It's time to pack up those winter boots and don your walking shoes. This spring, take a stroll in one of the area's lesser-known parks. If it's your first visit, we guarantee it won't be your last.
With the exception of Cantigny's parking fees, visiting the parks is free; check websites for directions and hours.
Lilacia Park in Lombard is a gem. Originally the garden of Civil War Colonel William R. Plum, it was bequeathed to the village in 1927 and landscaped by Jens Jensen in 1929. The park is home to hundreds of lilac trees, as well as tulips and other plants. Known as the Lilac Village, Lombard hosts the Lilac Festival each May with a lilac parade, floats and marching units, and a lilac queen. While the park is especially lovely when the lilacs are in bloom, it's worth visiting any time of the year.
Cantigny Park in Wheaton is a 500-acre park gifted to the people of Illinois by Robert R. McCormick. Begun as an experimental farm in the early 1930s, the focus switched from agriculture to horticulture in the 1950s. The park features large formal gardens, as well as picnic areas, a golf course, campgrounds and two museums: the Robert R. McCormick Museum and the Cantigny First Division Museum. Make the Visitors Center your first stop for maps.
Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool in Chicago's Lincoln Park is an officially designated National Historic Landmark. It was designed by architect Alfred Caldwell in the prairie style, inspired by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and Caldwell's mentor, Jens Jensen. It's a wonderful place to see native plants such as oak, hackberry, hawthorn and wildflowers or to watch birds, with more than 200 different species recorded by a local Audubon group.
Osaka Garden in Chicago's Jackson Park neighborhood is a small but exquisite garden tucked away near the Museum of Science and Industry's lakeside parking area. Originally created as part of the Chicago World's Fair Columbian Exposition in 1893, it is wonderfully green and quiet, with a small bubbling waterfall and crushed rock paths. Sitting on a blanket near the lagoon in this peaceful sanctuary, it's easy to forget that the bustle of a big city lies just outside the garden gate.
The Baha'i Temple Gardens in Wilmette surround the Baha'i Temple, built between 1920 and 1953. The building is nine-sided (symbolizing completeness) and is surrounded by nine gardens and fountains. There are rows of Chinese juniper trees and two dozen varieties of flowers, including 20,000 tulips blossoming from bulbs that are planted each fall.