Nature Inspired Suburban Life

There is a reason my alarm clock has three less obnoxious settings, chirping birds, babbling brook, and crashing waves. I’d rather be coerced out of my dream like sleep with images of grassy fields, a hike up a mountain to a glacier fed lake or a sandy sunset along the beach, than a noise that sounds more like a fire engine running directly into my bed room. I like to think that I am like most people out there, and perhaps that it why my whole job is centered around bringing nature into the lives of normal, suburbanites, that don’t usually get to start their mornings with a jog around the Grand Canyon or a breath fresh aspen air at their high perched cabin. Though it is true that many people seeking my help, just want a few nice plants to highlight their home, or a basic patio, the underlying request is to create relaxing spaces, and views they can enjoy all the time.

The green screen is by far the most requested nature inspired landscape feature. Whether it’s the neighbor in their bathrobe, or the busy road, everyone wants to block some views, and enhance others. A fence does great for keeping children and animals in, but not much for the view from your kitchen table. A wall of green is less like a fortress and more like a forest.

Before: View to the neighbors and utility boxes

Immediately After: No more utility boxes and view to the neighbor is softened.  A few more years and the evergreens will enclose the lower patio.

Enjoy the sights and sounds of nature instead of the four lane highway. A pond or pond-less water feature can look natural when designed into the landscape using boulders,  and planted with ground cover to hide the man-made elements. At EverGreen we tend to go a little heavier on the pump size and add a valve to lower the water flow, so that the water can be more or less raging rapids depending on your taste. It won’t take long for visitors like frogs, raccoons and herons to make frequent appearances or take up residence. Just watch the raccoons and herons if you have fish or they may make an expensive snack out of your new pets.

A nature inspired finishing touch or two….

Becca LaBarre 2010

These boulders are part of the dry land garden at Cantigny Gardens in Wheaton, IL. The boulders are unique for what can be found for sale in the area. The look could be duplicated using New York Boulders (

Becca LaBarre 2011

The Water Stairs at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.  The water flows in the railings.  The palace had an enormous amount of water inspired features where the sounds of a fountain were hardly ever an ear shot away.  The over all feel is that of a sanctuary of luxury. My quest to find the perfect client for this still hasn’t happened, but I will continue to seek.

Gail Simpson

Lastly, this is a custom-made bench made of bluestone done for my most favorite theme garden. The three pieces are irregular to look natural.  It was done in memory of a friend and dedicated educator, Connie Johnson at Davis School in St. Charles, IL.




Before and After: Part 1

Have you ever been to a Cracker Barrel as a kid (or adult) and played one of those puzzle games? Some of them mirror a rubix cube where the object is to move around the squares in the puzzle until each of the cubes sides display a solid color. You might get to the end only to find out you are one move away from solving the puzzle, but the pieces just don’t add up.

I am not a mathematician, and those that know me may chuckle at my arithmetic short comings, but the part about design I love the most is taking the pieces of the puzzle and putting them together so that my client can realize their dream landscape. I get to take desires such as more entertainment space, a place for storage, a front walk that invites, a view to hide, or a concrete foundation to soften. Then we throw in a few objectives like kid friendly spaces, price points, pets, large and small families, extra vehicles, homeowner association or village rules and the challenge begins.

It can be easy to work with a clean slate. No 100 year oak trees in the middle of patio space, or recently redone front walk that doesn’t really “flow”. I find the renovations however, can be the most rewarding because it takes time and effort to make a design work around those beautiful old trees, or reuse a clients existing paver brick. The project I’ve selected for the first installment of before and after is one such renovation with a very rewarding outcome for both client and designer.

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

The patio was very rectangular and though it had a lot of space, it lacked interest, it didn’t segregate any specific spaces for entertainment, grilling or enough length to allow a large table to have its own space. Also, the yard beyond had a very clear shot of the busy road and anyone passing by could see into the back windows of the home. This lack of screening and the new subdivision openness produced heavy winds that knocked over the grill quite frequently. The actual paver used in the original patio were still new, and matched well with the house and clients’ taste. The patio had several sunken spots that needed to be addressed. The objectives were to increase screening, cut down on the wind, while upgrading the barbecue for the family that enjoyed cooking, increasing the size and livening up the patio design, and reuse the existing pavers if it fit into the overall scheme.

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

The patio is outlined by a double border in a complimentary color. This allows the patio to be upgraded in size without a noticeable difference in the age of the old and new pavers. The barbecue now has its own space, which will no longer blow over in the wind, gives ample countertop space for preparation, and is not part of the rest of the patio thus allowing grilling to be done out of the traffic of a party in full swing. This unit is by Weber Grill and is made for a built-in barbecue, but stands alone unlike the traditional cook tops usually used in a built-in setting. The furniture and added fire pit also increase the function and entertainment value of the space. The back corner of the yard was planted with several evergreen trees and larger fast growing shrubs. There are several ornamental grasses that match with the rest of the property and neighborhood, as this home is part of a larger subdivision that incorporates prairie restoration.

Another great part of landscape design is that there are probably a hundred other ways this could have been done and still get the overall effect. I love that part of design too. No two projects are alike, and there are no wrong answers. Only multiple right answers…Puzzle Solved!

A Pictures Worth a Thousand Views

The final touch of a photograph or painting is the frame.  The color and style are often chosen to compliment the room or setting they are displayed in.   The frame of a landscape view can be the oversized living room window, a garden gate, an arbor, or a screen of plants placed to hide the landscape until the viewer walks around the corner at just the right moment. The way a landscape is framed can make it look different from different angles. Check out a few awesome frames that might just change your view.

Becca LaBarre

This window cut out of a hemlock hedge is part of the gardens at Chicago Botanic Gardens.  This frame blocks out the rest of the garden to focus on a single element like this urn.  Without the frame, and with the busyness of the rest of the garden the viewer may not notice it.

Becca LaBarre

Extra formality at Cantigny Gardens frames this view.  The lines of the rectangular pool draws the eye to the farthest location.  It was probably unintentional, but look at the tree turning orange.  Would it be as spectacular if it was on the edge of the frame?

Becca LaBarre

The water feature is in line with the narrow breezeway and gives the eye something to look at when walking to the backyard.

Becca LaBarre

The summer palace at the Alhambra in Spain is no stranger to framing a view.  Many courts, rooms, and windows all are characterized by arched doorways.  Think that’s not applicable to real life?  An arbor over the entrance to a garden can be the frame that fits in line with our backyards, unless of course you live in a palace.

Becca LaBarre

The gardens at Chataeu St. Jean in Sonoma, California have a ton of nooks and crannies and each garden is a room.  The designer carefully framed the views with several vine adorned walls creating mystery around every corner.

Bob Stell

This idea of using plants to hide the view beyond is done often by my boss. This project shows how any backyard can build mystery around every turn to add interest as the landscape unfolds.