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Updated: Aug 23, 2022

Nicholas Conservatory Review Botanical Gardens In Rockford Illinois By In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

The NIcholas Conservatory and Gardens includes a beautiful glass structure housing a treasure trove of tropical plants and special exhibits and events. The Eclipse Lagoon, connected to the Conservatory and Sinnissippi Park, right along the Rock River, provides a peaceful day of beautiful solitude. Until November 6th, make sure to visit the current exhibit, Delicate Forces, to see an amazing display of colorful mechanical art amongst the curated nature.


Location and History of Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens

The Nicholas Conservatory is located in Rockford, Illinois, at 1354 N 2nd St, right along the Rock River. It’s an impressive building right off a main street, so it’s tough to miss!

It was launched in 2006 when three brothers of the Nicholas family gave the city $2.15 million towards the project. Their parents met in Rockford and the brothers grew up enjoying spending time at Sinnissippi Park along the Rock River, where the conservatory is now located.

Upon opening in 2011, reports are that the entire space cost around $13.5 million, with the addition of a green rooftop garden opening in 2012.

How to Get to Nicholas Conservatory

Public transportation runs throughout Rockford, with line 13 running along N 2nd St, dropping off near Nicholas Conservatory, but we’ve found that it’s best to have a car when trying to traverse Rockford, as the buses don’t run very often.

If you’re visiting Rockford from Chicago, it’s definitely best to drive. Greyhound and Van Galder offer bus routes between the two cities, but it would still be a pain to get around in Rockford once you’re there. If you don’t have a car in Chicago to drive out there, you’d be better off renting one (we recommend finding cheap car rentals on Turo).

Huge Tropical Green Plant At Nicholas Conservatory Botanical Garden In Rockford Illinois Photography By Phoebe Meador Of In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

How to Get Tickets for Nicholas Conservatory

Advance tickets are not required at the time we’re writing this, but you can purchase them in advance if you’d like (they don’t tack on extra processing fees for it either). We found that it wasn’t necessary, as it was a spontaneous outing that brought us here while we were visiting family in Rockford.

Ticket prices vary by age group, special designation, and whether you’re a resident of Winnebago County or not:

  • Adult General Admission:

    • $10 (Non-Resident)

    • $8 (Resident)

  • Seniors (ages 62+), Veterans, and Children (ages 5-17):

    • $8 (Non-Resident)

    • $6 (Resident)

  • Children Ages 3-4:

    • $5 (Non-Resident)

    • $4 (Resident)

  • Children Ages 2 and Under get in free!

Plus on “Tropical Tuesdays” - aka every Tuesday, all tickets are half-price!

The Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens is also part of the American Horticulture Society Reciprocal program, which is a membership program that allows you to visit over 345 gardens in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean with one pass for as little as $25 per person per year! However, Nicholas Conservatory enforces the 90-mile-exclusion rule, so this isn’t an option for you if you live within 90 miles of the conservatory.

Colorful Abstract Human Statue Sculpture At Nicholas Conservatory Botanic Garden In Rockford Illinois Photography By Phoebe Meador From In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

Our Experience at Nicholas Conservatory

While visiting family in Rockford, we’d actually planned on visiting a different garden (the Anderson Japanese Gardens), but they were packed that weekend and there was no chance of getting in, so we stopped by The Nicholas Conservatory instead, as I’d been there before, but Phoebe had not.

The conservatory itself is 11,000 square feet filled with tropical plants of all kinds. It’s balmy inside (which makes it nice when visiting during the winter months), so be prepared for warm weather and strong humidity as you wander around inside.

There are all sorts of tropical plants, from a pineapple bush to palm trees (some of which, we were told by an employee, had to be removed because they grew too tall for the glass ceiling) to pepper plants to fuzzy cattails surrounding a winding water feature that spans the entirety of the Conservatory. There are small fountains, waterfalls, and ponds with some koi fish swimming about, seeming very eager for food when you step near, but you should leave the feeding to their caretakers. All of the indoor surroundings make for an incredibly peaceful climate, allowing you to relax and reflect, away from the busy humdrum of daily life or even the busy street outside (you can’t see it, but it’s there). There are benches and tables scattered throughout the indoor garden, allowing you to unwind to your heart’s desire, and visitors are encouraged to silence their phones to maintain the calm atmosphere.

Moving up a staircase near the entrance, there is an outdoor area that looks upon a rooftop garden, which is vibrantly green and speckled with pops of color from beautiful flowers. Be aware that you need an attendant from the Conservatory to let you onto the rooftop garden, as the door is usually locked to keep anyone from wandering out onto the roof, which has no railings beyond the small viewing area. We had an employee approach us almost as soon as we walked inside to ask if we wanted to go up and see it, and we wouldn’t have found it otherwise! She was very friendly and was happy to chat with us for a bit while we enjoyed the scenery.

The “Gardens” part of the Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens is actually free to enjoy, as it’s connected to Sinnissippi Park, along the peaceful Rock River. The Eclipse Lagoon contains two fountains that shoot water high into the air, barely missing the two swans and several ducks that live there. Moving around the outside of the conservatory are more walkways, benches, beautiful waterfalls and so much tranquility. It’s a beautiful spot for pictures, as we saw two wedding parties and a quinceanera taking photos there, but that sort of photo shoot requires a permit.

On the other side of the Eclipse Lagoon is the Rose Garden, which was temporarily closed for a wedding party during our visit. When we mentioned that to our family after the visit, they said that’s pretty common. If you’re set on visiting the rose garden, I would recommend calling ahead to make sure there aren’t any special events scheduled for that day.

If you really love botanical gardens, the Klehm Arboretum is also in Rockford, with 155 acres of mixed wild outdoor spaces and manicured gardens to explore!

Delicate Forces Art Exhibition At Nicholas Conservatory Greenhouse In Rockford Illinois By Skunk Control Art Collective Photography By In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

Delicate Forces Art Exhibition and Special Events at Nicholas Conservatory

The nicest surprise upon visiting Nicholas Conservatory was the temporary art exhibit, Delicate Forces, from Skunk Control, an Australian art collective. This display is their first exhibit in the United States and we are eager for more!

Delicate Forces blends nature and science through mechanical art that imitates tall flowers, blossoming and closing on timed devices, mechanical butterflies that slowly flap their wings, and hanging rotating flowers that throw multi-colored lights onto the already beautiful plant-life below. Each piece is made with colorful dichroic film, which changes color depending on the angle you’re looking at it and is transparent enough for light to shine through, casting colored light on whatever is below it. In this case, it shone rainbows of light across walkways, water, and the plants themselves.

The exhibit actually continued outside as well, as the water features in the conservatory drain to a waterfall outside, with dozens of iridescent art flowers installed in the waterfall’s pool. And again, visiting the outdoor gardens at Nicholas Conservatory is free!

Delicate Forces was absolutely breathtaking. We’re sad that we won’t be able to return for a night viewing, as the exhibit leaves Nicholas Conservatory on November 6th, 2022, but we will certainly be on the lookout for more exhibitions from Skunk Control. Currently, it seems like they are still almost exclusively in Australia.

However, it does seem like temporary exhibitions and special events are common at Nicholas Conservatory. We've found references to past events including wine in the rose garden, a toy train exhibit, an orchid display, lorikeet feedings, a Dia de los Muertos festival, and holiday lights in the outdoor gardens, so check their website for upcoming events.

Swan On Calm Water In Eclipse Lagoon Sinnissippi Park Nicholas Conservatory And Gardens In Rockford Illinois By In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog And Phoebe Meador Photography

Our Verdict

The Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens are absolutely beautiful, breathtaking, and peaceful. It’s worth a visit sooner than later to see the Delicate Forces exhibit, but even if you can’t make it to that, the conservatory is a great place to spend a few relaxing hours communing with nature.

This is a place that you are meant to walk through slowly, enjoying all the small details. Take a camera (and maybe even a small magnifying glass!) to take your time while you’re there.

Pink Purple Orchid Macro Photography By Phoebe Meador From In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog At Nicholas Conservatory And Gardens In Rockford Illinois

Quick Reference Guide for Nicholas Conservatory



How to Get There

The Rockford bus line number 13 runs outside the Conservatory, but we’ve found that it’s better to have a car when visiting Rockford.

Time Commitment

We recommend 2-3 hours to thoroughly enjoy the beauty the conservatory and gardens offer


Ticket prices vary by age group, special designation, and whether you’re a resident of Winnebago County or not, from $10 to free. Tickets are half-price on Tuesdays!

Reservation Info

No reservations are necessary

Our Verdict

Highly recommended. It’s worth a trip to Rockford to visit these well-maintained and peaceful gardens.

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In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog Phoebe and Adam at the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, Scotland

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