Rockford is home to more than 7,000 acres of park land and natural areas, earning it a reputation as the “City of Gardens.” The area boasts an abundant array of public and private gardens, each unique in its own unique style. From sprawling fields of flowers and tiny Japanese-inspired gardens to indoor conservatories brimming with tropical plants, there’s no shortage of green space to explore.
A good starting point is Great Gardens of Rockford. This group’s mission is to publicize and promote a consortium of seven different gardens throughout the city. Here’s an introduction to each of them.
Anderson Japanese Gardens
This meticulously maintained gem has received national recognition for its quality and authenticity. Originally built as a private backyard, the gardens now are open for the public to enjoy. The calm, tranquil grounds cover 12 acres of meandering paths, streams, koi-filled ponds, waterfalls, and examples of traditional 16th century-inspired architecture, scattered throughout. The garden also hosts various events throughout the year, such as its Japanese Summer Festival and a craft beer festival.
• Open May through November
Mon. - Fri. 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
• $8.00 for adults, $7.00 seniors, $6.00 students, free for children 5 and under
318 Spring Creek Rd., Rockford
La Paloma Gardens
La Paloma features several distinct areas, each more breathtaking than the last. Originally part of a family farm and later a golf course, the property has continued to evolve with each passing year. Today, the award-winning private garden includes a swan pond, koi house, Italian courtyard, French-inspired vegetable garden and more. Group and guided tours are available with an advanced reservation. The space also is available for weddings.
• Open May through October
Tues. 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Wed. 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Thurs. 10 a.m.- 4pm
• $6 for adults, $3 for seniors
3622 Brookview Rd., Rockford
Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden
This 155-acre living museum offers stunning views and changing colors year round. With eight different garden areas, there's something to do and see in every season. In the spring, the peony garden features more than 70 brilliant varieties. The butterfly garden is also active in the warmer months. Guests can visit the fountain garden, Vi Bates wildflower garden, ornamental glass garden, rhododendron and azalea garden and much more. Guided and self-guided tours are available.
• Open year round
9 a.m. - 8 p.m., Memorial Day through Labor Day
• $6 for adults, $3 seniors, students and children, free for members and children two and under
2715 S. Main St., Rockford
Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens
Experience the tropics in the Midwest at this 11,000-square-foot plant exhibition area. The third largest in the state, the glass-walled conservatory is filled with tropical plants from all over the world, plus water features, seating areas and sculptures.
Outside, visitors can wander through the Eclipse Lagoon on the banks of the Rock River. The gardens feature two fountains, a waterfall, pedestrian bridge, patio areas and a walkway to the Sinnissippi Rose Garden. The conservatory also hosts events and exhibits throughout the year.
• Open year round
Tues. - Fri 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., Sat. - Sun. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., closed Mon.
• $8 for non-residents, $6 residents and non-resident children, $4 resident children and seniors
1354 N. 2nd St., Rockford
Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum & Gardens
One of a handful of Swiss-style homes left in the country, this historic home is filled with original Victorian-era furnishing, artwork, household items and more. The home is perched on a limestone bluff overlooking Kent Creek and surrounded by more than 27 acres of gardens. Along with a three-story farm and animals, the grounds are filled with trees, winding pathways, flower beds and crawling vines.
Over the years, the gardens have been carefully restored based on journals, research and historic photographs, and the work continues today. The grounds include a Victorian rose garden, an iris path, Illinois prairie meadows and the Railroad Garden. The spot hosts lectures, workshops, family game days and free admission dates throughout the year.
• Open year round, weather permitting
Tues. - Sun. 1 p.m. - 3 p.m.
• $8 for adults, $7 seniors, $5 children, free for members
411 Kent St., Rockford
Womanspace offers programs, events and classes to enhance the mind, body and spirit. Their seven-acre campus includes several garden areas tended by volunteers. The Lily Fernandez Memorial Meditation Garden features flowers for cutting, a sculpture garden, prairie garden, and walking paths shaped in the contours of a dancing woman.
The Peace Garden is a circular space with a small stone seating area and the Peace Pole monument. The newest garden is the Celebration Garden, with a large fountain, stone benches and a brick patio engraved with inspiring messages. The campus also features a labyrinth walking path, small pine forest and open prairie space. The prairie is home to an array of native plants, wildflowers, white-tailed deer, and foxes.
• Open daily during daylight hours
3333 Maria Linden Dr., Rockford
Midway Village Museum & Heritage Gardens
This 148-acre campus includes a main museum center and Victorian-era village where visitors can experience what life was like in Rockford in the 19th century. The historical accuracy carries over into their Heritage Gardens, where the area's rich tradition of landscaping and gardening is meticulously preserved. The eight heirloom gardens cover ten acres of restored natural area and use turn-of-the-century garden designs, plants and ornamentation.
Guests can explore the gardens with tour guides in authentic period clothing, who use the plants for historic cooking demonstrations, craft projects and decorating. The gardens are featured in a lecture series on a variety of horticultural topics.
• Open year round
Summer hours: Tues. - Fri., 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Sat. - Sun. 10:30 a.m. - 4 p.m., closed Mon.
• $7 for adults, $5 children, free for members
6799 Guilford Rd., Rockford
There are great local gardens all over northern Illinois. Check out these throughout the summer months, and don’t forget your camera!
1. Sunken Garden
901 Ray Moses Dr., Aurora
Nestled in Phillips Park, these meticulous, formal gardens are hand-planted with more than 10,000 tulips each fall. By mid-May, the tulips are replaced with flowering annuals for a stunning summertime display. The Sunken Garden was originally designed and developed in the 1930s and was inspired by the gardens of English nobility. A 2002 renovation added a new walkway system, benches and a three-tiered lighted fountain as the garden’s centerpiece.
2. The Shakespeare Garden
Directly east of 2133 Sheridan Rd., Evanston
This tiny gem is tucked away in a quiet corner of Northwestern University’s campus. The eight-bed garden was created to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1917 and was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1988. The flowers, shrubs, trees and herbs in the garden are references in Shakespeare’s works, such as rosemary, lavender, thyme, old roses, daffodil, poppy and marigolds. The space is free, open to the public, and available for weddings and events.
3. Bird Haven Greenhouse & Conservatory
225 N. Gougar Rd, Joliet
The Bird Haven is an Italian Renaissance-style building that houses a spectacular array of flowers and plants. Exhibits change with the season. Themed floral shows are on display in the fall, winter and spring. A tropical house, cacti room and show room are available year round. The conservatory sits on three acres within a 660-acre site that includes Pilcher Park and Higginbotham Woods.
4. Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens
7402 W. Lake Katherine Dr., Palos Heights
This sprawling park includes a rich diversity of landscapes, including woodlands, prairie, gardens, wetlands, an arboretum and a 10-acre lake. The gardens are equally diverse, with plants and flowers from various climates. Main attractions include the butterfly garden, herb garden, wildflower garden, waterfall garden, alpine rock garden, rhododendron garden, conifer garden, dahlia garen and more. These gardens are planted throughout the Lake Katherine area for the park’s more than 100,000 annual visitors to stroll through and enjoy.
5. Chicago Botanic Garden
1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe
The massive and historic Chicago Botanic Garden showcases 32 distinct garden exhibits, each with its own horticultural theme. The Aquatic Garden, for instance, features scores of water lilies and lotuses that can be viewed from a winding boardwalk above the water. One of the most popular spots is the magnificent Rose Garden, with more than 5,000 fragrant blooms. Other natural areas include the Waterfall Garden, Bonsai Garden, Japanese Garden, Skokie River area and much more. Guests can explore by foot or via tram that offers panoramic overviews of the gardens.
6. Linmar Gardens
504 S. Prospect St., Galena
Linmar Gardens overlook historic Galena from a secluded hilltop. The privately owned garden comprises a little more than three acres that ramble across the tops of natural outcroppings. The rugged, natural effect makes for an enchanting experience. Paths will take visitors past handbuilt terraces and hostas, conifers, daylilies, and vibrant flowers. Water flows freely through the gardens, including a 20-foot waterfall cascading over a natural bluff. There’s also a small replica of a limestone mine and a sunken garden built in the remnants of of the first African American churches in the state. Guests can join one of two daily guided tours at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m.
7. The Gardens of Woodstock
5211 Swanson Rd., Woodstock
These lush gardens began as a nursery to supply a landscaping business and have turned into a public treasure. Opened to all in 2007, the gardens feature elaborate landscaping crafted with unique plants sourced from around the country. Most plants are labeled and available for purchase at the nearby nursery. There are several water features, including five waterfalls, ponds and bubbling brooks that create a sense of serenity.
8. Cantigny Gardens
1S151 Winfield Rd., Wheaton
The 29 acres of gardens on the ground of Cantigny Park are a tranquil escape from reality. Guests will first encounter the Hosta Garden, with more than 200 varieties of the leafy plant. The Formal Garden is an artistically designed masterpiece of color and texture that evolves with each season. A gentle breeze will draw visitors to the fragrant rose garden, a favorite spot on the estate. The Idea Garden and Reflection Points are perfect for a quiet stroll, with striking sculptures and meandering trails. And the Prairie Garden is filled with native foliage that exemplifies the natural beauty of the region.
9. Japanese Tea Garden
1925 S. Batavia Ave., Geneva
A tranquil oasis in the Fabyan West Forest Preserve, the private garden was built by a renowned Japanese landscape architect for the locally prominent Fabyan family. Today, the intricate, ornamental garden is open to the public on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons from May through October and also open on Thursdays in the summer. There are self-guided tour brochures available for guests who want to better explore the 100-year old site. The garden has been partially restored and replanted to bring it closer to its original glory.
10. Morton Arboretum
4100 Illinois 53, Lisle
While this rambling natural area is known for its trees, it’s also home to several noteworthy gardens. Guests can get lost in the Maze Garden, a one-acre labyrinth of strategically placed hedges that change each season. A lookout platform will let you watch maze-goers from above. The secluded Fragrance Garden is overflowing with aromatic flowers, fruit and foliage. A tiny herb garden contains more than 50 different plant species chosen for their prominence in herbal folklore. And the Four Season Garden is a small, formal garden that offers something interesting to look at all year round.