We have a pretty big lot for the city of Chicago, so it’s crazy that our 100-year-old home didn’t have one tree on the property! All around our neighborhood there are hundreds of huge, mature trees that create a gorgeous canopy of shade. And then there’s our house…not.one.tree.
Finn and I were really excited to tackle the backyard landscaping because we knew anything would be better than our current setup of grass only and zero shade. While we knew we couldn’t plant large 50-year-old trees, we were excited about the prospect of choosing new ones that would stay with our home for the next 100 years!
But we had to be smart about our backyard landscaping because we live in the midwest and our weather conditions can be pretty harsh. I looked at so many gorgeous exteriors from more temperate climates and had big heart eyes for their year-round plants that thrive. Here, that’s just not a real possibility.
A List of Our New Plants & Trees
In the end, we chatted with our landscaper and came up with a gameplan of low-maintenance (a must for us!) plants and trees that will work well here in the Chicago area. Here’s our list of plants and trees back there…
- Japanese Tree Lilac
- Little Princess Spirea
- Dwarf Bush Honeysuckles
- Karl Foerster Grass
Our New Trees
Okay, so let’s start with what Finn and I believe is the most exciting…our new trees! We ended up going with two Japanese Tree Lilac and three Hornbeams in our backyard. We were originally interested in Pear trees but quickly found out that those trees come with their quirks. I guess they have a particular, ahem, smell to them. Not to mention they’re bad for ecosystems and in some states, they’re totally banned! While I love the look of Pear trees in bloom, we quickly took those off our list.
While our landscaper gave us some good options to look through, Finn really did his research on this one. I’m telling ya, this backyard project has now made Finn an arbor enthusiast. Now, whenever we go on a walk or a drive he will point at every tree and tell me what he likes or dislikes about it. It’s a wild new hobby for him and it cracks me up!
His favorite choice was the Japanese Tree Lilac. While they look a little puny now (we call them “Groot” like from Galaxies of the Guardian), these can grow up to 30 feet tall and they have white fragrant flowers that bloom in the summertime. They are also low-maintenance and don’t require much pruning. (Yes, please!)
Japanese Tree Lilac can tolerate urban pollution and they work well in full sun, which describes our backyard. Oh, and they attract butterflies and hummingbirds. All in all, we love these trees and are eager to watch them grow as we enjoy our house over the next few years.
Near the fence, we went with three Hornbeams. Our goal was to camouflage all of the white from the fencing and gain some privacy on that side of the yard.
Right now, they’re green but come fall they’ll come alive with orange, red, and yellow. I can’t wait to see! Again, this is a tree that doesn’t need much pruning, plus its branches are very strong, which is a must for our windy days!
We were surprised by how big they were when they were installed, because we didn’t think that we wouldn’t be able to get our hands on such mature trees. To our delight, they arrived nice and big and they look amazing!
The Plants We Chose
As for the plants, our main goal was to add more color to our backyard. We lived with only the trees and stone for a while and it became very clear to us that we were craving some color and personality back here.
Near the deck, we went with two Dwarf Bush Honeysuckles on each side.
These add such beautiful color and will grow up to three feet tall…perfect to camoflauge the A/C units and some of the underside of the deck.
In front of these, we added Coralbells to bring in that pretty purple color. We also added more of these purple beauties near the base of our Japanese Tree Lilacs…
along with these Little Princess Spirea.
Originally, we had plans to add a bench and trellis near the garage siding, but we ran out of time this summer. Instead, we just had six boxwoods planted near the garage. These add some color and soft curves to the area and makes the TV area feel a little less lonely!
On the corner of the garage, we added three Karl Foerster Grasses to soften up that edge and bring some height to the area.
The Stone & Rocks
I haven’t chatted much about our pavers back here, but whoa…do we love them! We went with these exact ones from Techo-bloc, in the modular pattern and the color “Greyed Nickel”. It took awhile for the crew to prep the surface for them, but once they were ready, they easily created the pattern and laid them all out. We then went with a tan sand in between, to keep them stable.
As for the rocks, we went with a darker stone here, to pop against the pavers. We were worried that if we went too light it would look bland with the white fence and light stone on the ground. I’m happy we chose this darker gray color.
I already shared a bit about the flowers my mom and I added back here in this blog post, but I figured this would be a good spot to review. I ordered three of these pots from Article (two of the large gray and one small white) and they’re so gorgeous. Here’s what we planted in each…
Hen & Chicks, Flame Thrower, Lemon Coral
Mezoo Trailing Red, Sweet Potato Vine, Polka Dot Plant
Hen & Chicks, Flame Thrower, Lemon Coral (this planter is old from HomeGoods)
Mezoo Trailing Red, Sweet Potato Vine, Polka Dot Plant
I especially love the Flame Thrower plant…how about those vibrant colors?! And it’s wild to me how much these planters have grown over the course of August! They’re now huge and really looking lush and beautiful. I am so happy we added these out here when we did, instead of waiting for our backyard landscaping to be 100% complete.
Overall, we’re very pleased with how it came together. To now have five trees, multiple bushes, and lots of plants back here feels like a dream. It’s colorful, interesting, and full of life! I imagine we’ll continue to tweak our backyard landscaping each spring/summer as we see what works well back here for us.
As you can see from these photos, we still have folding chairs at the outdoor table. But our new chairs juuuust arrived, so I’ll be sharing the details about all of our outdoor furniture, including our new sectional, in my next backyard update! Be on the lookout for that blog post on Monday, September 13th.
I’ll be taking off the next week for my quarterly blog break to catch up on behind-the-scenes work and spend some time with my family. Have a wonderful Labor Day weekend, friends!Casey
Catch Up On Our Backyard Renovation
- Yardzen Design Plans
- Backyard Renovation Kickoff
- Backyard Renovation Progress (2 Weeks In)
- Our New A/C Units
- Deck Progress
- Painting the Garage Door
- How to Install String Lights
- Backyard To-Do List
- Backyard To-Do List: Progress
- How to Protect Teak Furniture
- Our New Outdoor TV
- Backyard Landscaping Details
- Our Outdoor Furniture
- The Big Backyard Reveal
- Backyard Renovation Lessons We Learned