In the last ten years, we’ve made it a point to visit nearby locales and attractions that fall somewhat below the traditional tourist radar …
Rockford, IL is one such destination. Known as the “City of Gardens”, this city of 150,000 is just a few miles south of the Illinois-Wisconsin border, in the heart of gardening Zone 5. A short 90 minute drive from Chicago, Rockford is not often thought of as a tourist destination.
Look a little closer, though, and you’ll discover some wonderful places to spend time and visit. Leading the way are three of Rockford’s well known garden attractions, conveniently located within ten minutes of one another …
One of my favorite things to do (besides gardening) is visiting botanical gardens and arboretums in our travels. Not only do I find it a relaxing endeavor ripe with great photo opportunities, it’s a wonderful way to gather ideas for your own garden.
Visiting Rockford’s Gardens –
My three favorite gardens in the Rockford area are Anderson Japanese Gardens, Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden, and Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens. They all offer so much to see, I’ve been back to each several times to witness the beauty of the four seasons and take in their special exhibits!
Anderson Japanese Gardens is rated one of the highest quality and most authentic Japanese style gardens in North America. The gardens span 12 acres on which you will discover waterfalls, koi ponds, winding streams and traditional architectural elements set in a 16th century Japanese landscape (photo below). A tranquil place to reflect and awaken the senses …
Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden is a 155 acre living museum filled with rare trees and spectacular gardens (photo below). An easy to navigate 1.8 mile handicapped accessible paved path curves through the arboretum plus there are many chipped trails for hikers, and a delightful Children’s Garden for the little ones.
Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens is situated on the banks of the Rock River in the heart of Rockford. The conservatory is a 11,000 sq. ft. facility featuring a tropical plant exhibition complete with water features and unique sculptures. Outside and adjacent to the conservatory is a lagoon and famous AARS accredited rose garden. (photo below)
More details on each great garden destination below …
Anderson Japanese Gardens
The gardens are named after its founder, Rockford businessman John Anderson, who was inspired by a visit to the Portland Japanese Garden in Oregon. With the assistance of renowned Master Craftsman and designer Hoichi Kurisu, the land was transformed into a Japanese-style landscape in the late ’70’s.
There are splashes of color and numerous textures around every corner. This authentic Japanese Garden stands proudly on a well earned reputation for beauty and a cleanly manicured layout. Turn off your phone and experience this slice of heaven on earth …
What makes a Japanese garden unique? Three of the essential elements used to create a Japanese garden are stone, water, and plants. Secondary elements include pagodas, stone lanterns, water basins, arbors and bridges.
Japanese gardens are very carefully designed and pruned according to aesthetic principals to create a work of natural art that inspires calm, renewal, discovery and an invigorated soul …
Make sure you have enough time to devote to all the garden areas and offerings at Anderson Japanese Gardens (at least one hour preferably). I especially enjoy the “Pond Strolling Garden” on the south end of the property.
Purchase some koi food at the gift shop / garden entrance to feed the beautiful and colorful fish in the above pond and the “Garden of Reflection” closer to the Visitor Center. They greet you with open mouths hoping for a few morsels of their favorite kibble!
Anderson Japanese Gardens is also home to many water fowl, turtles, frogs, and chipmunks (I’ve never seen so many chill chipmunks). Stroll along the peaceful paths then sit on a bench and take in all the beauty around you … a truly inspiring and soothing atmosphere to reflect, renew, and relax.
Inspired by calm and tranquility, this twelve acre paradise pleases all the senses with winding pathways, meandering streams, koi-filled ponds and plunging waterfalls.
Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden
Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden is Winnebago County’s largest public garden. The property began as a tree nursery when Landscape Architect, William Lincoln Taylor opened the Rockford Nursery in the early 1920’s. Many of the rare trees on the arboretum grounds are a result of his experimental plantings.
Taylor continued running the Rockford Nursery with the help of his family until 1968 when he sold the business to Carl and Roy Klehm. The Klehm family owned the business until Carl Klehm passed away in the early 1980’s. The arboretum and gardens are now run by the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District.
The Klehm grounds include 155 acres of gardens and woodland paths. With two miles of paved paths and two and half miles of unpaved trails, it’s a great place for healthy fun and exercise!
I recommend the “Walking Tour By Post Numbers” … a brochure handed out at the main entrance when you pay the nominal admission fee. It guides you past 23 stops of interest (well marked & easy to spot) along the pathways. Interesting tree and shrub collections await …
In addition, I was happy to find out that Klehm is very dog friendly and owners are encouraged to bring their well-behaved leashed pets for a walk among the trees. Perfect place to get outside and enjoy nature together!
The cool splash pad and kid’s creek are nature-themed with creek beds, fountains, pools and streams for kids to play in. The splash pad area has Astroturf so it doesn’t get slippery and the kid’s creek has lots of room for kids to explore. Be sure to go up to the top of the viewing deck to get a bird’s eye view of the whole area.
Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens
The Nicholas Conservatory facility is the third largest conservatory in Illinois, offering an 11,000-square-foot plant exhibition area complete with water features, seating areas, and sculptures, all in a tropical plant setting. The Nicholas Conservatory was Rockford Park District’s centennial project; doors opened in October 2011.
Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens is named after the Nicholas family, who in March 2006, announced their generous donation towards the Conservatory project in honor of their parents, William and Ruby Nicholas.
William and Ruby met, married, and raised their family in Rockford. Like many families growing up in Rockford in the 1940s and 1950s, the three Nicholas brothers, spent much of their time outdoors enjoying Sinnissippi Park and the Rock River. The Nicholas brothers envisioned Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens as a gathering place for the community and a catalyst for future river development.
The beauty continues outdoors with the Eclipse Lagoon, complete with two fountains and a waterfall, pedestrian bridge, patio areas, and walkway connecting the Conservatory to the Sinnissippi Rose Garden. Say hello to the majestic swan residents in the lagoon!
The lovely rose garden dates back to 1924, it has the honor of being designated as Rockford’s All-American Rose Selection (AARS) accredited rose garden.
Sinnissippi Rose Garden, gets its name from the Rock River setting (a tributary of the Mississippi River). The river was known as the Sinnissippi to the Sauk and Fox Indians; the name means “rocky waters”.
The picture perfect rose garden contains approximately 2,000 rose bushes of 62 varieties. Sinnissippi is one of the few rose gardens in the United States allowed to show the latest award-winning roses before they reach the market. I love checking out the different types of roses … you can use that as a guide to what would do well in your home garden.
There is always something happening at Nicholas Conservatory … I’ve enjoyed the Lorikeet Exhibit learning about these colorful & curious nectar-loving birds up close and engaging with their playful personalities.
Another annual exhibit worth seeing is the Orchid Exhibit. I’ve never seen so many gorgeous varieties under one roof! Creatively displayed and interwoven with the permanent plant “residents” of the conservatory. If you love orchids or just want a taste of the tropics during the winter months … you must not miss this!
Last December, we saw the holiday exhibit at Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens. A joy for the senses with sparkling holiday lights and festive, seasonal floral displays inside the warm, tropical conservatory. Topping it off was a charming model railroad with trains and trolleys wending the way through the trees, plants, and even local miniature Rockford landmarks with willow trestle bridges adding to the enchanting ambiance.
I definitely would like to see the popular “Butterfly Exhibit” held in April – June each year at the Nicholas Conservatory. I’ve marked my calendar for next Spring!
Rockford: More To See & Do
Rockford is a river city. As you traverse from Nicholas Conservatory to Klehm Arboretum & Botanical Garden, you’ll cross the Rock River, which essentially bisects the city and meanders south into north central Illinois …
The focal point of the city, the Rock River is popular for boating and fishing. Rockford’s ongoing efforts to incorporate the riverfront into accessible public access has been quite impressive. Where there were once neglected factories and industrial pursuits are now public green spaces and multi use trails.
Rejuvenation of the city is a work in progress, to be sure. Like most mid size cities, there are still a number of blighted depressed areas, but that footprint diminishes yearly. There’s been remarkable change in the last ten years alone, so much so that tourism is now an important factor in the local economy …
As you know, most farmers markets take place on Saturday mornings. In Rockford, though, the bustling Rockford City Market happens on Friday nights, and it’s quite a festive gathering!
Located off the river’s east bank, the City Market draws people downtown to shop, stroll, and linger. The market itself isn’t based in a permanent structure – rather, it’s spread out over a few under developed tracts of land. A combination of traditional farmers market and interactive entertainment, Rockford City Market operates late spring through fall and is the city’s “go to” Friday night destination …
Ample free parking abounds, and you’re just steps from numerous shops, restaurants, and nightlife options along the river and downtown …
Another fun independent shopping destination downtown is Minglewood, located on State Street two blocks from the market. This shop features eco fashion, jewelry and accessory lines that are made in the USA or are fair trade imports. They also carry fragrances & essential oils, sterling silver & beaded jewelry, their own handmade olive oil soap (my favorite!), aromatherapy candles and decor items to bring peace and happiness into your home.
Made in Rockford
Don’t leave town without sampling the products from one of Rockford’s most beloved institutions, Mrs. Fisher’s Potato Chips. In business since 1932, their outlet factory is located on Fulton Avenue, just minutes from Anderson Japanese Garden and Nicholas Conservatory.
Found mostly in the local area, Mrs. Fisher’s Chips are hearty, perfectly seasoned, and dare we say it mildly addicting! We especially love their Dark Potato Chips, a unique style of chip produced by only a handful of manufacturers in the country …
Dark potato chips look like they’re “well done” or cooked a little longer. In fact, they’re cooked the same amount of time as a regular chip. The difference is the type of potato used. Mrs. Fisher’s sources a specific type of russet potato containing a slightly higher sugar content. When the chips are sliced and fried, the sugar content caramelizes and the chip turns darker. The end result? If you like well done french fries or hash browns, you’ll LOVE dark potato chips, especially Mrs. Fisher’s …
The outlet store at 1231 Fulton Avenue is open Monday through Friday and Saturday mornings. They’re just two blocks west of Main Street (Route 2) on the west side of the river. When you visit, say hello to Lauren “The Potato Chip Lady” at the counter and tell her the couple from Naperville sent you!
Just three blocks west of Mrs. Fisher’s on Fulton Avenue is one of the best meat markets and specialty grocers around. It’s Pinnon’s Foods, another Rockford mainstay that has been around for decades.
Pinnon’s is a treasure trove of fresh meat, house made deli items, in house baked goods, and more. The chicken, pork chops, and steaks are spectacular! Bring a cooler because there’s no doubt you’ll leave with a cart full of good stuff …
If you’ve got a four legged dog friend who likes to chew, be sure to grab a two pack of fresh frozen dog bones from the Pinnon’s cooler. These are all natural center cut shank bones that’ll keep your dog busy for a couple hours. Just heat one up in a pot of water and serve it during happy hour, your best friend will LOVE it!
Rockford – City of Gardens
Make a point to travel to the Rockford Illinois Gardens (and other area attractions) to check out my three favorite garden destinations highlighted here. They’re conveniently located within ten minutes of one another … each is unique and well worth a visit! You’ll be hooked like me, and want to return again and again …
We hope you found this post about the gardens and other attractions in Rockford, IL interesting! Let us know your thoughts, your favorites, and suggest other gardens Flower Chick should visit by stopping by our contact page …