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By Carolyn Gail

Do you have the typical Chicago front yard – over grown or over pruned evergreens that hug your home’s foundation, or my pet peeve, a humongous tree ( usually a Blue Spruce or Magnolia ) completely covering it’s façade and nothing else but a patch of grass ? Or, if it’s a newly constructed house did the builder leave you with a postage stamp size yard, a few shrubs here and there and a tree? Or, no yard at all, just a front stoop?

The front yard is not only your link to the neighborhood but a well designed one speaks of your pride and achievement. Landscaping can add up to 30 percent value to your property and it can make or break a sale.

Ready to do something about your front yard and don’t know where to start? Grab a camera and start walking the streets in your neighborhood. Ask yourself what do I like? Do I like cottage garden design, rock garden design, Japanese garden design, flower garden design or something more contemporary?

Make photos of front yards that are pleasant to your eyes, or better yet, if you happen upon a garden that you like and the resident gardener is in it, strike up a conversation. Gardeners love to share their knowledge. Living on a well-traveled city street I have been approached by many passersby who aren’t shy to ask me about my garden. I’ve struck up quite a few friendships in the process. Lest we forget, gardening is the number one pastime of Americans who spend billions each year on it.

Visit the bookstore or library and read up on small space urban gardens. Clip photos of gardens you like from magazines. There is a wealth of resources on gardening on the internet. A good site for beginners is Click on to their Planning Your Front-Yard Landscape. Another useful website covering many garden topics can be found at, the home and garden section.

If you’ve got a small yard and are a motivated do-it-yourselfer, take your photos and clippings to the local garden center and consult with their knowledgeable staff. Before going print the photos. They’ll be happy to sell you the plant material and supply the free advice needed to install and care for it. Or, you can purchase major items such as trees and shrubs and they’ll plant them for you.

You can also hire a garden designer like me but you’ll still need to know what you like and want. Doing your homework beforehand will save both time and money.

So let’s get growing, Chicagoans and make our motto Urbs in Horto, or City in a Garden, a reality. That goes for Urbanites everywhere. We need our green spaces.
Carolyn Gail is a Garden Designer in Chicago, IL and garden blogger. Her garden blog is titled Sweet Home And Garden Chicago.


  1. Carol I was just thinking about your post last night as the wind was howling and rattling my bedroom windows.

    My neighbors had two large trees planted way to close to the house. When they retired and moved to a warmer climate the new owner didn't like the trees so he had them cut down. Since then there isn't much of a barrier for wind and I'm beginning to miss those poorly planed trees.

  2. Which shows, Mr. Brownthumb, the value of trees as a windbreak. Too bad that the person who planted the trees didn't place them far enough away from the windows, that way you'd still have the effect of the trees reducing the wind, without being too close to the house.

    Even large trees planted in the parkways act as a wind barrier, or provide much needed shade from the hot summer sun.



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