Landscaping Ideas from the Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden
Get secrets for creating the garden of your dreams from the Chicago Botanical Garden.

Occupying nearly 400 acres and displaying more than 2 million plants, you're sure to find something of interest at the Chicago Botanic Garden. It hosts 24 display gardens, including world-renowned collections of ginkgo, oak, serviceberry, and perennial geraniums.

Celebrate the Seasons

Visiting your favorite public garden is a great way to learn about stunning plant combinations for different seasons. At the Chicago Botanic Garden, for example, you can see displays such as these candy-color tulips and how well they echo the blooms of crabapples.

Notice Plant Shapes

You'll view a wide array of plant forms when you visit your local garden, which gives you ideas about how to incorporate the these shapes in your yard. For example, rounded clusters of rhododendron blooms play off a pond and several shade trees. A square gazebo and low wall create excitement by offering contrast.

Make Great Containers

Most botanic gardens feature a number of stunning containers, which generates ideas on creating similar containers in your yard. Here, for example, something as common as geraniums put on a brilliant show in classic-looking square containers against a backdrop of green.

Incorporate Edibles

There's no reason fruits, vegetables, and herbs have to be hidden away. The Chicago Botanic Garden, like many other public gardens, features plants that look and taste good. Here, colorful Swiss chard mixes with mustard greens and lovely violas.

Choose the Right Varieties

Your local botanical garden is a great resource for finding the best varieties for your yard. For example, many wisterias can be difficult in Chicago's Zone 5 climate, but you may see selections at the CBG such as 'Blue Moon' or 'Aunt Dee' that bloom more reliably in areas with cold winters.

Consider All Spaces

When it comes to garden design, think of your yard like a room of your house. In this photo, for example, a brick path makes for a lovely floor, while perennials and low hedges are attractive walls. But the real impact comes from the ceiling -- climbing roses draped over a simple pergola.

Naturalize Bulbs

Let spring-blooming bulbs naturalize in beds and borders -- even your lawn. Naturalizing means planting the bulbs randomly and letting them spread like wildflowers. The result is a one-of-a-kind display that gets better every year.

Include Water

Water can play many roles in the garden: It's sure to attract birds; moving water adds lovely sounds that filter out noise; and still water has a wonderful reflective quality. You can design with a water feature in so many ways, too; use a fountain as a focal point, a stream as landscape accent, or a barrel to showcase a dramatic lotus.

Add Architectural Plants

Architectural plants, such as the trees and shrubs in the Chicago Botanic Garden's Japanese section, offer unique shapes and branching habits -- and add character to your landscape. You don't need a collection -- just one or two make your yard special.

Employ Evergreens

Evergreens grow in a wonderful range of shapes, colors, and sizes. A weeping hemlock, for example, shines against a dwarf white pine and row of columnar arborvitae. Consider including flowering evergreens, such as rhododendron and mountain laurel, in your landscape for even more interest.

Go with Curves

The unique curves of the bridge in this photo catch the eye. We know you probably don't have the opportunity to re-create this exact look in your yard, but you can add curves in other ways. For example, give your beds and borders soft, undulating edges. Or redo an old garden path so it meanders gracefully.

Mix Up Your Plants

It used to be that gardeners grew plants like they saw them in nurseries -- grouped by annuals, perennials, bulbs, etc. But you can create garden magic by mixing them. Here, alliums shine against fuchsia-pink snapdragons, variegated 'Frosty Morn' sedum, burgundy and pink Magilla perilla, and other plants.

Add Vertical Interest

Tall, upright varieties such as foxgloves, hollyhocks, and delphiniums look like exclamation points, adding visual excitement to the garden. For major impact, repeat them throughout the landscape.

Include Fragrant Plants

One of your first instincts when you see a flower is to smell it, right? So don't disappoint your nose! Include plants with sweetly scented flowers or foliage in your landscape. The sensory plantings featured at many botanical gardens are a great way to get ideas.

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