A Day at the Park

There is a sense of calm in meandering through a garden. A place you can lose the everyday and find the anything possible. This past weekend I celebrated my 29 years with  a trip to Garfield Park Conservatory planned by my husband. Having never been before, I was very impressed with the way the designers’ original intent has been withheld in a place committed to teaching the surrounding community about the natural world.

Becca LaBarre

The many family events and number of families we saw that day are an indication of the gardens commitment to the community. The Children’s room has a multitude of plant curiosities like the Sausage Tree, carnivorous Pitcher plant and Sensitive plant. This saturday the event was “Bees, Bats, and Butterflies”. It was a salute to “National Pollinators Week” and chock full of information complete with lives bats to pet. They are surprisingly fuzzy and kinda cute.

Becca LaBarre

The gardens under the glass epitomized an assortment of climates from tropical, to desert. The designer, Jens Jensen even intended for there to be a conifer room, but the temperature was too variable and thus it was transformed into an Aroid room or in other words a room full of giant versions of your favorite house plants. Below is a picture of the central water feature in the Aroid room, with a newer addition of Chihuly glass lily pads.

Becca LaBarre

My favorite indoor garden was the fern room. The room is adorned with rock outcroppings covered in moss and ferns as far as the eye can see. The story on the waterfall is that Jens Jensen made the mason rebuild it over and over until it made the sound he intended. He eventually had the mason listen to Mendelssohn’s Spring Song, to inspire him to make the falls “tinkle” into the pool below.

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Outdoor, the expansive bluestone patio is surrounded by many specimens of my favorites. Check out the Tennessee Coneflower which in recent history was an endangered species. See how they are nodding in one direction. They always seem to face east.

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

A crushed stone path connects to a larger path that hugs the perimeter of the property. A variety of prairie plants long the path give way to a grove of Quaking Aspens and end back near the conservatory as you walk over a water feature ablaze with a rainbow of lily pads.

Becca LaBarre

The visit comes about a year after a crippling hail storm broke through a majority of the antique glass panes, an event still being remedied. Check out some of the pictures of the devastation on June 30th, 2011 on the Garfield Park Conservatory website. The temporary plexiglass will eventually be replaced by shatterproof glass to help prevent further storm damage. To help support it, a local glass artist, Bryan Northup, took the actual broken shards and turned them into bowls sold at the gift shop.

Becca LaBarre

I never tire of exploring a new garden. God bless my husband and his patience.  This trip I was rewarded with a clear head and was reminded to try a few more diverse plants in my designs. On our way out we passed a group of school aged children visiting in a group.  They’d come to the right place to invoke the sense curiosity for what nature can hold. Perhaps a future budding horticulturist in their midst? I couldn’t help but smile.


Just One of Our Guys

I was reminded this week by more than one of my clients just how awesome our construction crew workers are.  We have our father and son duo that work as a well oiled machine.  We have a great group of young guys that have made many strides in the last few years to be great leaders.  They make my job easier when they leave the job site in tip-top condition, they spend time thinking about the most efficient way to do a job, or ask the questions that make sure the project is completed the way the client intended.

Both clients this week were more than generous with their comments.  Our crews work hard with hardly a break in the heat, which has been particularly true these last few weeks.  They plan ahead on how they execute a project.  They let me know of changes so I can inform the client ahead of time.  One of our clients mentioned just how great it was not to be “surprised” by anything and how appreciative she was of the communication. The other client had mentioned just how much of a perfectionist our crew leader was and meticulous in his work.

Becca LaBarre

Here’s one of the crews working at my house on a project we did four years ago.

This pic was snapped by a client as the crew was working on their house.  He sent it to me in an email titled “Three Good Guys”.   They do smile on occasion…I promise!

Becca LaBarre

Here is one of our crew leaders planting some new Annabelle Hydrangeas.  Our other crew member wasn’t far behind trying to keep up on the watering during the sweltering heat.  We are currently working on a beautiful Lake in Antioch.

Becca LaBarre

Our driver is helping to clear some sod and create a berm at the same time.  This was during lunch, while the rest of us took a few minutes to eat.

I know I couldn’t do this job without the crew guys, not only for the obvious reason of the fact that I don’t have the skills to build a patio in the heat, with speed and agility.  That does bring up a good point of how hard their job can be.  Here’s to great co-workers!

Fur Friendly Landscapes

My favorite! image from triggerartist.deviantart.com

Planning an outdoor space for your family is a no brainer, but what about the four legged members of your family?  No, a landscape designer won’t think you’re crazy asking to accomodate your furry friend.  I have to remind myself time and time again to remember pets in my designs because I don’t own an animal.  When making a list of the desires of your landscape, keep in mind a few ideas to maximize your pets comfort, your convenience in caring for them and few tips to hide the more utilitarian aspects of animal ownership.

The lawn and short of it….

Having a pet can wreck havoc on your beautiful green lawn you’ve worked so hard to cultivate.  You can’t beat this, so why not just create a green space for your pet.  This can be out of a utility door like the side garage door where it is convenient and not as many people walk.  I once created a space with several larger boulders, and mulch with a few extremely hardy and less expensive perennials like daylilies.  The client taught their puppy to go to the bathroom on the rocks and leave the lawn alone.  The same can be done using lawn grass.  It might need replacing periodically, but a space that you don’t mind trashing works better, especially as a no chemical zone for weed killers and fertilizers.  If the space is still too unsightly, a well designed hidden green zone can work perfectly.  There are medications that can be given to a dog to minimize the damage on the lawn, but I’d refer to a vet before giving them any unnecessary chemicals that might have side effects.

Dog Runs that ruin the view…

The chain linked dog run of days gone by have been replaced more often with the underground electric fence and collar.  If you aren’t a fan, and would like to minimize the stark look of a dog run, what about a hardy vine to grow up the chain-link to hide it.  I don’t know if I should suggest it since it is on the invasive species list, but I really love Trumpet Vine.  Other vigorous growers might be porcelian vine, or sweet Autumn Clematis.  Smaller evergreen shrubs such as Green Mountain Boxwood or a dwarf Techny Arborvitae called Technito can help shield the look all year round.  Also depending on the size of the dog, uncoventional fencing could be used that are more decorative such as picket fencing or even an antique wrought iron or look-alike.  Also, these decorative fences can be designed into the landscape.  Maybe it could be part of a formal terraced area or take on a shape that doesn’t resemble a dog run, but is complementative of the overall design.

Plants to go gaga over…

Outdoor cats are most likely to be the most intrigued by the actual plantings in a garden.  I have actually witnessed barn cats at one of the nurseries I worked at lay for long periods of time in the catnip plants and come stumbling back to the sales yard pretty pleased with himself.  A herb garden with scented herbs like oregano, lemongrass, any mint are also big attractants.  Ornamental grasses for laying in, like fountain grass.  Like people, I suppose too much of a good thing, might not be a good thing.  There are some plants that can be poisonous to dogs and cats, and I usually don’t worry about these unless a client tells me that their pet is a huge muncher.  I recommend doing some research if you are concerned with your appetite voracious animal, and always consult a vet.  Underground pet fence can be laid before the actual plant bed to keep them from trampling the garden as well.

Please check out the ASPCA website for pet friendly landscape tips recommended by animal experts.

ASPCA | ASPCA Guide to Pet-Safe Gardening

Floral Display

The difference between an annual and a perennial comes down to more than just longevity. A perennial is planted for color that is stunning for a few weeks. The challenge in perennials is find the right combination that will give you some colorful interest throughout the summer. If ever I am asked for a wow factor plant that blooms, and blooms, and blooms, I go straight to annuals. No perennial will give the pop of color that an annual will give all summer long. If you’ve ever seen a mass planting of Purple Wave Petunias in the middle of the summer you know what I mean. The challenge with annuals is often the expense and chore of planting every year and the care to maintain a watering regime. I love the look of annuals in a plant bed, but there are so many unique things to do with annuals in a container and the time and expense for care is minimal.

Becca LaBarre

The above picture is an example of using a monochromatic theme of all pinks and purples. There are no strong contrasting flowers in this display. The look is more sophisticated. A more formal design is completed with trailing Ivy and the classic urn design of the planter.

Becca LaBarre

Here is an example of cool and hot colors together.  There is more energy and movement in the hotter colors like reds, and oranges.

Becca LaBarre

Annual grasses such as Annual Purple Fountain Grass are tried and true performers in planters as shown above, as are the Wave Petunias.


If you want to try some different ideas here are a few of my favorites…


The Juncus effusus ‘Spiralis’ is crazy corkscrew of grass-like blades.  A great way to spice up any planter.

Another favorite of mine, if only because I rock this hairdo daily, is the Ponytail Grass.  It is a great cascading plant and has a very soft texture.

For some awesome foliage try any one of the coleus varieties.  There are too many to count, but one of my favorites is Kong Coleus.


Another coleus worth trying is Wizard Coleus (several varieties).  Usually a shade plant, there are many sun coleus on the market and more every year.

I also like the wispy look of Gaura lindheimeri ‘Siskiyou Pink’.  This is a tender perennial in the Chicago area, meaning that in mild winters it could overwinter in the ground.


For larger planters try the annual Rudbeckia ‘Indian Summer’.  The flowers are gigantic.


It has become increasingly popular to use some perennials in planter with annuals especially those with interesting foliage colors like Hostas, Ferns, and Coralbells.  These are all great for the shadier planters that have fewer options for color combinations.

Because you can never have too many Wave Petunias, check out this parting picture.

Becca LaBarre