Visiting the Garfield Conservatory in Chicago is my favorite way of celebrating Tu Bishvat, the New Year of the Trees, which falls on January 25 this year. Celebrating the first blooming of the trees in Israel always seems out of place to me here in the depths of the Chicago winter. That’s why I’m happy that the kindergarteners at Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School, my children’s school, take a field trip to the Garfield Conservatory every year around Tu Bishhvat. The warmth of the greenhouses is such a welcome relief, as is all that emerald green! And I love to see and hear how the children react to the indoor gardens when the world is all white outside.
Upon arriving at the conservatory, each child receives a zip-lock bag, containing cocoa and vanilla beans and dried fruit (date, orange, banana, and pineapple) for a scavenger hunt through the greenhouses. The kids love tasting a tree’s fruit while standing in front of it. Sampling tree fruit is also a traditional way of celebrating Tu Bishvat. Dates are one of the seven species of Israel—many of which are often eaten during Tu Bishvat celebrations. Seeing a date palm at the conservatory in the middle of wintry Chicago adds to the wonder of the experience.
One of the surprising things the kids discovered on this week’s trip is that chocolate trees doesn’t smell like chocolate, and the vanilla vine doesn’t smell like vanilla. One of the Israeli children was amazed to see that a sabra fruit grows on a cactus, and one boy especially loved the “house that was like a desert.” Two girls were less enamored with the trees but snapped pictures of all the flowers, especially the daffodils. The biggest thrill of all, according to the kids, was the indoor creek, because, “ Creeks are usually only outside!”
The Garfield Park Conservatory is open every day of the year and admission and parking are free. With six greenhouses, it is the largest conservatory in the city and often presents special exhibits. The stunning yellow glass lily pads in the Aroid House’s Persian Pool are a vestige of a 2001 Chihuly exhibit. The Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Garden offers hands-on exhibits and special programs for families.
My love for the Garfield Conservatory inspired me to seek out other greenhouses in the city that would be perfect to check out for Tu Bishvat:
The Lincoln Park Conservatory, just north of Lincoln Park Zoo, is a fun place to visit, particularly if you’re at the zoo already. Admission is free but parking is harder to find. With four display houses, it is not as big as the Garfield Conservatory, but offers the opportunity to enjoy the warmth of a greenhouse smack in the middle of the city.
Navy Pier’s Crystal Gardens don’t warrant a separate trip, but if you’re visiting the Children’s Museum, a walk through this six‐story glass atrium with its towering palm trees, lush foliage, and tinkling fountains offers another opportunity to escape the cold, replete with stunning views of Chicago’s skyline. And it has another indoor creek!
Because I live on the Southside, the Chicago Botanic Garden is a bit of a schlep, but for those on the Northshore, the green houses of the Chicago Botanic Garden offer a tropical escape and the edible plants are fun to inspect. Admission is free, parking is not.
Happy Tu Bishvat, Chicago!