Prized plants you will find in the Mediterranean room come from the world's Mediterranean regions including the coasts of California, central Chile, the western cape of South Africa and areas in western and southern Australia. These ecosystems have summers that can be desert-like with intense sunlight, low humidity and high heat. The winters in turn are mildly cool. The soil is low in organic matter and nutrients, containing rocky matter susceptible to erosion. Plants in these regions have adaptions much like desert plants that can withstand the intense dry summers. Some of our favorite herbs are native to the Mediterranean basin and are growing in this room: lavender, rosemary, common sage, thyme and bay laurel.
Humidity is high, light is filtered, and the air is filled with sounds of falling water and tropical birds. Cross over a central pond filled with Koi, goldfish, and turtles. Look around and experience three levels of vegetation. Large fig trees provide the upper canopy with fruit-bearing banana and papaya trees that reach up to the sun. A giant anthurium, a white bird of paradise and dracaenas inhabit the second story while ferns, pilea, spider plants, and peperomia cover the ground. Find the large-leaved aroid, Monstera deliciosa, climbing through the limbs of the Fiddle-leaf Fig tree. Cycads, a plant species older than the dinosaurs, also flourish in this room along with members of the Palm family, the Lady, Fishtail and Fan palm. A room lush in sounds, textures, shapes and shadows; a trip through the tropics right here in Oak Park.
The desert environment, unfamiliar to the Midwest, provides a counterpoint to the humidity of the Tropic room. Extremely dry air and wide temperature shifts push plant adaptation to its limits. Search out plants whose leaves have evolved into thorns and plants whose thick green stems carry out photosynthesis. Our exhibits of three main groups of cacti—cereus, optunia and pereskia—fascinate children and adults alike. Our distinctive collection of desert plants also features a fine display of other succulents including haworthia, kalanchoe, gasteria, crassula and succulent euphorbias. Don’t leave this room before seeing the Agaves or “Century Plants” which grow for 25 to 30 years before sending up their tall flower stalk. Look for the secluded oasis pond on the edge of the desert surrounded by olive, fig, date palm, bay, and pomegranate. And, meet the plants that eat insects. Visit our Curiosity Corner with its Venus Fly Traps, Pitcher Plants and Sun Dews.
Herbert M. Rubinstein Memorial Garden
The Herbert M. Rubinstein Memorial Garden welcomes visitors to the Conservatory and provides a place to relax and refresh. Opened in 2011 the Garden features a bluestone patio area, wood pergola, water feature, plant wall, garden lighting and park benches. It is enclosed by an ornamental fence with a gate on the Clarence Street side of the Conservatory. The garden is planted with a variety of trees, shrubs and perennials, including many native plants. Herbert M. Rubinstein, for whom the garden is named, was a doctor at Loyola University Hospital and a clinical professor of medicine and orthopedics. With his wife, Elvira, Dr. Rubinstein co-founded the Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory in the mid 1980’s. The Rubinstein Memorial Garden is open to the public during Conservatory hours and is available for rental.
Elsie Jacobsen Discovery Garden
The basis of the design for the Elsie Jacobsen Discovery Garden was drawn from Nature’s four essential elements: Light, Water, Air and Earth. These elements are represented in four zones. Earth is represented on the south end of the garden in the forest or wooded area. Air is represented with the use of stone and dry plant beds that feature drought tolerant greenery. Water is represented with our water feature, called a runnel, and an area featuring aquatic plants. Finally light is represented on the north end of the garden through the bright colored seasonal displays featured in the containers near the garden entrance. The majority of plants featured in the garden are native to Illinois or are native cultivars and have been chosen to give our Conservatory visitors of all ages an opportunity to observe, touch and interact with nature in all seasons. The Garden’s namesake, Elsie Jacobsen, had a broad and significant impact on not only the Oak Park Conservatory and the Park District of Oak Park, but also on the Village of Oak Park and its citizens. Ms. Jacobsen was responsible for the “Save the Garfield Conservatory” (currently known as the Oak Park Conservatory) drive in 1970, which raised awareness of and funds for the restoration of the Oak Park Conservatory.