shopper), let alone one with more than two stories. Macy's is like a mini city! Even the elevators are cool.
And check out this magnificent mosaic ceiling by Louis Comfort Tiffany. I usually think of Tiffany in terms of stained glass, but the principles of stained glass and mosaic design are similar. The ceiling really sparkled and the photo doesn't do it justice. I didn't realize we could see it close up from a higher level, but I'll be in Chicago again soon enough!

After Macy's, Shores went home to clean out her pond and Garden Girl, Mr Brown Thumb, and I headed to the nearby Cultural Center. It used to be the main library branch and now houses galleries and rents rooms for meetings, weddings, etc. It has two Tiffany stained glass domes, whose color and detail were very hard to capture in photos, but which were stunning in person.

The walls also had extremely detailed mosaic work, which you can see a little bit here...

...and more close up here (Garden Girl took a better photo, I'm sure!).

The mosaic tiles weren't just near the dome, but extended into several rooms as well. One can only imagine how long that work took to complete. And I just loved the contrast of old and new, looking out the window of the Cultural Center to the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

The second Tiffany dome was equally compelling.

And I'm always impressed how flowers and little garden spaces are tucked everywhere in the big, bustling, concrete downtown Chicago. This little garden patch was visible through a hallway window at the Cultural Center.

This planter somewhere along Randolph Street is all ready for spring.

This planter (I believe along Michigan Avenue) still had some of the red twig dogwood it had before the holidays, but with the addition of pansies and ornamental cabbages. (That's Shores taking a look while I'm taking the shot!)

And would you believe it? A potted larch, complete with baby cones. Awwwww....

After finishing at the Cultural Center, GG, MBT, and I headed over to Millennium Park. I love this shot of the Cloud Gate because due to the trees and angle, you don't see it immediately.

We then walked to the Lurie Garden, which was planted with spring bulbs. It gets more impressive in spring and summer as the perennials fill in and get tall. I love how there's another crazy plant person in the left of this photo, contorting to get that perfect shot.

There were cute clumps of species tulips, plus the other usual suspects of spring bulbs. Plus two herbaceous perennials that none of us could ID. And which weren't listed on the two signs. Honestly, I can't tell you how many times I've visited gardens with friends and, between us, we can ID about 95% of the plants, and those we don't know are inevitably the ones without signs! I've emailed the Lurie horticulturist asking for ID help, but of course I'm sure one (or more!) of my blogging friends will be quick to help me out, too. :) [Added later: The horticulturist, Colleen Lockovitch, just emailed me back and confirmed the plants as described below. Thanks, Colleen!]

This one looks so familiar to me; the flowers look like pasque flower, but I don't think the leaves are right. [Added later: Thank you, Mr. McGregor's Daughter, for IDing this as prairie smoke; I've only ever seen it in photos with its poofy pink seed heads, not the flowers or buds. I also imagined it taller. Even though we're theoretically in the right zone for it, it doesn't bloom too aggressively here, according to my local prairie-expert friend (everyone should have one!)]

And this one I'm completely clueless about (but aren't the buds just the coolest?!). [Added later: Bing bing bing! We have an ID, thanks to Shady Gardener. They're Virginia bluebells, whose blooms I can easily recognize, but I'd never seen the cool, "scrunched up" buds as I don't grow them in my own garden. I can see that needs to change.]

We then walked across the BP Bridge...

...and reached a little stand of magnolias, one of which had wishes tied to it.

The wishes appeared to be written by junior-high or high-school age kids. Most were what you might expect — wishes for fame, beauty, fortune, and love. Others were more poignant, like a wish to meet one's birth parents. But by far, my favorite wish was this one!

Aren't the blossoms gorgeous? I may have told GG that the magnolias back in Michigan weren't blooming yet, but I was wrong. I went to dinner last night at a friend's house and the magnolias were blooming!

We then headed to Grant Park, where we came across this lovely sea of tulips with pansies waving in the background. I love pansies!

Oh, yeah, and this fountain.

I was getting a bit light-headed from the previous four hours of non-stop walking/standing so we headed to Michigan Avenue to have a bite to eat. But first we saw this public planting and from a distance, we thought it looked like its border was made of lettuce. But we thought, no, it must be lime coral bells or something. Intrigued, we walked up closer to it, and it was indeed lettuce! Very, very cool. I should mention, at this point, that it was so lovely being with two other crazy gardeners who totally understood how exciting it was that the city has edged a bed with edibles! I'm getting all misty, humming Island of Misfit Toys to myself now... (but I don't want to imply anything about my blogging friends, only about me!)

We then ate at the Corner Bakery, a Panera-like restaurant that made a mean mixed-greens salad and an awesome tomato-basil soup. Renewed and replenished, it was time for me to head back to Union Station to catch my bus. Garden Girl headed back to her Metra stop and Mr Brown Thumb walked with me most of the way back to the station and got a glimpse of the bright blue bus I'd be taking home. (megabus is cheap and comfortable! Check it out!)

My feet hurt a little (from carrying me around!), but it was a most enjoyable day. Not only do I love Chicago and architecture and flowers, but it was so nice seeing Garden Girl again and meeting Mr Brown Thumb and On the Shores of Lake Chicago for the first time. I really enjoyed spending time with them. What can I say, gardeners are good people. (And smart and funny, too!) I'm so looking forward to Spring Fling and meeting more of my dear blogging friends!


  1. Oh Monica, it was just like a preview to spring fling! I enjoyed your travelogue so much, it was the next best thing to being along with you all. I did get a bit dizzy from that shot of Macy's from so high up though! Even the tomato basil soup has my salivary glands working. You could write this stuff for a living! :-)

  2. You definitely epitomize the fact that gardeners are good people, and smart and funny too! What a wonderful trip and so pretty. I love blogging since it allows me to 'travel' to so many cool places-without all the walking:) Awesome that you were able to meet up with some fellow bloggers! Not sure about the class in the garden with pink flamingos though, they might be right up there with toliets and bathtubs-oh wait! That is my garden! Ha! Of course they are fun and all your pictures wonderful.

  3. Monica, Is the pink flower Pasque flower? The next one is, tah-dah, Virginia Bluebells! ;-)

    You are fun!! Especially that you just up and went to Chicago. Monica, I may not be going to Spring Fling, afterall. I don't think I'm signed up. However, if I can manage to get to MMD's on that Friday... I'll set my sights on that!!

  4. How interesting is that lettuce border. I have some extra seeds, maybe I'll try it.

    I like the flamingos too. Especially up here in the north where flamingos never go;)

  5. Monica, I love Chicago! It is an easy to get around 'big city'. I've been there in every season but spring, so this trip to SF will be a treat..thank you for the preview. Isn't the bridge great! Can't wait to meet you! gail gail

  6. The pink bell shaped flower/thingy is Geum triflorum, the native Prairie Smoke. I grow both it and the Pasque Flower. They must be related, because they both have fuzzy stems and similar seedheads.

  7. I really enjoyed reading about your day out in Chicago Monica. A day out with fellow gardeners is always such fun. Glad to hear that you behaved with decorum and did not bring a flamingo home with you :)

  8. Hi Monica....what an amazing post.....
    The pink flamingo's make such a statement.......and I love the way you viewed them from above....
    I love the fact that you showed the beautiful domes etc as well as plants and blooms....

    Great post....oved it......

  9. What a successful trip, Monica :)

    I liked the tulips and the magnolias. The store reminded me of Les Galleries Lafayette in Paris, with all the floors and the domed ceiling...very chic :)

    Thanks for sharing :)

  10. I like those flamingos too. Are they made out of azaleas?

  11. What a great day you must have had, Monica! Now I'm even more excited about going to Chicago for Spring Fling; I can just imagine how some of these gardens will have filled out by that time. The last time I was at Macy' wasn't Macy's, but Marshall Field's. A trip to downtown Chicago was never complete without a stop there, even if I rarely bought anything:)
    Beautiful photos, but I admit I like the one of the photographer nearly lying down on the sidewalk; I think we can all relate to that:)

  12. How fun, Monica! Your photos are great and love ... love ... the huge flamingos!

  13. Oh wow...what a great time to spend with those who share common interests....Great post Monica...

  14. Oh wow, oh wow! What incredibly wonderful places. I do so wish I could have visited them too!

    The flamingos . . . the INCREDIBLE view from the seventh floor . . . the ceilings . . . and the lettuce!

    The only thing is, the page happened to load slowly (it doesn't usually) and the top photo got stuck part of the way down so I could see only the top two thirds and I thought it was a picture of a pink dinasaur who had half swallowed a woman so her head and shoulders were already in its mouth! Aaaaaaaaaagh!


  15. This is awesome! Are you coming to the Chicago Bloggers Spring Fling this year?

    Shawna Coronado

  16. Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip, Monica! I feel I've been there too. What great variety and interest there was. I love the mosaics and the lettuce bed with the fantastic sculpture. How lovely to meet fellow bloggers there too. Macy's looks marvellous! Wonder if I'll ever visit Chicago??!

  17. What a great trip you had to the city Monica! Thanks for taking us along & showing us the sights. :) How fun to meet fellow bloggers for the first time too! Sounds like a great day to me!!!

  18. Hi Monica,
    Glad you had fun and it was nice meeting you and having an awesome blogging convo during lunch.

  19. I didn't think I liked flamingos at all until you showed us those! What a spectacular trip you had. The mosaics have got me all inspired. I've got to figure out a way to incorporate them into my garden.

  20. It was great to meet you, and it was great to see your pictures so I know what I missed out on! I believe they've been doing that lettuce border for some years now - I know I've seen it in the past while going between Lake Shore Drive and the Eisenhower.

  21. I'm so glad you made that whirlwind Chicago trip Monica! It was a blast hanging out with you, Mr.Brown Thumb, and Shores (good abreviation!)

    I added three VA bluebells this spring, all bareroot, and one's sprouting. I hope it (and the other two) bloom yet this spring!

    I can only wonder what people must have thought of us in that median strip marveling over the lettuce border and contorting to get photos of it!

    Nice to have an ID of the mystery plant!

    I'm looking forward to seeing you again in a few weeks at SF!

  22. Thanks for a great post Monica! I've never ben to Chicago, so I really enjoyed my vicarious trip with you.

  23. Thanks for a great post Monica! I've never ben to Chicago, so I really enjoyed my vicarious trip with you.

  24. What a wonderful trip you had! I think that lettuce is something very original to be used by a city for official beddings! Wow! And the wish on the magnolia certainly was cool. The next time i need an ID I will think of your way - how neat.
    Love, Britta
    P.S.: Ich bin auf Stimmenfang für Sienas Match im Kitty Fight Club. Zunächst lag sie in Führung und ist jetzt plötzlich 40 Stimmen hinten dran. Vielleicht möchtest Du ja für sie stimmen? ; )

  25. Frances,
    There is a lot of walking in Chicago! That's funny about the high-level shot, both GG and MBT were a bit dizzy too. I'm fine with highest but am vaguely claustrophobic! (Why, I did used to write a blog for part of my living! ;-)

    Blush, why thanks for the compliment! I also love the "armchair travel" nature of reading others' blogs. I was being a bit facetious about flamingos being classy (I know many find them just the opposite), but I really do like them. Especially these. And Macy's needs a bit of flamingos, if you know what I mean! ;-)

    Thanks for IDing the VA bluebells! Lordy, I should have recognized them. I love how their flowers open pink and blueish, similar to our friend pulmonaria. Thanks again for offering to mail me some!!

    I guess flamingos think Chicago is just as cool as the other tourists! :)

    I agree Chicago is easy to navigate. I've been there in spring, summer, and winter... so this year I'll shoot for a fall trip, too! Megabus is so affordable from Ann Arbor--it was $30 ROUNDtrip! Looking forward to meeting you too. I'll assume you'll bring your new flame, Can, not your trusty Cam?

    Thanks of the ID of prairie smoke! It's a fascinating plant. I ordered seeds for it, but the place was all out! My friend has a dwarf kind in her rock garden, but I really want to try the regular size. BTW, some of my winter-sown seedlings are up, but not the wild petunia yet.

    I also enjoy seeing all the wonderful places you go in England! I'm surprised Macy's didn't have the flamingos (or SOME kind of flamingo souvenir) for sale. As cheap as i am, I would have paid for one!!

    Glad you enjoyed the tour!

    Yes, it was tres chic, so I was a bit out of my element at first, but I adjusted! :) I've never been to Paris but one of the El stops looks like the Paris metro stops in Chicago! :)

    Sweet Bay,
    The flamingo in the first photo is made out of eeny beeny Kalanchoe flowers--they're apparently replaced as they wilt!!

    I'm glad to give you a Spring Fling preview! I also loved how that photographer contorted and he was a young guy! Yep, we crazy gardeners gotta stick together!!!! I'm counting down to Spring Fling and meeting you and Beckie!! HEY! Some of the seeds you both put int he swap have come up in my winter-sown containers!

  26. Joey,
    The flamingos are pretty much what clinched my decision to go to Chicago! :)

    (I love that nickname for you so please excuse if you don't) Yes, it was a fun day all around!

    Ha ha ha, I have just the sense of humor to appreciate an ACTUAL statue of a dinosaur eating a woman, LOL! I don't know why it's slow to load. I link to the photos in Flickr, but that's what I always do...

    Yep, I'll be at Spring Fling. I love Chicago and it's only ~5 hours away. Wouldn't miss it.

    I too love visiting other places through blogs. I hope to return to London one day--it's been 10 years since I was there last. I ask you!

    It was a great day all the way around. Hey, are you coming to Spring Fling?!

    It was nice meeting you! Now, don't laugh, but I was half expecting you to be an older gentleman (most of the male gardeners I know are retired).

    It's probably fair to say pink flamingos are an acquired taste, and, you see, I'm old enough to have acquired it! I'm now scouring local sources for two for my own garden! :)

    In trying to find your blog, I stumbled upon your personal website and we have at least three things in common! :)

    My description was so compelling and vivid, you probably felt like YOU WERE THERE, right?! Ha ha ha! I have to admit I appreciate any gardener/photographer who is willing to contort into weird positions (including, say, entirely hypothetically, laying on the floor of the Cultural Center), to get that perfect shot. I bet your close-up on the mosaic tile ended up crisper than mine, too! (I can never tell in LED window; only when I download!)

    Nutty Nutty,
    I'm glad you enjoyed the trip! The advantage of armchair travel is, no jetlag or waiting in lines of sitting in front of a kid who kicks the back of your seat!

    I voted for Siena. Fiona and James eat/crush/roll in the catnip so that it never really gets seeds that I see (though it does seed itself around each year). I'm not sure it will come up on its own this year, though, (I haven't seen it but I've seen blank areas from rolling/looking) so I may be ordering seeds, and if I do, I'm happy to mail the ones I don't use to you. Purrs!

  27. Wish I knew you were going to meet MBT. I'd of had you give him a swift kick for encouraging me to start a blog :) Well maybe not a swift kick but I certainly don't want to kiss him.

    Looks like you had fun. I shy away from that sort of thing but the company would have made it a pleasant experience.

  28. Wow, wow and wow. I would have just loved to have been there. The flamingos are amazing. And lettuce as a border? Well, why not indeed. I have a magnolia stellata out at the moment. It is also white with pink tinged petals. Very pretty but sadly almost over now.
    I felt sick looking down from that 7th floor!
    The building shots were also great, especially those domes.

    A wonderful post for anyone, but for the crafty gardener, superb!

  29. What an awesome trip! I never get tired of visiting Chicago, and the Blues Festival later in the summer is fantastic! (It's in Grant Park, and it's free.) I'd always imagined prairie smoke to be taller too, until I grew it myself. Plenty cute despite the demunitive stature, IMO. I sure hope I can make it to Spring Fling, it's gonna be a blast!

  30. Ich bin auch immer fasziniert, wieviel gruenes und bluehendes man oft mitten in der Grossstadt findet.
    LG, Bek

  31. Those planters with the red twig dogwood look really exciting and the Tiffany ceiling is WOW!