Today, we’re breaking down the design plans we have in store for our urban front yard.
Earlier this year, we decided it was finally time to give the front of our home some much-needed attention. The roof, gutters, fascia and porch ceiling all received the love they needed. The porch structure was also leveled, the porch swing was rebuilt and reoriented, the ceiling warmed up with tongue and groove, and the whole porch and deck got a fresh paint/stain job. Oh, and we also removed all of the lattice that surrounded the front porch to really open things up! A few months later, it’s now fall and we’re nearly ready to start refreshing the landscaping.
Why We’re Getting Rid of the Grass
Up until now, the planter bed closest to the house had a very formal shape. Two large junipers flanked a row of boxwoods and a bed of red sedum filled the front of the space. The tiny grass lawn served as no more than a pass through space from the front yard to the back and vice versa. Our new plan will remove the grass completely in favor of a hardscape path that will eliminate the need to mow the tiny space. Many years ago, we removed all of the grass from our backyard and haven’t looked back! The solid surfaces keep puppy paws clean and provide space for Lucy to ride her scooter in circles around the picnic table. Our hope is that the removal of grass out front encourages us to actually spend time in the space – watering the plants, hopping on the path, enjoying a cup of coffee on a garden bench – as opposed to just passing through it!
How + Why We Hired a Local Landscape Designer
Our plan all along has been to tackle the vast majority of the landscape installation ourselves. The thing we were struggling with, however, was the design itself. We generally know what plants we like when we see them but we’re not the most seasoned with names, varieties, seasonal colors, shapes or their ideal growing conditions. We knew we needed some professional help, but weren’t sure where to start.
We’re aware of web-based design services that provide beautiful 3D models of yards and outdoor spaces and are always impressed by their work. We were, however, drawn to the idea of a local company that knows the area and is familiar with these tiny (and special) Chicago front yards. We were in search of a company that could provide a low-cost consultation to provide us a nice sketch on paper that could help us visualize placement, heights, variation and seasonal colors, then turn us loose on the yard to handle the dirty work ourselves.
We called around to a few local landscapers, but nothing was feeling like a great fit. We figured we’d give crowd-sourcing a shot and turned to our friendly neighborhood Facebook group for ideas! We immediately got a few recommendations for Tim from Merello-Sons Landscaping and clicked with him instantly. He’s a scrappy, hard-working Chicagoan with a friendly smile and some good dad jokes. We knew we were in good hands!
How We Want the Front Yard to Feel!
Our overall goal for the front yard was for it to feel soft, welcoming, and natural. We knew we’d like a path for easy access between the front and back yards, and we’d love a bench for coffee and chit chats. We were definitely searching for less structure and more whimsy; fewer rigid lines and a more ethereal feel that embraces nature as opposed to attempting to overcome it.
We chatted through all of this with Tim, and he definitely picked up on the vibe we were going for. We even strolled up and down our block to check out a few neighbors’ yards in search of inspiration and plant suggestions. Now it was time for us to bring the yard to a solid base layer while Tim drew up the potential plans.
Removing What’s There
In order to maximize planting space and open up the yard as much as possible, we knew we’d be removing the first couple of sections of concrete sidewalk. We considered renting a jackhammer and handling the project ourselves, but a quick call to our favorite concrete contractor resulted in an incredibly reasonable quote and a ‘tomorrow morning’ time frame to complete the work. We gave him the green light immediately and the concrete was cleanly removed and hauled away less than 18 hours later!
As far as the four plants that were being removed to make space for the new plan, Kim posted on Instagram that they were free for the taking, but would need to be dug out and removed by whoever claimed them. Our friend Daniel immediately spoke for the big juniper for his Michigan fixer-upper and a sweet couple stopped by later in the morning for the trio of boxwoods. By the time everyone left, it was 11am and our yard was looking a lot more empty than when we woke up that morning!
The Landscape Plan
While we were hard at work clearing the yard, Tim was hard at work drawing up plans. His total fee of around $300 included a revision or two and we only ended up making a few small tweaks to the first version he presented to us. In the final design, there are variations in color, height, and seasonal interest. There are some native plants that should attract bees and butterflies and the stone path is exactly what we had in mind. We’ll integrate movement in the form of tall grasses and shrubs. And wouldn’t you know it, right there in the corner; a bench for coffee and conversation!
Tim’s plan includes the following plants and he even provided a couple of similar alternatives in case we have a hard time locating anything. Here’s the final list:
- Cotinus Coggygria ‘Winecraft Black’
- Syringa ‘Miss Kim’ (really)
- Euonymus ‘Fortunei’
- Monarda Didyma
- Panicum Virgatum
- Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ (‘Purple’ or ‘White Cloud’)
- Juniperus Horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’
- Phlox ‘David’
We’ll also transplant an existing hydrangea shrub (or two?), and we’re keeping one large existing 12 foot Juniper, which currently resides at the corner of the porch.
If you followed along on our Instagram stories (@yellowbrickhome) last week, you saw that we went on a pretty significant plant shopping spree! All of Tim’s plant recommendations were perfectly spot on. One or two species weren’t available in the size we hoped for, but we swapped them out for very close relatives that were nearly identical. Now we need to plant all of these beautiful plants and go shopping for pavers and gravel!
So that all of the plants had a place to live while we complete the planning process, we couldn’t help ourselves but to lay them out into the rough shape that they’ll end up being planted in. The flow that they create, even in this rudimentary arrangement, really draws attention across the yard and creates a perfect corridor of greenery and (soon to be) colorful blooms.
We cant can’t wait to get these beauties in the ground and see this yard start to come to life. We’re thrilled to bring you along for the journey, so keep an eye out here and on instagram in the coming weeks!
Excited about landscaping posts! And I noticed you chose some Proven Winners brand plants, always my frost choice. Makes a big difference !
Oooh love hearing this!
What a great plan! I love how community-centered it was, with a local landscape designer, local people digging out free plants, and a quick visit from your concrete contractor. I focused a lot on my condo’s back garden this year and love seeing what people choose for small-ish spaces. Can’t wait to see the finished product!
Chicago is such a small big city!
Love this plan, Can’t wait to see how it turns out!
Tim truly is the best!
He’s so fun to work with!
I’m curious will go in between all of the pavers and plants? Grass or mulch? Thanks!
Ooh good question! Mulch, and we may plant sedum to spread between.
Good work! I love how you are working with a local designer. Also, I have noticed that people put so much thought and care into their small Chicago yards! I am always surprised when I leave the city and people have large front yards but don’t seem to *do* anything with them.
I love this plan and watching it unfold! I am curious about the parkway outside of your gate – does the city maintain that or will you replace that grass with some other local plants as well?
That’s up to us to maintain! We’ll keep that little part grass for continuity in the neighborhood, but some homeowners do choose to plant flowers or veggies (even 10’ tall sunflowers!) in their tree lawns.
Another great post, so helpful. We have been struggling with an aging landscape for a few years and unfortunately had a couple of local outfits give us huge budget jobs. Huge. We too were looking for a good workable plan to do the work. We got quotes of 6k and 10k for what amounted to spring cleanups on a yard that’s been maintained. The last nursery we were loyal customers to said they’d come up with a design plan, they came back $200 later with a cleanup estimate. Live and learn. This is very helpful. Putting feelers out on our fb to find a good fit. Thanks for sharing.
We’ve found our neighborhood Facebook groups to be so helpful, good luck!
Perfect for your yard! – someone that actually works with plants (plants/maintains) wins in my book. We’ve had both and the most success with someone like Tim. Look forward to your reveal.
What nursery did you find the plants?
We went to Lurvey’s in Des Plaines. They had nearly every plant we were looking for and very similar substitutes for the ones they didn’t have in stock.