A Bloggers Blog Picks

The christmas cookies are still fresh and a few more cheers are left to be said.  Does that mean that we are not yet ready to dream of spring during the long winter days ahead?  Perhaps it does.  If you are a year round landscape enthusiast and never tire of a beautiful scenery to view, here are a few more landscape blogs to check out that I have enjoyed reading this last year.

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Miss Rumphius’ Rules is written by Susan Cohen a landscape designer who also owns her own company and founder of leaf magazine.  Her blog focuses on landscape design and pulls together a lot of visuals that help inspire and showcase her style.

Chicago Garden is a blog that focuses on..well…Chicago and events surrounding gardening in this area.  For example, right now there are links for the Lincoln Park Zoolights.  Previous topics have included tours of local garden centers, events at the Lurie Gardens, garden walks around Chicago and much more.

Dirt Simple | Gardening and Landscape Blog by Deborah Silver focuses on all the small details of garden design.  The abundance of pictures is a great idea generator.  I especially enjoy some of the decorations that are featured to highlight the writers second business, Detroit Garden Works, a shop devoted to unique metal and various other types of garden decor both new and vintage.


Get in the Zone

Global warming or just better math?  New to 2012, Chicago city proper has moved hardiness zones from 5b to 6a and the western suburbs are solidly a 5b zone instead of 5a. The change is due to better data collection that bases the zones on a wider range of years studied. What does it mean for plant connoisseurs and landscapers alike?  It means we can try some fun new things, but it doesn’t come without consequences.  The temperatures in certain years can still dip down to zone 4 temps that can kill plants on the “fringe”.  Here are my favorite fringe plants for protected areas.  Want to live dangerously? Locate these plants in areas with surrounding trees, solid fences, south-facing walls, and under overhangs or alcoves.

1.  Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’-Bloodgood Japanese Maple is the most hardy of the japanese maples and also a larger specimen.  There are other varieties, some that are smaller with more ferny-like leaves.  They are generally small trees with purple leaves, but can be green in color as well.  They can sometimes lose whole limbs from late frosts and harsh winters if not properly protected.



2.  Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’- Daphne

This is one I have only seen growing decent in one clients’ yard and her father happened to be a nurseryman.  This is the type of plant that is unique and worth trying if you are a gardener type that doesn’t mind a failure every now and then.  It is worth it for the unique variegated foliage, fragrance and interesting texture.  As will be a consistent theme for any broadleaf evergreen, winter winds can take moisture out of the leaves, which can take away from attractiveness.



3.  Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’-Forest Pansy Redbud

This redbud has all the same characteristics as the parent, but has purple leaves.  It would be best under the story of other trees.  The leaves can get burned in very sunny locations.



4.  Fagus sylvatica ‘Roseo-marginata’-Tricolored Beech

The EverGreen Landscape office inherited a specimen planted near the main entrance.  If it were not for the barn near by, this would not be a great location for the Tricolored Beech, especially as it is out in the open.  Planted on the north side of the barn, it gets enough protection from harsh summer suns, and protection in the winter.  The variegated leaves make it very unique.



5.  Ilex x meservea ‘China Girl’ and ‘China Boy’

For anyone looking for a shrub that truly looks like a holly shrub, this is one of the best bets for harsh northern winters.  The leaves often get burned by winter winds which drag moisture from the leaves.  Avoid south exposure, even in protected areas.



Planting a Memory

Landscape design is art on its most basic terms.  As with all art there is room for interpretation.  The funny things about landscape design, is that the functionality trumps the need for expression, in most cases.  I was honored to design a small garden in the Fall of 2010 with an important theme.  A garden with a purpose other than practicality.

The garden, planted in the Spring of 2011, honored the life of a wonderful teacher, friend, daughter and mother named Connie Johnson.  I’ve known her all my life. The garden is at Davis school in St. Charles, IL near the second grade classroom in which she taught and under the window of the room where my mother teaches speech.

I really didn’t know how to begin the garden design.  I was more than stuck trying to honor someone so important to me and my family, with the added eyes of all my elementary school teachers to throw in the mix.  It was probably one of the smallest areas I’ve worked with, but none the less I went over the details over and over, tweaking here and there.

In the end, the garden focal feature turned out to be a natural bluestone bench that allows students and teachers to pause.  I have to laugh at thinking that a garden meant to be free from function probably on any given day allows parents and preschool aged children to wait for their older siblings before the final bell of the day.  The Davis teachers spent time during the summer on a craft project, making stepping-stones to the bench from the sidewalk that incorporated designs that they felt reminded them of Connie.  Below are two EverGreen crew workers setting the legs of the bluestone bench in cement.

Gail Simpson

The plantings were chosen to symbolize much about Connie’s life.  We chose Blazing Star, Salvia and Russian Sage, all purple flowers that were her favorite color.  Many of the perennials that were used are butterfly attractants, which is a long-standing second grade science unit.  For this we used, Asters, Butterfly weed, Monarda and Blazing Star among others.  The first year of planting, the butterflies that developed through their life cycle were released into the garden.  One of Connie’s most notable talents was her musical gift.  She began her teaching career as a music teacher for Davis School before heading into the classroom.  Since she was one of my mom’s best friends, my siblings and I were among the lucky few to have Connie lead our birthday party goers in a chorus of “Happy Birthday” complete with piano accompaniment.  She and my father sang at my wedding.  To incorporate music in the design, I undulated roses and low junipers along a lengthy section of the garden to symbolize the music on a page.

Gail Simpson

I was thankful for the donations by Midwest Groundcovers and EverGreen Landscape to make the garden possible and the host of family and friends that helped to plant and maintain the garden.  The District 303 grounds crews came to the rescue during planting when the stumps of the rather large, old, crabapple wouldn’t budge out of the ground.

Gail Simpson

As far as art goes, this garden gave me a chance to express my feelings for a special person in my life.  An art form to honor an artistic soul.  A lasting stamp to mark a spot where her life had a lot of impact, near people who feel the same way I do.

Gail Simpson

Here are a few pictures a year later…the garden is growing!

Gail Simpson

Gail Simpson

Gail Simpson

Tour de France, Pennyslvania, and British Columbia

Much like kid at Christmas or perhaps even Halloween, I too have a wish list, but mine involves the gardens I’d like to visit around the world.  My love of planning vacations began early.  Since I was the one planning our family outings, I would stick in a few of my own favorites.  On a trip to Michigan we went to the Fredrick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park and on more than one occasion to Nashville TN, the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens.   Some are closer to home than others, but I hope to get to check them off my list at some point or another.

1.  Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square PA

I’ve had my eye on this garden since college.  It was part of an internship program that students from our department could participate in over summer break.  Longwood Gardens has a long history that has grown to include festivals, performances, education and one of the best collection of trees in the country.

2.  The Butchart Gardens, Victoria, B.C.

The garden has a well-known display of annual plantings.  The amount of color in one spot is breathtaking.  It is best viewed in the early-mid summer before the annual plantings become tired.


3.  Chanticleer Garden, Wayne, PA

Another Pennsylvania garden worth visiting, is the Chanticleer Garden.  Some more nerdy garden sorts will be reminded of the Chanticleer Pear.  This is the stronger more upright version of the famous Bradford Pear.



4.  Versailles Garden, Versailles, France

There are many other sites to see in and around Paris, but this one would be a highlight for me.  Designing and maintaining such a formal space must leave the garden staff a little insane.


5.  Claude Monet’s Garden in Giverny France

The inspiration behind many of Monet’s paintings, the gardens at his home in Giverny France are still well cared for and on display.

A Change of Scenery

Part rest, part fun, and part adventure.  I count myself thankful for each and every trip away.  This last few days I’ve spent in a little town called Walla Walla, deep in the heart of Washington wine country and deep in a land of friendly happy people.  The trip celebrated a big birthday for my husband, and provided an opportunity to hear the stories behind how many of those we met ended up in a small dry desert town of 30,000.  Taking in a part of the country I’ve never seen solidifies observations that the country is made up of unique people and our diverse climates and landscapes mean we never get bored in our explorations.

Becca LaBarre

Above is a picture of the scene on all sides of Walla Walla.  These are the Blue Mountains and fields of the “Amber Waves of Grain” already harvested for the season.  The Mizzoula floods left this land rocky, dry and diverse.  Many trees that have a hard time with Chicagoland soils and temperature swings such as Sweet Gum were beautiful street trees along main street.

Becca LaBarre

This is one of the street trees along the main drag in Walla Walla. The locals couldn’t ID it for me.  Turns out it is a type of ash called a Raywood Ash.  The leaves are more delicate and narrow than the typical Green or White Ash found in the Midwest.  Pretty cool overall texture.

Becca LaBarre

The boulder wall above is made of dark, angular stone very different from the granite boulders found in the midwest.  The suppliers typically find their boulders from Wisconsin quarries and are light shades of pink, buff, and gray with few angles.  I am sure they blend into the landscape to the Walla Walla natives, but to a visitor, they are a beautiful change of scenery.

Becca LaBarre

Check out this rustic pergola against the Saviah Cellars tasting room.  The large-scale of the tree logs works in scale with the larger building.  Another winery landscape essential was lavender.  Even without the blooms the air was scented.  The lavender was planted not only for aesthetics, but also to increase the crop species on winery property and deter deer, but we all know how well that usually works!

Becca LaBarre

In contrast to the beautiful fall color display above, most of the planters still had their summer annuals.  The temperatures in Walla Walla are relatively stable and there has not yet been a hard frost in the area.  The fall colors were about three weeks behind too.

Becca LaBarre

The blue sky accentuates the blazing red sumac along the road.  This natural example of how beautiful the sumac looks in the fall against straw-colored grass is a reminder to incorporate this combination in homeowner landscapes.  The sumac would look great among Karl Foerster Grass or Fountain Grass, both turn a yellow color in the fall.

Becca LaBarre

This winery pup, also an important landscape feature in Walla Walla came to reside at Morrison Lane Vineyard as a result of a sled dog rescue.  The stress of a former life melted away, the now less shy Husky, Wolf and German Shepard mix has the life of leisure with her brother.  Like so many other stories, I encountered talking with the people of Walla Walla, the small town life of vineyard farmers might not necessarily be stress free, but no matter the tale behind their move, these many transplants came, fell in love and stayed to pursue a passion.  Just as I hope to accomplish my own pursuit as a designer, and just as I hope my passion for what I do will always shine through.

Until Next Week…

Becca LaBarre

Getting a chance to travel to new places near and far have provided much fodder for my blogs and landscape designs.  Here are a few pictures of some highlights of the past few years.  Above is a creek bed flanked by Ivy near a favorite winery in Glen Ellen, CA.

Jen Odegard

Above is walking the continental divide in Glacier National Park, MT

Brandon LaBarre

Just a plant nerd intrigued by the size of a boxwood growing in front of the campus of Belmont University in Nashville, TN.  The south provides the same phenomenon when it comes to Knockout Roses too.

Becca LaBarre

Creating a sense of calm in any landscape design can come directly from the ability to interact with nature and escape the everyday.  The rolling hills of a vineyard in Sonoma, CA  on the verge of fall color is definitely my place of calm.

Until next weeks’ post on Washington State landscapes.  Stay Tuned!

October Sky

Before I get the words of Californian Dreamin’ by the Mamas and the Papas stuck in my head and all I can think about is how safe and warm I would be in LA during the long days of January and February in Chicago, I am first feeling very lucky to have a Illinois mailing address during the month of October.  This last week, I find myself driving with my eyes to the sky.  Most notably, yesterday with a crisp blue sky, I spotted this row of incredible crimson at Wilson’s Landscape Supply.

Becca LaBarre

The fall color ups the ante at a nursery with row after row of the same tree all ablaze at the same time.  These Autumn Blaze Maples are in full color now, but I’ve seen some that haven’t quite completely colored yet, while some of the actual red maples appear to be already past their prime.

This entire season has been marked with extremes.  Like a San Diego 4th of July firework display the flowers burst forth with all of April May and some of June’s buds opening all at once and now the same seems to be happening with the fall leaves as well.  There have been many years when there are several weeks between early fall favorites like the Ash trees in Late September (pictured below) and the years finally ending with Ornamental Pears in November.  This year the pears are already showing at least 25% fall color in some cases while the yellow foliage of the ash trees peaked late last week and the Autumn Purple Ashes are in the middle of their best color.  When I say best, I mean almost glowing.  Incredible!

Becca LaBarre

If you want to check out one of the most awesome neighborhoods for fall, check out the Sanctuary of Bull Valley, in Bull Valley, IL.  The houses are dotted among an Oak Savannah.  One of EverGreen Landscapes clients lives backing to a field of switchgrass, and big and little bluestem grasses.  Check out this fall smorgasbord view out of the back of the house.  I wouldn’t mind waking up to this on an October morning.

Becca LaBarre

Here are few other beauties I’ve seen so far this week….

Becca LaBarre

Above is a grouping of Sugar Maples.

Becca LaBarre

Not all perennials shrivel up and turn brown right away.  This balloon flower makes an impressive display next to the Russian Sage still in flower behind it.

Becca LaBarre

The above picture is Honeylocust in full yellow color. I’ve seen a large variance in these from those that just have a little yellow to some that look as though they may lose most of their leaves next time the wind blows.

Keep your eyes to the skies this October…Fall is Here!



The Grand Finale of Color

Are you craving pumpkins, apple picking, cinnamon scented candles, bonfires, or chunky knit sweaters?  The time of year is full of seasonal activities to drain every last ounce of outside enjoyment before the winter sets in.  While the trees will do their own part to color our world in just a few short weeks time, it is the fall annual plantings that add the compliment to planters, and garden beds.  As the perennials tire, a display of fall flowers can add a face lift to the aging gardens.  Here are some favorites and some new must tries.


1.  Common Pansy

The pansy can come in a wide range of colors and mixes that bring out the best compliment to your tree leaf blazes.  With names like Citrus Mix, which is a combination of yellow, white, and orange or Halloween Mix that is orange and almost black. The colorful display and long-lasting blooms are among my favorite things about pansies.  The best part is that if planted in the Fall and covered for the winter, a pansy display can often come back full force in the spring.  The plants are often even flowering well into the time when summer annuals are ready to be planted.  A great way to get some early spring color before everything else gets going!

2. Hardy Mum

These floriferous color shockers epitomize the Fall.  A 6 in pot can often be all that is needed to adorn a stoop.  They range in color from yellow, red, maroon, orange, pink, white and lavender.  If you find them overwinter, make sure to pinch them back (aka cut the tops off so buds don’t form to early) in the summer to make sure that the flowers are displayed later in the Fall.

3.  Ornamental Kale or Cabbage

You wouldn’t want to eat it, but the display is right out of the cabbage patch.  Purples, greens, and multicolored displays can provide filler to the flower pot as well as in a bed setting.  Names like Peacock red pictured above, or how about a fun one called Dinosaur Kale because of its bumpy texture.

4. Ornamental Pepper


This is one of my favorites and the Sangria variety picture above is one of the new varieties being sold by our supplier RCOP.  I love the added texture of the peppers, that you can’t get with very many other plants.  This is a perfect addition to containers.

6.  Ornamental Grass


The sky is the limit on what types of grasses you can add.  Proportion is important to keep in mind in selecting.  Often, if your regular planter display has used some grasses as the focal point, they can remain throughout the Fall and the filler plants can be changed out.  Sometimes it is fun to use crazier varieties that can’t be grown in the midwest over winter.  I’ve always loved Imperata ‘Red Baron’ because of the flame like tips the grass blades as seen above.  Some interesting newer varieties include Vertigo Pennisetum with purplish grass blades.

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



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.