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Winter Flower & Train Show

Lincoln Park Conservatory

The Lincoln Park Conservatory is one of two conservatories in Chicago owned and operated by the Chicago Park District. It was designed by Victorian era architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee in Collaboration with architect M.E. Bell. The Lincoln Park Conservatory was built in phases between 1890 and 1895. It was designed to grow plants needed by the parks and to showcase exotic plants. With the spread of gardening and "tropical plants" available for purchase now many of these plants don't get the reaction from someone like me that they would have years ago. Regardless, the staff does a great job reinventing the conservatory with various exhibits to draw in new visitors and jaded gardeners like myself.

One such exhibit that draws me in every time it comes on my radar is the Winter Flower & Train Show at the Lincoln Park Conservatory. I can't get enough of it no matter how many times I've seen it. The only drawback of this exhibit is the fact that the show room is filled with poinsettias and I hate poinsettias with an irrational passion. Poinsettias are the Stepford Wives of the gardening world and whenever I'm in a room with them I try to avoid looking directly at them.

Poinsettia standard topiary shapeUnfortunately for me the Winter Flower & Train show consists of truck loads of poinsettias in every color imaginable. Red, pink, white- they were all there. It is a good thing the staff of the LPC has better sense than to use those spray-painted/glittered ones you see in Walmart because I would have thrown a fit to rival that of any of the yuppie toddlers that packed the show room. Poinsettias act as the background (and foreground, really) of most of the village the model trains wind through in this exhibit. I spent so much time avoiding looking directly at them that I failed to pay attention to the supporting cast of plants and flowers in the exhibit. The model trains and villages they wind through are almost enough to make me forget about the poinsettias all around. The "villages" made up of willow, spruce and birches consist of a few Chicago- style homes, landmarks and (my favorite) bridges! The model trains were not the easiest thing to photograph so I've included a short video I made of them (at the end of the post) for any model train nerds, kids or kids at heart who may come across this. I tell myself every year that I'm going to create a model train garden, maybe this year will be the year. You can click on the images for larger views.

A replica of Chicago's Dearborn Station. Designed by Cyrus L.W.Eidlitz Dearborn Station opened in 1885 and is an example of awesome architecture from the days before modern aviation surpassed rail. The plant behind it is labeled Euphorbia leucocephala or "Snows of Kilimanjaro."

Model of Dearbon Station, train gardenAnother icon of the Chicago landscape. This is the Chicago Theater it opened in 1921.

Chicago Theater, winter flower & train showHere a model freight train crosses a bridge suspended over a pond. You can see this train and "village" better in the video. I didn't spend enough time trying to capture it in still photos due to the size and shape.

model cargo train crossing bridge over waterClick on the image to get a larger and better view into the greenhouse. It is situated in the the same village as the train above. If you can't make out the tableau; Lady's Slipper orchid on the bench in the upper left hand corner. The red plants are potted poinsettias (ugh!) and roses. Strewn on the floor are terracotta pots and a garden hose perhaps knocked over by the little orange cat.

miniature greenhouseA model of an Amtrak train rides above on an elevated platform. The tree to the right is an olive tree. This train and village are seen better in the video but you can click the image for a larger view.

model Amtrak train passing edible olive treeThe Chicago Water Tower opened in 1869 and was one of the few buildings that survived the Great Chicago fire of 1871. The green shrub in the upper right is Rhaphiolepis indica or "Indian Hawthorn" underplanted with variegated English ivy. The green mound under the white poinsettia is Ficus pumila or "Creeping Fig" which make a great groundcover for terrariums.

Chicago Water Tower in model train gardenHere a train zips through the lower level that the Amtrak train rides above. You can also click on this image for a larger view but it is better seen in the video.

model train garden houses_1A wider view of the image above the train zips in front of a row of buildings. I like the little potted plants used to landscape the houses.

Lincoln Park Conservatory Winter Flower & Train show houses
These two houses sat on the outer-edge of the village with the freight train that crossed over the pond. Euphorbia "Diamond Frost" is what the front "yard" is landscaped with.

model train garden houses surrounded by poinsettiasAnother shot of the train one image up that zips across an urban street that semi-represents a real street in Chicago. Again the little potted plant in front helps sell these houses.

model train garden street. Winter Flower & Train showThis little house is probably my favorite as it most invokes a winter scene. Again, Euphorbia "Diamond Frost" with some dead tree branches representing dormant trees. I can even forgive the white poinsettias because they really help create the winter feel.

Model train garden  row house winter flower and train showThis row house comes in a close second as my favorite. It is situated to the left of the house above. Just to repeat myself, the Winter Flower & Train exhibit always makes me want to build a model train garden but I don't think I have the room and patience for such an endeavor. A cool spin on a theme garden like this would be one created indoors with small houseplants and or cacti & succulents. If anyone in Chicago has a permanent model train garden please contact me I'd love to visit one.


  1. Thanks for the tour, MBT. I'm not a big fan of Poinsettias either but I hardly noticed them because the trains and buildings captured my attention.

  2. What a wonderful "world"!!! No wonder your radar calls you there!!!

  3. Anonymous3:24 PM

    Thanks for the tour! (And I'm 100 percent with you on the poinsettias...)

  4. Model trains and their miniature settings never fail to delight. This one is especially interesting because of the plant life, real and artificial. You have some pretty neat things there, MBT. Even if it is cold outside, there is so much to do and see indoors in Chicago. Thanks for stopping by my site. I hope it made you feel warmer!

  5. Anonymous7:53 AM

    Thanks for the tour! I don't have quite the aversion to poinsettias that you do, but I think that's because I know I only have to see them once a year ;-)

    Here in Detroit, we have the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory. It is basically filled with poinsettias for the month of December. And they create a fifteen foot tall "tree" of poinsettias. Here it is, in all its glory:

    Not your type of thing, I'm guessing :-)

  6. I'm sending this to my B-I-L, who's a model railroad fanatic. (I mean he's a fan of model trains.) Too late for him to visit it this year, but maybe next year.

    I seem to remember reading about a model train garden at a suburban Chicago nursery, but the name escapes me right now. I'll check my bookmarks.

  7. Love the trains, and although I like poinsettias there do seem to be way too many. This conservatory reminds me of our own Rockefeller Greenhouse ... which I have to visit this winter :)

    Happy New Year MBT!

  8. Hello everyone thanks for stopping by and commenting. Colleen that thing is hideous. :0)

    Entagled if you find it I'd love to see it.

    Happy New Year!

  9. Anonymous4:30 PM

    LOL it is terrible, isn't it? At least they didn't make it with those pink, glittery poinsettias they sell at Wal-Mart :-)

  10. Wow, that's a lot of poinsettias to ignore! :) I like model train setups too...why was the water rippling in the video? Were there fish?

  11. Wow! That was awesome. I've been poking around your website and your google map of Chicago gardens and found the link to this post.

    Working part-time at a nursery that grows a greenhouse-full of poinsettias starting in August, I share your loathing of them!

    There's a woman in our town who's been collecting miniatures and trains, and has an elaborate train village in the sunroom of her beautiful, vintage home. The entire house is decorated with a Christmas/train theme. The walls of the village, and many of the props, are gingerbread.

    It takes several months of preparation, then from about Thanksgiving to the end of January, she puts a large weather-proof gingerbread house on her front porch. That signals the opening of her home to individuals and groups who want to see her awesome display. She doesn't charge a penny, and has thousands of people visit her home each year.

    I took my grandson there a couple of years ago, took some pictures and video of him and her village. She's been collecting this stuff for something like 50 years. It was a very memorable experience for my grandson and me. We were the only visitors at the time of our reservation, and she gave us a guided tour of her home. She was wonderful with my then 4-year-old grandson.



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