The Rice Native Gardens – the four terraces surrounding The Field Museum of Natural History – were formerly a landscape of lawn and monoculture foundation planting. The gardens now showcase native Illinois plants that link outdoor interpretation with exhibits, as well as connect existing plant community corridors along the lakefront and in nearby Grant Park. This work forms the first phase of The Field Museum’s Landscape Masterplan.
The re-envisioned grounds contain over 88,000 square feet of native planting beds that provide a myriad of benefits, including:
– Stormwater retention and water quality: replacing the previous turf grass landscape with bioswales, rain gardens, and other stormwater best management practices have eliminated runoff and provided a habitat for wetland fauna native to the lakeshore.
– Potable water use: whereas the turf grass was highly water intensive, the new native plantings (after initial establishment) will only require water during severe drought periods.
– Native ecosystem: native plants provide habitat to native fauna, including insects, small mammals, and migrating birds (the Museum Campus sits on a migration route).
– Heat island mitigation: the building coupled with native plants reduces the urban heat island effect. Natural tall grass and wet swale ecosystems are drought tolerant, providing temperature reduction through hairy and light-colored stems, water regulation and capture, and shading.
– Educational opportunity: with the addition of interpretive signage and paths, the grounds are an outdoor exhibit, providing visitors with a look at what the ecosystem would have looked like before the museum was there. New seating provides opportunities for groups to utilize the grounds as outdoor classrooms.
Field Museum ecologists continue to steward the gardens for research, promoting biodiversity, and exploring interrelations between flora, fauna, and human communities. Museum staff also track other visitors, such as pollinators, throughout the seasons. In the summer months, the buzz of insects in the garden can be loud enough to drown out the sounds of the surrounding city.