Another Garden Gem in Rockford, Illinois

This is my second post about the recent gathering of nine Midwest garden bloggers to see the horticultural sites of Rockford, Illinois.

First, let me respond to some grumbling in reaction to my defining Rockford as a “small city”. If this seemed like big city elitism to you, I apologize. I grew up in the metro NY area and spent most of my adult life in and around Chicago, so my idea of “small” may be a bit skewed. For the record, Rockford has about 150,000 people and is the third largest city in the great state of Illinois, the Land of Lincoln.

Another view.

OK, then, moving on. We spent the morning at the Klehm Arboretum, then proceeded to have lunch at a bustling place in downtown Rockford called Octane, where the food was creative and good.

A Monarch Waystation is planted between the parking lot and the Rock River.
A Monarch Waystation is planted between the parking lot and the Rock River.

Next stop was the Nicholas Conservatory and Greenhouse, located along the Rock River. A Monarch Waystation and bioswale is laid out between the parking lot and the water.

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Inside, there is a mosaic floor representing the Rock River and its tributaries.

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Which leads the way into the greenhouse.

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A water feature with fountains winds its way through the greenhouse.

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Which features a good deal of garden art along with the plants.

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The fish in the indoor koi pond add to the sense of movement.

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Lots of Epiphytes and orchids to examine.

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I love Bird of Paradise Flowers (Strelitzia reginae).

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There were also some interesting food plants. Do you know what jack fruit looks like? Well, here you go.

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And here’s a papaya tree. No picking allowed.

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When you’ve walked all the way through the conservatory, you come out the other end at the Eclipse Lagoon.

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Turning away from the river, the boundary of this garden is marked by a long limestone wall and waterfalls.

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The garden is full of both xeric and water-loving plants, native and exotic.

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Lots of ducks. Supposedly this is how they feed, but I suspect they are mooning the tourists.

We decided to skip the rose garden because we were running out of time but also because we suspected the roses would not be at their best in August (though there were some in bloom).

Next stop: the Anderson Japanese Gardens.

46 Comments on “Another Garden Gem in Rockford, Illinois

  1. This garden looks like it has a lot to offer. I always enjoy a good conservatory. The inside art is very clever and amusing, but what is that huge sculpture thingy outside supposed to be?

  2. Great post! On a hot day like today, all the water photos speak to me, especially the duck diving — mooning the tourists or not. And those Jack fruit and Papayas look yummy.

  3. Lovely photos πŸ™‚ I really like the mosaic floor with the rivers –maybe its the geologist in me, but that’s one of my favorite features of the conservatory. The last time we were there (I think it was May, for Mother’s Day), there was a docent who gave us lots of interesting information about the plants, especially the food plants.

    Having now spent 20 years living in Rockford, I can say it has improved quite a bit over that time, but totally has the mindset of a small city. That’s part of the problem πŸ™‚

    • I liked the mosaic also, especially how it led into the conservatory. A docent would have been handy, they certainly had a lot of interesting plants.

  4. Am familiar with Klehm and Anderson but this was new to me. And sorry folks, but I would also call Rockford a small city. It is smaller than Madison which I think of as small, having grown up in Buffalo when the population was almost half a million.

    • Rockford used to be bigger than it is now. Where my wife grew up the big city was Dayton, which is now the size of Rockford but had 260,000 people back in 1960. So many of the old factory towns have gone through a lot of shrinkage.

  5. Some fabulous touches here…especially the mosaic river and the sandblasted grasses on the glass. I’m from a small city and proud of it.

  6. A beautiful place! Love the art. By absolute standards, 150,000 is small for a city. By Maine standards, it is huge. Our biggest city, Portland, has a population of 66,000. Winthrop, the town where I live, has 6,000. It’s all a matter of perspective πŸ˜‰

  7. Such a beautiful place, and I love all the native plantings. Too bad it wasn’t cooler so that we all would have had more energy to explore it a little further. Rockford doesn’t seem like a “city” to me either, and I’m basically a country girl. Even though it’s the third largest city in Illinois, it’s not much bigger than Champaign-Urbana, so it seems very similar. However, it does outdo C-U with all of its wonderful public gardens!

    • Yes, it was a very HOT day, but still lots of fun. Glad we did it. Maybe there should be a midwest meet up for spring or autumn.

  8. Jason, you and Judy are troopers. I couldn’t hack the heat of the out of doors without any shade. What can I say??? I’m a weenie. I thought that Jack Fruit was most interesting. They were huge sort of shaped like a hornet’s nest. Of course they were a way different texture. Those fragrant Orchids were awesome too. I wish I had taken more pictures. Ha… I think Rockford was a nice little city. πŸ˜‰ I come from a small town that calls itself city. They also call our college a University. That has to do with funding. You get better funding for University as opposed to college. What ever it is all nice.

  9. Question… Isn’t that first picture the entrance to the Klehm Arboretum? Or is it the back enterance that I didn’t see to the Conservatory?? I thought it looked like Klehm.

  10. Great coverage of Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens! It always fascinates me how we all see different things during these visits. Or we interpret the places in a different way. I feel like I only saw a small portion of this property, and I’d like to go back next year–maybe in late May or early June when the roses are blooming but it isn’t too hot.

    • Yes, I realized after first posting that it’s the Nicholas not Nicholson Conservatory. I’m told Nicholson is a hardware store. What do you think about an autumn meetup?

  11. It’s a really lovely spot – I bet it would be great to visit the tropical greenhouse in the depths of an Illinois winter…maybe not so much on triple-digit summer days! I like how they’ve laid it out so naturally with flowing water…very nice touch

    • I do enjoy visiting conservatories in winter. We have a couple of good ones closer to home, especially the one in Garfield Park.

  12. Great that Rockford has such a beautiful place. And I think you’re right about the ducks.

  13. I did enjoy this garden, the totem poles are certainly unique! The water was lovely and I was in awe of the exotic fruit! Oh to be able to grow things like that. I loved the Bird of paradise flower too, lovely!xxx

  14. Rockford is a smaller city but I am from the Chicago suburbs and live in Quad Cities Illinois now. I consider our town small compared to Chicago, so I don’t take offence-LOL.
    I had no idea Rockford had a lovely place like this-road trip! thank you for sharing:-)

  15. Well here in NY that would be a small city…sorry but it would! Now this is a fabulous place especially the water features…I love the whimsy and that path with the river is lovely.

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