New Sights of Summer

New waterfalls near the Hope B. McCormick Swan Pond, Wild Things gift shop and the Main Mall enhance the zoo's tranquil atmosphere.

Changing Seasons Brings Zoo Plant Diversity

The zoo’s diverse gardens are ever evolving, and this season is no different with plenty of new sights for landscape lovers.

Go With The Flow

The zoo’s garden design is more fluid than ever this year. We’re talking waterfalls.

These new scenic water features—installed last fall but now fully landscaped—include waterfalls on the north end of the Hope B. McCormick Swan Pond, on the west side of Wild Things Gift Shop and just inside the East Gate on the north side of the Main Mall.

The first complements previously built limestone-framed waterfalls at the Swan Pond and Waterfowl Lagoon. A new rock-encircled biofilter on the south end of the lagoon uses the increased water current, filters and an enzyme to clean the water.

The rocky stream next to Wild Things tumbles down a small hillside populated with dwarf conifers and an American elm. A similar waterfall by the East Gate is flanked by low-growing ornamental plants including daffodils. There’s also a new, kid-friendly, bubbly fountain by the bus drop-off area on the east side of the zoo.

“Who doesn’t love the sound of moving water?” asks Director of Horticulture Brian Houck. It’s a rhetorical question, of course. The burbling embellishments enhance the tranquil atmosphere of the zoo’s gardens.

The zoo's circle drive near Café Brauer was recently treated to a transformative makeover courtesy of Trustee and formed Board Chairman Dave Bolger.

Coming Full Circle

Lavender-hued annuals will bring a cool theme to the main zoo grounds this summer. But the entrance to Café Brauer is just as welcoming.

Guests arriving via Stockton Drive at the landmark building for an al fresco cocktail at the Patio may be driven to indulge in another round. The circle garden fronting onto Stockton has undergone a marvelous makeover with support from Trustee and former Board Chairman Dave Bolger.

A low red-brick wall and decorative urns contain ornamental and native plants in the center of the circular driveway. The effect continues on the perimeter where the former lawn beneath the crabapple trees has been transformed into a teeming garden. Several thousand daffodils bloomed this spring, joining pansies in pots and “Ambassador” onion plants with enormous dark-purple flower heads.

This expanded “garden room,” as Houck calls it, is more ornamental than nearby Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo but appropriates some of the latter’s prairie-style elements. Little bluestem, autumn moor grass and anise hyssop mingle with lavender hydrangeas, European ginger and lilac shrubs.

“It’s an American Landscape-style garden—big, bold mass plantings,” says Houck. “It feels a lot larger and more finished now.”

Winter snow supports beautiful summer bloombs at Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Booming Boardwalk

The abundant rain last spring fueled giant prairie plants at Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo. “This summer will be even better,” says Houck.

The plants are now well established and will increase in size or number with mature blooms. The long, cold, wet spring and heavy snows were also a plus—not so good for invasives but just fine for native plants.

“All that snow helps our plants make it through the winter better,” says Houck. “And they had a nice, long drink when it warmed up.”

Horticulturists don’t know exactly how prairies evolve. That’s partly what makes prairie ecosystems like Nature Boardwalk so fascinating.

“It’s always a bit of a wonder,“ says Houck. “Plants are figuring out exactly where they wish to grow.” Golden blooms of coreopsis flourished two summers ago. Last year brought ratibida—prairie coneflowers resembling yellow daisies—in abundance.

Hopefully, the sunshine will also let the purple love grass grow.

“The name does sound hippy-ish,” says Houck of the finely textured grass that features delicate stems and light pink-purple new buds. “When you look at it from a distance you get this purple haze—a fog of purple love.”

Excuse us while we kiss the sky.


By Craig Keller • Published August 1, 2014 • Originally published in Summer 2014 Lincoln Park Zoo Magazine

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