Hillside Haven

To the untrained eye the natural landscape encircling Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo may seem unplanned, its profusion of prairie plants randomly dispersed.

The Siragusa Foundation Path garden at Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo

Colorful prairie wildflowers are blooming at Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo’s newest addition: the Siragusa Foundation Path garden.

Yet while a natural aura prevails four years after this designed ecosystem debuted, initially that wasn’t the case. From perennial wildflowers to slender native grasses, species were often informally grouped to help visitors more easily find and identify plants. Now that these species are well established and have colonized particular areas favorable to their growth, Nature Boardwalk has begun to look a bit more wild.

The zoo’s horticulturists recently applied the same methodology to a section of Nature Boardwalk where a new garden is growing. It’s located on the southern shore of the pond on a small hillside north of the Peoples Gas Education Pavilion and south of the Bactrian camel exhibit at the Antelope & Zebra Area.

The Peoples Gas Education Pavilion designed by architect Jeanne Gang lies next to the Siragusa Foundation Path garden at Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo.

The garden path connects to the elegantly arched Peoples Gas Education Pavilion, designed by award-winning Chicago architect Jeanne Gang.

Work on the garden began in fall 2013 and was completed shortly after spring plantings earlier this year. Although the garden will progress in staggered levels of height, color, bloom and texture throughout the season and in years to come, it’s already a lovely sight.

A switchback pathway ambles from the pavilion up the hillside past tall grasses accented with colorful blooms and loosely framed by limestone slabs, junipers and a tall, stately elm tree. The painterly palette includes blue lobelia, light white-pink penstemon, a dark purple false indigo cultivar and several other prairie wildflower species. Flowering buckeye, bee balm, coneflower, prairie dock, ninebark, veronia and flox also make appearances. Many of the plants were also selected for their attractiveness to butterflies. The full composition is best viewed from the pavilion, where yoga classes, educational activities and receptions regularly take place.

Siragusa family members at the dedication ceremony for the Siragusa Foundation Path garden at Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo

Members of the Siragusa family celebrated the Siragusa Foundation Path’s completion at a dedication ceremony in early July.

New, unobtrusive fencing ensures the garden will remain pristine. The design also accommodated the site’s varying landscape conditions. The hillside is rocky and dry while the bottom of the slope occasionally floods. “We chose plant material by how it’s affected by the water,” says Brian Houck, the zoo’s director of horticulture. “We also wanted this to be a very loosely framed garden with rocks on either side, junipers around the rocks, and tall grasses filled in with a riot of color.”

The revitalized garden—named The Siragusa Foundation Path—is generously funded by The Siragusa Foundation, a private family foundation in Chicago that supports local nonprofit initiatives. It’s dedicated to Martha P. Siragusa, the late wife of foundation founder Ross D. Siragusa. She had served on the organization’s board for 30 years.

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