Garfield Observatory - by Guest Writer Nina Wieda

Garfield Observatory - by Guest Writer Nina Wieda

My very talented friend Nina, researcher and college professor with Ph.D. in Russian Language is doing a post for us today. Show some love by checking out her two books at the end of this post.
In the summer, Chicago is paradise. If you are not biking by the lake, or taking in Mozart over a picnic at a Millennium Park concert, or browsing art stalls and gobbling down juicy cevapcici at a street festival, then you must be engaged in another of a thousand exciting activities that summertime Chicago offers every day.
In the winter, your pickings are slimmer. Museums and theaters are still here, but what if your eyes hurt from the amount of gray and dirty-white tossed at your eyes every time you go outside? When I catch myself wishing for an underground tunnel that would get me everywhere in the city, when my reluctance to go outside in the dirty snow outweighs my thirst for culture and human company – that’s when I know it’s time for a good dose of Garfield Conservatory.
Garfield Conservatory is an oasis. It’s hot and humid; the colors are rich, and the scents – intoxicating. You walk winding paths among giant tropical plants, pause by ponds and notice colorful fish swimming out of charming grottoes. Peek through the leaves – have you seen this fruit in the exotic section of your grocery store? Look up – yes, this is where chocolate comes from. Does this smell familiar? It’s because this is cinnamon. After a few minutes, you forget that you did not take an 8-hour flight, so this can’t possibly be Hawaii.
As a snowstorm rages outside, you can enjoy a picnic by an azure-blue fountain – a gift from Morocco. On the walls, you see pictures of ladies in floor-long dresses and gentlemen dressed like Charlie Chaplin: the conservatory’s original staff from 1880s. The Garfield Conservatory is an institution. The present structure, built in 1908, is one of the largest conservatories in the United Stated.
Some of my favorite memories of my daughter as a toddler include her playing in the conservatory’s wonderful children’s garden: digging in a special dirt box for exciting plastic creatures; going down the indoor slide among the tropical greenery; doing her first ever volunteering assignments by walking around and spraying plants with water. She still has her Garfield Conservatory favorites: the sensitive plant that shrinks when touched; banana bunches (“I want to eat them so much!”), elegant glass umbrellas decorating one of the ponds. I, too, have my favorite Garfield experience: looking at an unassuming-looking fish in a pond and realizing, with horror, that it has legs. The mysterious creatures turned out to be axolotl, a type of salamander endemic to a single lake in Mexico. Who knew?
They say that the Conservatory is surrounded by a beautiful garden with a lily pond and, even, a labyrinth. I cannot attest to those, though. I only go to the Garfield Conservatory in the winter.

Garfield Park Conservatory
300 N. Central Park Avenue, 60624

Books by Nina Wieda
Russian for Dummies, Nina Wieda, Andrew Kaufman, Serafima Gettys

The Who, the What and The When: 65 Artists Illustrate the Secret Sidekicks of History, Jenny Volvoski (with Nina Wieda)

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