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Chicago Gardens

The Early History

Once maligned as a swampy outpost, the fledgling city of Chicago brazenly adopted the motto Urbs in Horto or City in a Garden, in 1837. Chicago Gardens shows how this upstart town earned its sobriquet over the next century, from the first vegetable plots at Fort Dearborn to innovative garden designs at the 1933 World’s Fair.
            Cathy Jean Maloney has spent decades researching the city’s horticultural heritage, and here she reveals the unusual history of Chicago’s first gardens. Challenged by the region’s clay soil, harsh winters, and fierce winds, Chicago’s pioneering horticulturalists, Maloney demonstrates, found imaginative uses for hardy prairie plants. This same creative spirit thrived in the city’s local fruit and vegetable markets, encouraging the growth of what would become the nation’s produce hub. The vast plains that surrounded Chicago, meanwhile, inspired early landscape architects, such as Frederick Law Olmsted, Jens Jensen, and O.C. Simonds, to new heights of grandeur.  
            Maloney does not forget the backyard gardeners: immigrants who cultivated treasured seeds and pioneers who planted native wildflowers. Maloney’s vibrant depictions of Chicagoans like “Bouquet Mary,” a flower peddler who built a greenhouse empire, add charming anecdotal evidence to her argument–that Chicago’s garden history rivals that of New York or London and ensures its status as a world-class capital of horticultural innovation.      
            With exquisite archival photographs, prints, and postcards, as well as field guide descriptions of living legacy gardens for today’s visitors, Chicago Gardens will delight green-thumbs from all parts of the world.

See five legacy gardens.

464 pages | 11 color plates, 166 halftones | 7 x 10 | © 2008

Biological Sciences: Botany, Natural History

Chicago and Illinois



ChicagoGardens captures many of the fascinating stories and names associated with Chicago’s first hundred years of horticulture. From the boasting by its founders in 1833 that Chicago would be an ‘urbs in horto’ (or ‘city in a garden’) to the aftermath of the Century of Progress Exposition in 1933–34, Chicago Gardens traces Chicago’s coming of age as a center of horticulture, gardening and conservation.”

Robert E. Grese, Director, Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum

“A new book on historic gardens in one city offers plenty of lessons for what makes a beautiful landscape. It’s Chicago Gardens: The Early History, by Cathy Jean Maloney. Of particular interest to planners will be the case studies of landscapes.”

Harold Henderson | Planning

"As well as wonderful vignettes, Chicago Gardens is filled with beautiful illustrations. . . . It is a delightful book."

Ann Keating | Chicago History Examiner

“Maloney has combed through seemingly endless documentary sources from Chicago’s first 100 years—newspapers, magazines, garden-club minutes—to produce a book full of fascinating tidbits for any Chicago history buff or gardening geek that includes many maps, photos and old catalog illustrations from her own collection.”

Beth Botts | Chicago Tribune

“A great resource for Chicago gardeners as well as history buffs [with] fascinating and informative vintage photographs and illustrations.”

Chicago Sun-Times

Table of Contents



1 Introduction

2 Growers and Sowers: Planters of the Plains and Parkways

3 Planting the Prairie: Defining the New Plant Palette

4 Chicago by Design: A Blank Canvas for Cultivated Gardens

5 Suburban Sojourn: Gardens in the Country

6 Fairs and Flowers: Chicago Hosts a World of Fairs

7 Prairie Pastimes: Entertaining in the Garden

8 The Next Century

Appendix 1 Plant List by Time Period

Appendix 2 Chicago Plants

Appendix 3 Key Names and Groups in the Garden City, 1833–1933




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