Party Patio: Spotlight On a New Project

Sometimes a backyard transformation can take place with a specific goal in mind.  This latest completed job by EverGreen Landscape was designed to accommodate one very special occasion.  The homeowner has made several additions to the landscape over the years that all seemed to revolve around various special milestones her daughter achieved.  This last one, a party to celebrate the end of many hardworking years in law school, was no different.  Check out this patio.

Becca LaBarre

The space is designed to allow a small table, a few lounge chairs and the grill and big enough to allow a larger party of people if necessary.  The existing red maple was incorporated into a larger planting space.

Becca LaBarre

Here is an example of using old and new together.  The client had existing recycled street pavers made by Purington set aside from a walkway that had been taken out years before.  The interior paver is a Belgard product called Dublin Cobble.  The street paver is a bit unconventional for using as the only paver in a patio because the uneven surface makes it difficult for furniture.  As a border, it makes a nice contrast.  I often use existing pavers on a property and find unique ways to make them blend with the new application.  Using them as a banding or inlay is a perfect example.

Becca LaBarre

The focal piece seen here is an old piece of iron work that was existing on property.  The bed in this picture breaks up the two spaces of the patio and is centered on the bay window of the kitchen.  This allows the homeowners to look out on the focal features of the space.  The clematis vine on the iron work will provide a stunning purple backdrop when in bloom.

Becca LaBarre

In the far back space is a secondary, more informal space.  The material is also reused from the existing home.  Lovingly, nicknamed the rabbit patio, which is the shape it resembled from the upper windows of the home, it now takes on a more irregular, circular shape. It is meant for a more intimate space for reading or relaxing and connects to the far back yard.  The client has a handmade bench that belongs on the patio and has a lot of sentimental value.

Becca LaBarre

Happy graduation to my Downer’s Grove client and good luck on the Bar.  I hope a lounge chair on your new patio will be a great place to study!


Dining Alfresco

The beginning of summer marks the satisfaction of many long-awaited cravings.  Summer breezes bring floriferous scents, sounds of evening traffic wafting along with the notes of a local band playing cover tunes to my own private concert on our patio.  A good wine, a good book and relaxing conversation along with fresh garden fare.  Perfect evening.

Here are some outdoor must-haves for your dining pleasure…

1.  A great patio heater.  When the nights grow chilly and I want to extend my outdoor dining later in the evening, the propane heater makes a huge difference in our ability to enjoy ourselves.  I sometimes find that more than one is needed if the wind is blowing.

2.  Wine/beverage cooler.  I love this idea for keeping white wine cool on a hot summer day.


3.  Cool down temperature control.  Pergolas provide shelter from the sun.  For a different and more open feel, the pergola canopy can be angled like a roof, with a center beam. In this case, the roof-like structure allows for a ceiling fan to be run and like their inside counterparts, also has an option for remote control access.

4.  Candle light and informal garden lighting for dinner mood lighting.  This DIY idea I have seen used in both battery operated and plug-in form.  Maybe you’ve switched to LED and need a good use for all those old twinkle christmas lights.  For a step by step in how to make them please check out

5.  The sounds of water.  It helps to drown out the heavier traffic noises since we are on a busy street and the size of the fountain doesn’t have to be big to make an impact.

6.  Plant perennials and flowering shrubs that fragrance the air.  I enjoy the scent of Dwarf Korean Lilac, as it is a later flowering and more fragrant shrub than the common lilacs and it is often warm enough to enjoy them during an evening outdoor dining experience.  Also, great options for perennials are Catmint, Casablanca and Stargazer Lilies, Lily of the valley, Russian Sage, or Lavender.  On Catmint and Lily of the valley these fast growing hardy plants can take over.  I usually plant only in areas that are contained or a planter is another option.  Lavender is best in a sheltered location, as I have had difficulty with cold hardiness in some instances.  Remember where there are scented flowers, there are often bees.  They don’t bother me, but some of my clients prefer that flowers are at enough of a distance during late summer when bees are out in droves.  Also, many of these like the Korean lilac smell even better at night.  There are some Annual flowers that also smell best at night like moonflower, or evening stock.  Just in time for dinner time!

For the Love of Pizza

Fresh ingredients, fresh inspiration and fresh ideas on entertaining.  It sounds a little like a Papa John’s Pizza slogan.  However, there is nothing else to compare your average every day late night pizza source with the real wood burning clay pizza oven found in the backyard of one of EverGreen’s St. Charles clients’ homes.   It might be in vogue to eat organic, local and DIY everything from kid clothes to kitchen towels, but Grace and Larry aren’t just being trendy.  They found a way to incorporate that local element out of a love of cooking, in a feature that makes for one great dinner party.

It began with an idea Grace said was inspired by a trip to Italy.  No matter how authentic a pizza made in a regular oven, it just couldn’t be duplicated without the real thing.  That toasted brown outer crust  and the soft chewy interior just doesn’t come out the same.  The key to any pizza is the fact that a wood burning oven should reach 1300 F and cook a pizza in two minutes or less.  Grace contacted EverGreen to bring the idea to reality.  The oven was purchased from Superior Clay Corporation and EverGreen brought on Mike Carroll, a mason who has worked with EverGreen on many projects.  He was the expert on the actual building of the oven from the heights of the chimney, to the details on the stonework.  Below is the finished product.

Becca LaBarre

We started with a discussed location.  The most important element is that the oven should be visible from the many french doors out of the house, and far enough away from the house for fire safety.  Its location helps to downplay more functional elements, like the shed and becomes a destination point for entertaining guests on the adjacent flagstone patio.  The plantings surrounding it also helps to blend it in to the rest of the yard.  Grace loves that the feature sits out in the yard because it provides a different vantage point even when she is just out reading on the patio.

Not every client is destined for a pizza oven in their backyard, but Larry, or rather the culinary mastermind behind the finished product, has really spent the time to perfect his pizza masterpieces.  He notes that there is patience needed in spending three or four hours preparing the oven and allowing it to heat up slowly.  This proves better for the oven as well to ensure it doesn’t develop any cracks.  His other advice is to be prepared that some early tries might yield a less than perfect pie.  They still taste just fine even if they aren’t completely round.  And most importantly, it’s all about the right dough.  I’ve included a recipe for Larry’s favorite dough recipe.  There was much experimentation in flour types, and rolling techniques.  Grace adds that kneading the dough with your fists really helps to allow gravity to keep the dough from bouncing back from its round shape.  Check out the below picture of the Margherita pizza completed by Larry.  Some of the fresh ingredients were also grown in his own garden beds.  They also experimented with toppings that included carmelized onions, roasted red peppers, prosciutto, and any of the fabulous olive oils from the Olive Mill, in Geneva, IL.

Larry W.

Here’s another shot showing the fire building stage.  Larry found that a variety in sized kindling worked best for getting the fire started and reaching the desired temperature.

Larry W.

Once the summer is in full swing, the make-your-own-pizza dinner party is a big hit.  Grace says they encourage guests to pick their own toppings and everyone gets involved in the process.  When the pizzas are transferred to the oven everyone watches and it becomes not only a meal, but the dinner conversation.  She is hoping to find time over the next few months to have a family party to use the oven with some of her children who have not yet gotten to try it.  Her next experiment is to try other types of food like breads and maybe even some meats.

This outdoor oven found the right people.  Larry and Grace use the oven one or twice a month during the warmer weather.  Grace explained her satisfaction best saying  “It is a great focal feature and I still find myself staring at it everyday”.  She has enjoyed having friends over for pizza because the style of cooking “really brings people together”.  Not a bad way to use a backyard!


Larry’s Favorite Pizza Dough Recipe


  1. 3 1/3 cups all-purpose OR Italian “00” flour 
  2. 1/4 cup whole wheat flour or fine corn meal
  3. 1 T kosher salt, 
  4. 1 T sugar 
  5. 2 T olive oil 
  6. 1 pack quick rise yeast 
  7.  about 1 1/3cups 110-degree warm water
Pulse all dry ingredients in 11-12cup food processor with regular blade to mix. Then with motor running, add oil and water slowly from top hole, finishing all oil about halfway through the water…keep adding water slowly as the dough begins to form…when the dough is a 100% complete blob with no dry ingredients left, stop the motor and let the dough rest in the bowl for 10 minutes. Then process the dough for 25-30 seconds to develop the gluten. 

Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface in case it’s a little too moist or sticky. form into a smooth but still moist ball, drop in oiled bowl, turn to oil both sides, cover and let rise for about an hour, no more than 90 minutes.

Punch the dough down, separate into 2 equal size balls and let rest for ten minutes. Flatten each ball into 12 inch rounds, leaving the edges a little thicker.

Horticultural Fun Facts

Have you ever been interested to know a few science facts behind common landscape and horticultural practices or the science behind the natural plant world? I recently did a presentation for a group of local business people entitled “Landscape Fun Facts:  Or At least What Becca Thinks are Interesting Facts”. I admit that there is a lot more science behind the simple answers I’ve presented, but in layman’s terms these fun facts might just be the answer to your next trivial pursuit game, or maybe something to wow the kids around the evening dinner table.
  1. How does herbicide work?

Have you seen the dandelions in your lawn start to curl up and flatten after being sprayed with herbicide? The abnormal growth is caused by the herbicide. Some chemicals like 2,4-D, which is used in lawn fertilizers makes plants grow themselves to death by using plant hormones. These plants will grow so fast they cannot support themselves.

2. What turns red on a poinsettia?  How do you make them turn red?

The poinsettia has red bracts, which is a leaf like structure and the yellow centers are the flowers.If you are interested in trying to keep your christmas poinsettia over the summer and hoping to turn it red again next Christmas, you might want to buy another one next year instead. Twelve weeks before Christmas a poinsettia needs 14 hours of darkness (place in a closet) and 10 hours of light until mid-December. Miss two days and the plant may not color.

3.  How does cold kill a plant?

The ice you scrap off your car is the same type of ice crystals that form inside a plant cell membrane. Those ice crystals are like tiny daggers that penetrate cell membranes when the water freezes and expands. If you’ve ever notice that leaves can look wet when hit by frost, the wet look is caused by the “sap” leaking out of the cells of the plants.

  1. Is a strawberry a fruit?

Those small “seed” like structure on the outside of a strawberry are called achenes. They are actually the covering to a tiny seed. A strawberry is actually a group of many fruits with each one of those “seeds” being one fruit. This is called a complex fruit just like blackberries, raspberries, and mulberries.

  1. What types of plants attract bees?

Bees do not see the same colors that we see. They don’t see red or rather it appears green to them, so it doesn’t stand out against the green of a leaf. Bees see blues and green shades and UV light, and are more attracted to purple flowers though they can still see other bright yellow/orange colors. Since we cannot see UV light, we can’t see that some petals of flowers have markings that direct bees (like little arrows) showing them where the pollen or nectar source is located. Check out this picture of a cucumber flower in natural and UV light taken from a blog listed below.

6.  How can you use trees to keep your house warm/cool?

Evergreen trees are placed on the northwest and west in masses. This will cut down on wind 8-10 times their height (a 20 ft tall tree can protect 160 ft of space). If more than 60:40 ratio to wind (some wind must get through the branches) otherwise the wind will return to the ground faster and not produce the desired effect. No, I haven’t gone out to inspect whether the trees we planted are a 60:40 ratio after many years of growth. Most likely the trees are letting some air in without having to monitor it too much. Aside from evergreens, deciduous trees planted on west side close to the house will allow the sun to warm in the winter and leaves will keep the house cool in the summer. A few fun facts according to the Arbor Day Foundation, is that a healthy shade tree has the same cooling effects as 10 room sized air conditioners running 20 hours a day.  Also, the winter heating costs can be reduced by up to 25% by using trees as a wind break.

Before and After: The Entertainer Part II

A great entertainer needs a home with a great kitchen.  My best entertainer friends have this feature at their disposal.  Jere redesigned his kitchen to flow better for his quarterly soirees.  Sarah has ample room to expand her table space, and gadgets galore to fill her shelves for easy prep.

A great entertainer also needs a great backyard.  The following clients’ yard combined multiple element of outdoor entertaining, so friends and family will be swept up in the experience of relaxation and dine on food and good conversation.

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

The backyard was a clean slate.  Aside from the much coveted screened in porch, the possibilities were infinite.  Many winter saturday discussion sessions went into finding a place for the grill, and outdoor fireplace, adding the element of water and screening the area for privacy using a ton of perennials for color, and making the space accessible from the driveway.

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Wide natural stone stairs descend visitors from the driveway to the backyard and stepping stones imbedded in the grass create a rustic path to signal the way to the entertainment space.  The barbecue has its own space directly next to the steps off the upper deck allowing for easy access.  A table space with room for eight separates from the relaxing fireside furniture by a one foot planting space of creeping thyme.  The extra green adds a unique touch while adding definition and breaks up the hardscape.  The entire patio design is on an angle to utilize the view of the pond beyond the fireplace and the screening around the yard leaves that view uninhibited while maximizing coverage elsewhere.  Lastly the pondless waterfall remains a focal point directly inline with the main walking space and the berm it creates adds coverage and a cozy feel.

Everything at the entertainer’s fingertips allows them to enjoy along with their guests.  Like all great kitchen spaces…add friends and enjoy!