Gaining a Little Green

Upon touching down in Fort Lauderdale, Florida last week on the way to an even warmer climate, my first response was, “It’s green”.  It doesn’t take long to miss the color, at least for me and gaining a little bit of green in the winter is the goal of every spring breaker, in addition to another part of the green equation…the sun.  I can sometimes have a one track mind taking one too many floriferous photos on vacation, but now I can have an excuse, sharing them with all of you.

We took a cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and lastly the Bahamas.  The plants were not my only concern.  Among many other things like Rum punch, gourmet food, and dessert atleast twice a day, I had found some interesting greenery and was among good company of other plant lovers (in-laws).

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Being that I didn’t study these beauties in the pictures above, I am only taking an educated guess on this tree.  I believe it is Acacia.

Becca LaBarre

Near the edges of a rain forest in Puerto Rico, you find this native Caribbean flower called Queen’s Wreath, Petrea volubilis.

The rain forest also held another tree that had a very interesting job…rain prediction.  Move over Tom Skilling, if this tree was native to Chicago, you might be out of a job.  The tree has white undersides to the leaves.  About 15 minutes before it going to rain, the leaves turn over.  They receive water through the leaves instead of the roots.  A story only a plant nerd could love.  I unfortunately didn’t get to take a picture myself because it got too dark, but I found another example.

Denis Alexander Torres

This is called the Yaruma tree or Weathervane tree.

Becca LaBarre

The above is a Tropical Hibiscus related to Rose of Sharon.  I wish this one would grow in the Chicagoland area.

Becca LaBarre

This is Bougainvilla Vine that was in bloom all over St. Maarten and the Bahamian beach, Princess Cays.  This one is an annual in the northern climate.  The very showy fuchsia pink, orange, yellow, red, purple or white bracts around the white flowers are well worth replacing each year due to our cold winters.

A retreat to greener pastures in the Caribbean meant much needed inspiration for bolder, brighter, and leafier landscape designs for me.  If nothing else, it was a reminder that the sun does shine somewhere in January and we won’t be frozen forever.


A Post on Cedar Posts and Other Structures

Remember this house from the movie Father of the Bride? The one with the roses growing up the front of the house on what appears to be an invisible trellis and the picket white fence intertwined with more vines. I’m not going to lie, that while most teenagers were watching the movie for the sweet love story, I was eyeing the landscape, the architecture of the house, the porte-cochere over the entrance to the backyard which also had tumbling vines draping down, even the interior design (an area I never try to venture into). Garden structures can be functional to help block sun, and views, but I love how they can soften a stark wall with green, and cut down the scale of tall elements and bring them down to a manageable size or bring dimension to a flat landscape. Check out the function and beauty of several garden structures.

Becca LaBarre

In this photo the structure is made from airplane wire and wing nuts screwed into the side of the garage. A little bit of clear caulk is used where the wing nuts screw in as an extra water tight precaution. The wall, which is nearly 2 stories high from top to bottom was a very large focal point that needed to be softened and trellis and Sweet Autumn Clematis allowed for a unique look, while the wire material also became less visible standing at a distance.

Bob Stell

This pergola actually become more like a roof when the peak is added. We often use rough sawn cedar for garden structures, as it has a more rustic look that goes a long with the imperfections of the outside. With the addition of fans and lighting, it really becomes an outdoor living room.

This is a brand of garden structures by a company called Yardistry. It is new to me and though it doesn’t really compare to the quality of a custom-made structure it provides some very important advantages. The 12’x12′ pergola can be assembled by two, relatively handy people, in just a few short hours. Since I haven’t tried this yet, I can’t vouch for that, but I do hope to try it out soon. Also, it is still made from quality smooth cedar wood and comes pre-stained. Since all of the pieces are attached via brackets, the whole structure can be removed and reassembled elsewhere should the owner not plan on staying in their home very long or need to do some remodeling. My one concern is that the posts are made to attach to the ground on a relatively small stake. The Chicago suburbs, void of mature trees, can be a pretty gusty place. I plan on pouring 42″ post holes full of concrete and attaching the four corners to those concrete piers with a bracket for extra support.

An eyebrow trellis’ like this one is a great way to break up a large flat space on a house. It could be over a doorway like this one, a window, or even over the top of a garage door.

A huge improvement over diamond lattice. A simple change to square lines isn’t even reminiscent of the cheaper pre-made lattices found at home improvement stores. The cheaper lattices are often cracked, broken, or detached from the structure holding them up. Dressed up using a substantial square frame and larger individual squares, lattice fencing can provide an enclosed feel without complete coverage.

I leave you with the fabulous English Walled Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden, full of beautiful structural elements. I could spend a large amount of time exploring all the nooks and crannies. Even while dodging a million wedding photographers, engaged couples and resisting the urge to give a bride and groom bunny ears, it is still one of my favorites, even if it is over run most Saturdays. Some day I will own a pergola like this one, and patiently wait seven or so years for my hardy wisteria vine to flower. Some day!

You Can Grow That!

I recently read an article in “Nursery Management” by C.L. Fornari about a national campaign that the nursery industry is trying to start. The movement has big goals to create a sort of catch phrase out of the term “You Can Grow That”. It kind of reminds me of the phrase “There’s an App for That”. Eventually, all aspects of the green industry could rally behind the optimistic message that plants, gardening, and landscaping has something to offer the world; a great number of benefits from health, to happiness. It seeks to empower clients and avid gardeners to stay positive and work together to bring awareness and new ideas in design, plantings, gardening, and tree care. I don’t know where it could grow, but I like the idea of trying something fresh and letting it fly on its own.

Happy New Year and Happy new growth of ideas!

1.  Compost containers made to look chic?…You can grow that!

compost.comBuild or purchase compost containers that are stylish on the outside. Some cut down on the smell if you have a small yard or just blend in. How neighborly to keep your landscape tidy and doing your part for the earth at the same time.



2.  Recycled wine bottle and beer bottle countertops for outdoor kitchens?…You can grow that!

A great green concept that my husband and I first saw at an organic winery in Santa Rosa California, Inman Family Winery.






3.  New introductions of Panicled Hydrangeas?…You can grow that!

Hydrangea paniculata 'Fire and Ice'

I love to use them in landscapes because they bloom later than most shrubs, and can handle some shade. They are usually very large and don’t work very well in small spaces or in foundational situations that they are sure to outgrow. These new introductions that Ball Horticultural has been working on, such as Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bombshell’ and ‘Fire and Ice’ .  Bombshell is compact, and Fire and Ice has a very long bloom time and flowers that change from white to burgundy.  More varieties means there are more situations that will allow planting and increase diversity in the overall palette of plants.  Biodiversity is always a good thing!

4.  Permeable pavers to create a grand entrance?…You can grow that!

Some villages are beginning to restrict the amount of impermeable space on a piece of land because too many subdivisions have water runoff issues.  Large homes on small lots do not allow much more space for an entrance, patio or proper driveway size.  Some villages will allow permeable pavers to take up more space since the water will pass through into the ground, so you can feel good about making that elaborate entryway or driveway to allow extra parking.

5. Wildlife gardens?…You can grow that!

Taking the theme garden to a whole new level.  For properties with more space, manicured lawns can co-mingle with naturalistic areas to create a haven for native plants, animals, and insects.  I once created a landscape bed of native prairie plants and used no mow grass as an alternative to prairie grass, as the prairie plantings were impractical being so close to the residence(could not be burned or mowed).  Most suburban situations would restrict the use of this more “messy” look, so a little creativity is in order.  Check out wildlife garden ideas at