The tulips first appeared in the mid-‘90s when 30 planters were installed in the medians of Michigan Avenue, stretching from Roosevelt Road at the south end of Grant Park to the north end of the Magnificent Mile at Oak Street.
Organized by the Chicago Department of Transportation, planting the tulips to fill the beds of this two-mile (3.2-kilometer) stretch is no small feat. Each fall, over 100,000 bulbs are brought from the Netherlands and planted in October and November, with up to 1,000 bulbs filling each bed. Strict instructions have to be followed so that the bulbs bloom at the right time, with different phases of blooming to lengthen the tulip season, and colors coordinate as per each year’s design. Finally, a protective layer is placed on top of the bulbs to ensure that they survive the long winter.
The effort is worth it, though, as come mid-to-late April, depending on the weather conditions of the year, tens of thousands of bold and bright tulips greet passersby along one of Chicago’s busiest pedestrian areas, from the Art Institute to Water Tower Place and beyond. At the end of their season, around Memorial Day, the tulips are removed and replaced by new summer displays, and the bulbs become part of a big giveaway.
Popular with locals and tourists alike, there may be no better time to visit the city than when the tulips are in full bloom in late April and May, when Chicago really lives up to its motto Urbs in Horto, meaning “City in a Garden.”