Can’t wait for spring? Find it indoors at Chicago’s conservatories

When you need a little springtime, right this very minute (not whenever it decides to show up in Chicago), you have two options: Raid the kids’ college fund and fly south, or stay home and visit one of the area’s conservatories, which offer a whiff of spring for free.

My family’s favorite has always been the Garfield Park Conservatory, the granddaddy of Chicago conservatories and one of the world’s largest. It recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation.

Kids won’t care that the conservatory was the brainchild of famed landscape architect Jens Jensen, who wanted to create a prairie landscape under glass. But they will care that both the Garfield Park and Lincoln Park conservatories, along with the much smaller conservatory in Oak Park, cater to kids as well as adults.

Garfield Park Conservatory: The Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Garden is open whenever the conservatory is open. But every Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., there’s some kind of special programming, whether it’s planting an imaginary garden or building a tropical habitat or reading a book. If you’ve got 20 minutes to spare any time before 2:45 p.m., let the kids make something to take home-a plant bookmark, bee goggles or a seedling.

Special spring programming includes:

  • Dinosaur Terrariums, March 28: Learn about what plants were growing during the time of the dinosaurs and create a miniature replica of the conservatory’s Fern Room.
  • Plant a Pizza Garden, May 1: Grow your own pizza by planting basil, tomatoes, green peppers and other ingredients in a take-home container.

Lincoln Park Conservatory: This conservatory at the north end of Lincoln Park Zoo is always a great midway resting point during our family trips to the zoo. It has four display areas: the Palm House, Fern Room, Orchid House and Show House, which is home to the annual Spring Flower Show through May 8.

Oak Park Conservatory: Owned and operated by the Park District of Oak Park, this conservatory draws up to 30,000 visitors annually, including children who attend summer nature camps and “Exploration Station” programming for children every Saturday from 10 a.m.-noon.

When you visit, stop in the Tropical Room to say hello to George, the Double Yellow-Headed Amazon Parrot. He’ll answer back.

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