As a part of our whole backyard overhaul last year, we built in DIY raised planter beds. Although we were sure to insulate them (before filling them with a literal ton of soil and compost), we were a bit nervous that all our effort would be wasted on our cold Chicago winters. We’re still learning how to properly care for plants, and this house has really helped to show us the way; the front and back yards, the heaps of natural daylight and our endless persistence has us getting better with time. After years of soggy, or on the contrary, crispy plants, we’ve found our groove (here’s a roundup of our tried and true favorite houseplants), but still, we were crossing all our fingers that our research and prep would allow our outdoor beds to return and thrive this season.
So! You can imagine our relief when at the first signs of spring, we saw life! As a bit of back story, we paid for an hour of a nursery consultant’s time to steer us in the right direction towards Chicago-weather-loving plants, and although we had to replace a few (and fill in a small empty pocket or two) at the start of summer, all in all, we were jumping for joy that our hard work had paid off! Remember how our beds looked in May? Here they are as we transition into fall:
When we were in the initial planning stages, we told the consultant that as the plants mature each year, our goal was for them to look like a ‘big, tangled mess.’ Although that sounds, well, messy, our idea was to have overflowing beds where one flower blended into the next. We wanted to see leafy greens amongst a palette of mostly pinks, purples and white, and one year after planting, I think we finally got that look!
The clematis has been happily climbing up our DIY modern trellis, and although I admitted to not loving the look of this plant immediately, it’s beginning to grow – ha! – on me. The leaves look a little weed-like to me, but it’s a fast grower, and it’s at this time of year that they’ll start to pop with mini white flowers! Over the course of the season, we’ve wrapped the unruly limbs around the trellis to help it stay on course, and it only got stronger (we watched as the green stems turned to brown branches!) and more full with every passing week.
We’ve learned that the ceratostigma is slow to break through the soil, as it wasn’t until well into June that we saw a substantial amount of buds breaking through. Once they found their way, they haven’t stopped! It’s a lower ground cover, and below, you can see the ceratostigma filling in around the base of our pencil holly tree. In the last couple of weeks, we began to see its purple-y-blue flowers bloom, too:
The pinky winky hydrangea we planted in the corner has already started to yellow, but it has easily tripled – quadrupled? – in size since last year! At the start of the season, we added blue rug junipers to the base of the hydrangea to visually break up all the dark stain of the boxes. You can see it creeping down the boxes in the photo below, and although it has only grown a small amount, we’re hoping it’s taking this time to establish its little roots.
One of the first plants to make a comeback this spring were the stonecrops we have scattered throughout all of the boxes. It’s my personal favorite (the hearty leaves are strong and thick!), and we’ve enjoyed watching the flowers turn from fresh green to deep pink to golden:
The echinacea (coneflowers) have made their appearance, although they aren’t as abundant as we would have thought. Perhaps the ceratostigma is choking them out? Even still, they’re tall and lean, and we’ve always loved their vibrant yellow and orange centers:
Some of the ornamental onions (the wispy ball-shaped plants below) peaked early, showing off their purple Dr. Suess-like flowers in July. They’ve stuck around, but the purple has faded to a dull brown, which is a bit of a bummer. (Plant lovers, do we leave them be, or should we dead head them?) The lavender – just to the right of the onions – that we thought wouldn’t make it has come on strong in the last month, which was a pleasant surprise.
On the other side of the garden, the baptisia has been a champion! In our May update post, we were certain that we lost this guy. And then suddenly, small buds of green and purple stems began to skyrocket! Over the course of the season, we’ve had to cut it back twice, and we’ll bring the leafy cuttings inside to display in a vase on the dining table.
Scott and I like to enjoy as many meals as we can al fresco, and we’ll still marvel at how far this patio has come from one year ago. Every morning, Jack and CC enjoy a morning nap at the top of the staircase, and if the sun is too warm, they’ll mosey around the patio until they find the just-right sliver of shade. It’s so sweet – almost as sweet as CC on her porch swing – although their absolute favorite activity is to squeeze onto the big fireplace chairs with our friends.
Our plan is to allow the plants to die down as the warm weather turns to frost. Last winter, we didn’t cut them back into the first buds of spring, which seemed to work out great. But for anyone with a much greener thumb than us, how do you prepare your perennials for colder weather?
Pavers: Lowe’s | DIY table | metal stacking chairs | wicker chairs | oval Morocco lounge chairs | pouf | thick outdoor rug | jute dog cushion | Sunbrella pillows | jute pillows w/ black piping | crochet pillow | large white table umbrella | cobalt gooseneck light | black farmhouse light | DIY planters | fireplace | outdoor speakers | sliding kitchen door | DIY Trellis | staircase paint and stain: Extra White railings, Flagstone opaque stain by Sherwin Williams