When we built our backyard planter boxes a few years ago, we were still pretty clueless when it came to outdoor gardening. To make sure we didn’t waste hundreds of dollars on plants that would subsequently die, we hired a consultant from a local nursery for a quick assessment of the area. She was incredibly helpful in steering us toward plants that would flower beautifully and come back every year without much effort (which would be no small feat for these black thumbs). She also recommended that we install insulation board inside the boxes to help combat the deepest of Chicago winter freezes, which is a tip we’d gladly shout from the rooftops. Overall, the consultation was $75 well spent!
Our consultant offered one last bit of advice as she walked out the door, likely in an effort to temper our dreams of a garden overflowing by the end of the first summer: “Year one, outdoor plants sleep. Year two, they creep. Year three, they LEAP!” With our third full summer upon us, we’re witnessing the leap!
What We’ve Added
Our big corner ‘Pinky Winky’ Hydrangea has been doing well overall, so we decided to flank it with two additional Hydrangea varieties. (The Pinky Winky is experiencing a bit of a pest issue this year. She’s got some chewed up leaf edges; we’ve been told it might be slugs, so will begin treating as such? After my mom suggested we set a plate of beer at the base of the plant, sure enough, we found a few slugs the next morning. Have you experienced this? If so, how can we kick the bug?)
To the right of the Pinky Winky is a new Cityline Mars Bigleaf Hydrangea, and on the left is a new white Dwarf Hydrangea (Wee White, maybe?) that has taken off nicely and is already producing beautiful blooms! They both filled areas where our Ceratostigma stopped coming back (at one time, the Ceratostigma provided small purple blooms and a shrub-like shape), so fingers crossed the new plants do as well as the Pinky Winky.
A Fireplace Update
The fireplace has begun to take on a thin patina and no longer looks as perfect as it did when we picked it up from the powdercoater. It’s a bit hard to tell if it’s a thin layer of surface rust or if the heat from extended natural gas use (or one too many marshmallows) is discoloring the finish. Either way, we actually think it’s taking on a nice weathered look that blends in nicely with the rest of the yard! A few weeks ago, we flanked the fireplace with two 4′ Emerald Green Arborvitae that help to bring more height to the area. They also help to create a triangular trio that emphasizes the shape of the fireplace. Win!
Speaking of Which, More Arborvitae to the Rescue!
In addition to the arborvitae flanking the fireplace, we’ve also added four additional arbs to the box along the stairwell. In previous years, this box was full of low-growing plants that didn’t do a good job disguising our electric meters, which was our first mistake. But not to worry! Those plants were moved to other areas of our raised beds, making everything look super lush. And to help the three meters vanish into the background, I gave the covers a quick sand and painted them the same color as our house. Our hope is that in three years’ time (remember – sleep, creep, leap!), these guys will grow together into a nice hedgerow and block the meters completely.
For Kim’s first (human) Mother’s Day last year, we started an annual tradition in which we head to our favorite garden center. Kim picks out a favorite flowering plant or two, and instead of receiving cut flowers that will only last a week, I do the dirty work of layering in new plants (while she sips rosé) that will flower all summer long! Last summer, we brought home a Clematis ‘Climador’ for each of our DIY Trellises, after finally deciding that we didn’t love the look of our former clematis variety. The Climador fared well over the winter and have started to explode with huge purple blooms!
Last summer, we brought home a Clematis ‘Climador’ for each of our DIY Trellises, after finally deciding that we didn’t love the look of our former clematis variety. The Climador fared well over the winter and have started to explode with huge purple blooms!
Stonecrops and Wild Onions
Our gang of Stonecrops and Alliums have definitely subscribed to the third year leap! Each and every one of these hardy plants has survived since we first planted them. We even had to transplant a few Stonecrops this spring to make room for the Fire Chief Arborvitae (below, right) and the transplants have taken off perfectly!
Lucy’s favorite summer past-time is helping make sure all of the plants get enough water! Including the Stonecrops! This girl loves water.
Layering In Evergreens
Over the last few years, it has dawned on us that we lose a lot of color in the backyard through the colder months. You may have noticed that within the last couple of iterations, we’ve begun to layer in varying types of evergreens to keep things looking lively throughout the winter. The Blue Rug Junipers, Golden Cypress, Fire Chief and newly added arborvitae will all keep things looking bright and colorful when the weather is at its dreariest – which we won’t be thinking about it for a few more months, thank goodness.
The Best Family Hangout Spot!
We designed this garden many years ago before our little Goose joined the family, but even then, Kim would talk about how our future kiddo would gather around the patio table with her friends or run circles on the pavers and possibly skin a knee.
Not surprisingly, it’s easily a favorite spot to spend lazy summer afternoons with friends and family, and it’s heartwarming to see our sentiments come to light. And just for fun…
Lucy in 2018
Lucy in 2019
The ever expanding border of greenery around our brick patio has transformed our yard into our own little urban oasis! We always said that we wanted it to feel a little floofy, a little wild. Jumbled. Messy. Carefree. We think it’s filling out just as we imagined! Whether it’s just the three of us hanging out with the dogs after work, or 20 of our closest friends and their kids joining us for a BBQ on a Saturday afternoon, we spend as much time in the backyard as possible!
We hope you enjoyed our patio tour this summer! How does your garden grow?
Great job on the backyard and gardening. Your garden/patio/backyard looks like the perfect oasis. As a fellow midwesterner, I too love to be outdoors in the spring/summer/fall, knowing that winter is always on the horizon. Enjoy!
I was JUST thinking that I was hoping you guys would share a garden update soon! I love those blue rug junipers, I definitely want a long line of planter boxes with them spilling over the edges.
Have you guys thought about growing veggies at all? I live in an apartment right off the UPW Metra line and was determined to grow cucumbers this year so I grew them in… Home Depot buckets! With tomato cages! Mostly because I got sticker shock at the cost of a five gallon planter. Like, you’re putting dirt in it. The bucket was a whopping $3, and all I had to do was drill holes in the bottom for drainage. The plants are getting a little beat up by the wind since I’m on a pretty high up floor, but I am threatening them daily and they seem to be trucking along okay. I’m also growing TONS of cat grass for our kitty, and catnip, of course. And herbs and flowers. And arugula!
Also! I can totally picture hanging planters off of your back deck. Something nice and vine-y, or more blue rug junipers?! I just love plants, they bring me so much joy that I am not allowed to go to the hardware store because I’ll walk out with a bunch of plants and I have no room anymore, ha!
Hahaha, that’s why we stay away from nurseries… we always leave with plants we don’t need or have room for!
We considered veggies, but living in the city, there are just too many critters that would enjoy them before we do, blech. We’d be the backyard that all the critters want to hang out in – boo. Otherwise we’d love to!
Look into Vegepods (that’s what they are called). Brilliant for growing veges that bugs can’t get at and very easy to use. I wouldn’t be without mine and I know my vegetables are completely organic :-)
I’m not affiliated with them in any way but honestly, I have been so impressed with how well veges grow in mine that I’ve been telling everyone I know to get one https://vegepod.com/collections/all
Very cool! Since our plants are more ornamental, we’ve purchased some neem oil and will give that a shot. We’ve heard good things!
Beautiful job! Try Sevin spray, that’s what I’ve been using for Japanese beetles and it’s been working wonderfully. It’s what our grandparents always used.
Oooh. Looking into that pronto. Thank you!
Oh man, that stuff is highly toxic. I’d pick something else since you’ve got kids and pets all up in the plants. Also, your description is pretty general, so it’s hard to give advice. This might help: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/GARDEN/PLANTS/hydrangea.html
We planted a fire chief this year, but he’s so tiny and I guess they take forever to grow. A new evergreen favorite for us has been our variegated boxwoods. They almost look like a cream colored wintercreeper, and have a more casual shape than traditional boxwood balls. Hoping they’ll muscle through the winters (we’re zone 5b).
This is the second year of our fire chief, and he’s doing great!
Its always a good idea to mix in evergreens with perennials… esp with hydrangea since they lose all their leaves in the winter so you have some green and garden interest to carry you thru the winter
There is the most amazing youtube channel for garden advice: Garden Answer. She is awesome and has amazing tips/inspiration. You will be hooked.
I have a pinky Winky hydrangea in a container in our planter. I was told they can usually survive 1-2 winters and should be transplanted. But he problem is that everywhere I’m reading that they get about 8’ tall and wide and I’m not sure I have a spot for it! But yours looks small. ????♀️ Any tips how to to keep it on the smaller 4x4ish size?
Sorry, *on our patio
Hi Lauren! We’ve allowed our Pinky Winky hydrangea to drop its leaves each fall, then trimmed the branches back to about 18″ (from the soil level) each spring. It has responded by sending out ever thicker and fuller branches each summer and is approximately 4’x4′ this summer. The first year Kim trimmed back the branches this aggressively, I was sure she had killed it, but it came back healthier than ever! Hope this helps!
This helps for sure!!! I think I’ll give it a shot!
Also, the solution to your slug problem is sluggo. We had the same problem one year and it cleared it up quickly.
Slugs! I live in the Pacific Northwest and I have had many battles with them. We have a multitude of slugs… My stomach is in a knot just thinking about them! ???? I refuse to use anything toxic that might harm our precious Border Collie ????❤️ or taint our veggies and fruit. ???? The 2 methods I like best are beer – put pie plates below soil level and fill them with cheap beer. They drown. It’s disgusting. I don’t care. I’ve also used oat bran (not oatmeal) with great success. It’s super easy – I just put a tablespoon or so here and there in between the plants. I still watch my darling doggie to make sure she doesn’t drink any beer or eat any oat bran, but luckily she’s really not interested. My last resort, and this is when I’m REALLY MAD and see that my basil and strawberries and other tender young vegetation have been anilitated during the night… I get out the sissors and go hunting. It’s disgusting, and I kind of hate myself, but I hate them more. Sorry for that last bit, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do to save her crop. Hope this helps!
My mother in law crushes all her egg shells and sprinkles them on the topsoil around her plants to ward off slugs. She swears by and has a beautiful garden. Apparently the sharp edges of the shells harm the slug. Looks great and good luck!
Luuuucyyy!! Heart eyes!
I recently planted a trumpet vine in a planter, and I’m wondering what steps, if any, you all took for the winter to help your clematis survive?
We don’t cut it back until the spring! That’s pretty much our only secret.
I’m originally from the Chicago area, but now I live in a dry, cold (8,000′) climate where it’s pretty much impossible to get anything to grow without *tons* of water, and even then it’s never lush. I’m so jealous of your gorgeous outdoor space! Great job :)
So happy to see a garden update!
For slugs, you can use diatomaceous earth. Sprinkle it on the soil, and it’ll cut up slug’s bodies. Safe for kids and pets (certainly safer than anything you can spray).
As for the hydrangeas, I’d stick with panicle hydrangeas, like your Pinky Winky. Other panicle varieties include Limelight and Little Lime, Quickfire, and Little Quickfire. Or you can try arborescens hydrangeas (Annabelle, Incrediball, Invincibells). They’re very cold hardy and bloom on new wood–which is why you are able to prune Pinky Winky in the spring and still have blossoms. Big-leaf hydrangeas (or hydrangea macrophylla), like one of the new ones you bought, are problematic for cold climates because they only bloom on old wood. That means that your hydrangea’s branches need to survive the winter in order for you to have blooms the next year. A lot of times (especially in Chicago, and I’m sure especially in containers), those will die down to the soil line in winter and you won’t get blooms the next year. And if you prune in the spring, you’ll prune those buds off. See: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2009-02-15-0902121303-story.html
Oh, wow, this is SO helpful! Thank you. We almost got a little lime hydrangea, now I’m kicking myself! Fingers crossed that our insulated boxes won’t kill off the new guy… I guess we’ll all find out (together!) next year.
I love how amazing it is looking! I think of you when I work on the garden sometimes, because I didn’t know the sleep-creep-leap thing until I read it here. It’s so true! :)For slugs – we have so many – I’ve been using this for a few years. It’s active ingredient is Iron, and it quickly disappeared into the garden beds and I felt safe having kids and pets and veggies around it. https://www.naturescare.com/en-us/products/protect/miracle-gro-natures-care-slug-snail-control
Thank you for the rec, Jane!!
Thank you for naming all the plants and shrubs. I take a lot of inspiration from photos of gardens I like so it is very much appreciated ????
She’s such a cutie!