Lurie Garden
Lurie Garden  Photo: Courtesy of the Lurie Garden

Millennium Park upended the idea of the urban park by making it, well, urban. The Bean sits in a plaza, transforming the skyline into a magnificent piece of modern art. Jay Pritzker Pavilion offers a futuristic setting for cultural performances. Crown Fountain entertains kids with charmingly silly video monoliths. But on the park’s south end, separated from these shiny visual delights by the Carl Sandburg–inspired Shoulder Hedge, is a botanical oasis: the underappreciated Lurie Garden, a sophisticated miniature of Chicago past and future.

The hedge—architecture via vegetation—frames a subtly rolling prairie in homage to the native landscape. Piet Oudolf, a star of the New Perennial movement in garden design, chose for this garden a feral blend that thrives and withers with the seasons, adhering to his philosophy that “a plant is only worth growing if it looks good when it’s dead.” The Seam, a gentle stream and boardwalk, divides the garden along the old retaining walls that originally marked the boundary between lake and city: to the east, the Dark Plate, where plantings echo the city’s marshy past; to the west, the Light Plate and its brighter, more urbane future.

Lurie Garden is no mere provincial tribute. The garden itself is a mix of plants from around the world—Siberian bugloss flowers and Mediterranean sea holly, for example—foreign transplants growing alongside prairie natives in deliberately naturalistic patterns. Like the built environment it provides a respite from, the garden represents an international style rooted in the familiar.