Chicagoasis Review -The Greenest Show on Earth

Sugar from the Sun

Jan and I entered the “Sugar from the Sun” exhibit, at Garfield Park and experienced the sound of gurgling water and birds singing.  The birds sounded so present that we looked everywhere for them but they weren’t there. (It was the 65 speakers around the room that made it sounds like they were there).  However, there was a huge, open airy room filled with beautiful plants that seemed to call us to them.  An open pathway with scattered leaves that looked natural but were sculptured and an integral part of the flooring, led us through the plant filled space where the air seemed to create an atmosphere that was serene and calming. The “Sugar from the Sun” exhibit at the Garfield Park Conservatory was expected to open a year ago, but completing the steel rehabilitation and installing the greenhouse framing and glazing extended the time so that the exhibit is now the highlight of Garfield Park’s year-long Centenary celebration.  Can you believe Garfield Park is 100 years old?

Sunlight's story

In contrast to the older parts of the conservatory, which, appropriate to their time, focused on ornamentation, the new area is focused on education.  Not education in the sense of a science museum but rather education that sort of sneaks up on you so that while enjoying and relaxing with the sounds, smells and feeling of plants, one also learns about how plants draw energy from the sun and the way this ultimately affects every aspect of our lives.

David Snyder,Director of exhibit development and Melanie Harding, Program developer

The signage is attractive and unique. David Snyder, the Alliance’s director of educational exhibits, designed many of these.  He brings an eclectic background including art and education to his current job.  To extend the impact of this exhibit, “The Sugar from the Sun” online exhibit will intuitively guide visitors through educational pathways that are organized, accessible and meaningful on many different levels and also fun and fresh for visitors.

Plant catching the sun

The concept for the exhibit goes back to July 2001 when a proposal was created for submission to the National Science Foundation for education programming in the Children’s Garden.  In August 2003 the Chicago Park District announced the NSF award and the project was underway.  In January 2004, the Dreihaus Foundation awarded a start-up grant and later, additional support came from the “Public Museum Capital Grants Program” of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Illinois State Museum.

Field trips to Garfield Park Conservatory are a wonderful experience for teachers and students and they are free.  Information is available at 773.638.1766 ext 25 or at: 

The exhibit will help students make the connection between green plants and all life on Earth.  The companion Web site, is offering fresh, accessible approaches to the topic of photosynthesis and avails lifelong learners detailed, scientific information with links to articles and research information from around the world.

Banana, pineapple, citrus, the fruiting plants

Walking along, Jan and I heard and saw the water area displaying a waterfall, pools and interpretive messages etched into stone where 400 plants were in place.   Next we went through the sunlight area where the “light dome” supports trailing vines and 6 overhead planters demonstrating how sunlight is focused on the plants. 420 plants fill this area.  We walked on to the sugar section with 48 banana plants in a grove and 40 gateway plantings of fruiting citrus and papaya plants and 112 additional fruiting plants.  An amazing 60 -year old cinnamon tree has been in place from the Stove House to Warm Room to Sweet House and currently graces “Sugar from the Sun”.  But the air section is “breath taking” with steel tress that support an elevated garden of epiphytes. Look for 160 bromeliads, 80 orchids and 500 additional plants.

Surrounded by orchid vines, Jan is serene

Garfield Park Conservatory – which first opened its doors to the public in April 1908 – celebrates 100 years of innovation and botanical contributions to the city and its visitors with year-long events, activities, shows and programs in 2008, all themed “CHICAGOASIS: The Greenest Show on Earth.”

The conservatory, designed by renowned landscape architect Jens Jensen, houses the largest botanical collections under glass in the U.S.  See its offerings, old and new and be sure to say, “Happy 100!”.  To check on the many activities and programs planned to commemorate the Centennial call: 773.638.1766, ext 13 or visit

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