With flowers growing on every side in curvaceous borders, a suburban Chicago home becomes one with a landscape planted in English garden style.
Only a decade in the making, Kathy and John Leonard’s landscape is truly a sight to behold. Lushly planted borders teeming with earth-to-sky appeal cloak the couple’s Arlington Heights, Illinois, home in eye-catching forms that stop passersby in their tracks.
Though Kathy and John have lived in their home for 38 years, it was a 2002 remodeling project that got the couple gardening in a big way. John wanted to enlarge the garage and switch its entry to another street, which meant tearing up existing hardscapes and flowerbeds.
Landscape designer John Fitzgerald designed and installed sinuous gardens in an English garden style that flow outward from the foundation to frame the front brick walkway and dress up garage walls before popping up again in the rear of the L-shaped home.
Here, a shapely Alberta spruce heightens interest in a foundation bed planted with pink phlox, yarrow, coralbells, yews, lamb’s ear, black-eyed Susans, and compliment-evoking maiden grass, which stretches to 8 feet tall.
“We opted for the curved beds because I wanted less lawn. When it came to plants, I wanted a lot of variety and color, which creates gardens that would be appealing year round,” Kathy says.
Kathy points to her quick-growing arborvitae, shiny-leafed hollies, shapely Alberta spruces, and richly textured grasses and hydrangeas as plants that keep her gardens interesting throughout the winter.
To stretch her gardening muscles and find new plants and planting combos, Kathy checks local nurseries, tours botanical gardens, and has joined the Arlington Heights Garden Club.
Her happily acquired knowledge has allowed her to incorporate now-favorite plants and tune in on each plant’s needs. Some of her favorites include butterfly bush, annual and perennial salvias, lavender, primroses, and creeping Jenny (lysimachia congestflora). “I also love clematis, which I plant everywhere, and that tall blue salvia in the circle garden,” says Kathy. “Pink impatiens are ideal for filling in border edges, and I try to use a variety of textures and different shades of green and purple. I love to experiment with plants: They tell me if they like their spot; if they don’t, I’ll move them somewhere else.”
Kathy is happiest when working in her gardens or sharing them with visiting friends. She always makes time to review her plantings and listen to what they have to say. In fact, these plant-person conversations have become a welcome activity.
“The very best part of the day is when I wander around with a cup of coffee to see who’s peeking out at me, to see what’s here that wasn’t here yesterday,” says Kathy. “My gardens give me joy!”
The airy silhouettes of butterfly bushes billow with blue spires. Pink impatiens keep color running high as perennial flowers fade.
Arborvitae, serviceberry, and rose of Sharon provide a verdant backdrop for abundant borders edged with colorful annuals and groundcovers.
After this circular bed’s spring bulbs finish blooming, Kathy adds a new crop of annuals around the in-ground bulbs. She loves this planting bed because it allows her to use annuals in different combinations every year. Here, her favorite bright blue salvia waves above coleus, deep purple salvia, and petunias.
An Amur maple (Acer ginnala) shades a backyard trellis built by Kathy’s son. The trellis supports a clematis and creates a textural backdrop for a perennial border that plays host to hosta, daylilies, iris, and ajuga.
In addition to carrying moisture from roof to gardens, a dangling rain chain introduces a rusty finish that complement the varying greens supplied by low-growing yews, a pyramidal spruce, and a gingko tree’s fan-shaped leaves.
Masses of ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea are anchored with low-growing shrub roses and sprawling sedums.
Like an English garden look? Here are a few tricks to duplicate the charm.
Design curving beds that stretch from your home’s foundation well out into your yard to minimize lawn and mowing chores. Make sure borders are deep enough to accommodate multiple plant layers that carry the eye from earth to clouds. Pair the lush borders with more subdued brick, stone, or pea-gravel paths.
Include English garden mainstays, such as rambling roses, hydrangea, coral bells, bearded iris, daylilies, Oriental lilies, coreopsis, coneflower, black-eyed Susan, and primroses. Display each plant in groups of three for impact. Or, plant small clumps of different plants with same-colored blooms to satisfy your love of diversity while creating easy-on-the-eye flow.
Place plants close together to minimize weeding, and grow several vines on one support to supply two-for-one interest. Include Japanese maples, vines, and climbing roses for vertical interest, but position them so their blooms cascade over adjoining flowerbeds and contribute to the ground-level flower show. Interplant inexpensive annuals to ensure season-long color.
Divide when designing.
Split long and wide borders into sections, and imagine how you can layer low-to-tall plants within each section. Center a focal plant, shrub, or tree in each area, and then install complementary annuals and perennials around it. Visually connect adjoining sections by using similarly colored flowers and like-textured foliage plants as well as by repeating plant combinations.
Master the English garden mix and create horticultural compositions that captivate.
Incorporate annuals, vines, perennials, grasses, and evergreens equipped with leaves, blades, or needles in varying shades of green; then, add in plenty of plants with variegated or vividly colored foliage, such as hosta and coleus.
Use plants that contribute a diverse array of forms and flowers. Include plants with upright, mounding, weeping, cascading, and columnar shapes and that bloom with flowers shaped like spheres, trumpets, spires, bells, and funnels.
Variety is the spice of life—and gardens, too! Combine feathery ferns with broadleafed hostas; place waxy-leaved boxwood next to stiff-needled yews; set fuzzy lamb’s ears at the base of spiny sea holly or globe thistles.
Consider a succession of blooms when choosing perennials to ensure that something’s always flowering during the growing season. Pick plants that have year-round appeal thanks to evergreen foliage, exfoliating bark, brightly hued stems, or a distinctive shape.
The following are a few plants we call “best for the ‘burbs.” They’re durable, hardy, and dependable year after year.
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia selections)
This sun-loving native brightens the landscape with golden blooms from late summer through frost. Zones 3 to 11.
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea selections)
Goldfinches flock to this perennial to dine on its prickly seed head. Very hardy and reliable, this prairie favorite is a must-have for natural gardens. Zones 3 to 9.
Endless Summer Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Endless Summer’)
This mophead hydrangea blooms on both new and old growth, making it ideally suited to cold-weather climes. Zones 4 to 9.
Ornamental onions (Allium selections)
Architectural orbs in colors ranging from white to purplish-blue rise from strappy leaves; bloom times vary by cultivar. Zones 4 to 10.
Peonies (Paeonia selections)
Long-blooming peonies contribute fulsome fragrant forms to well-drained sunny areas from spring into early summer. Zones 2 to 8.
Whether used as groundcovers, specimen plants, or as hedge-like backdrops, ornamental and native grasses contribute season-long interest. Hardiness depends on variety.
Perennial sage (Salvia selections)
Sunloving plants with scented foliage and white, blue, pink, or purple spire-like blooms, these butterfly magnets are a cottage-garden favorite. Hardiness depends on variety.
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