Details About Our Backyard Landscaping

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…

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!

Choosing boxwoods near the garage

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…

  • Hornbeams
  • Japanese Tree Lilac
  • Boxwoods
  • Coralbells
  • Little Princess Spirea
  • Dwarf Bush Honeysuckles
  • Karl Foerster Grass

Our New Trees

Our new trees in the backyard

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.

Our backyard landscaping included lots of new trees

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!

Japanese tree lilac

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 in our backyard in Chicago

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.

Adding three hornbeam trees to our backyard landscaping

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.

Adding hornbeam trees to our 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!

Our new trees in the backyard

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

Adding color to our backyard

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.

Adding dwarf bush honeysuckles to our yard

Near the deck, we went with two Dwarf Bush Honeysuckles on each side.

Dwarf bush honeysuckle

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.

Coral bells

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…

Princess spirea bushes

along with these Little Princess Spirea. 

Adding boxwoods near the garage

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!

Karl Foerster Grasses

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

Our new pavers in our backyard

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.

Gray rocks for our backyard landscaping

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.

Our Planters

The planters we added to our backyard landscaping

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…

Adding planters with Fall plants to our backyard landscaping

Hen & Chicks, Flame Thrower, Lemon Coral

Our outdoor planters

Mezoo Trailing Red, Sweet Potato Vine, Polka Dot Plant

Adding planters to our backyard

Hen & Chicks, Flame Thrower, Lemon Coral (this planter is old from HomeGoods)

Our backyard landscaping gameplan

Mezoo Trailing Red, Sweet Potato Vine, Polka Dot Plant

Flame thrower 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 Thoughts

Backyard landscaping

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.

What’s Next?

Our new backyard landscaping in Chicago

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.

Our new backyard landscaping

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!


Catch Up On Our Backyard Renovation

The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m a Chicago gal teaching you how to design, DIY, and maintain your home…by yourself! Learn more about me right here.