March 28, 2011

Small Urban Frontyards : A Zen Garden

I designed this Zen Garden for a very small front yard of a contemporary townhouse for clients who wanted a low-maintenance, no-mow landscape.  This garden looks good in every season due to its structure of evergreens, rocks, granite/gravel base and decidious ornamental tree.  Minimal maintenance involved is watering, planting annuals for seasonal color  ( optional ) and removing any leaves that may accumulate in the Fall, for which a leaf blower would be ideal.  To further reduce the maintenance of watering, a low-cost, drip irrigation system with a timer could be added.

For DIYers that would like to tackle this project, I would advise starting by adding amendments to your soil  ( compost and manure for sandy soil; cotton burr compost and black forest soil condition for heavy ) , and begin by selecting and planting the ornamental tree and shrubs.  For small yards, garden centers can tell you how many bagged goods are needed to cover your landscape to a 3-4 inch depth . If your yard is larger, ordering a load of garden mix soil would be more economical. Dig it in well with the native soil.   For the stones and gravel and garden mix topsoil , check out businesses in Chicago under " Landscaping Supplies " that carry these and pay them a visit with measurements of your plot in hand.  Apply the gravel over a layer of paver base to a depth of 2-3 inches after everything is planted, and tamp it down . 

Garden centers usually carry a good selection of water features, soil amendments    statuary and of course, the annuals and perennials as well.

Written by Carolyngail at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago All rights reserved


  1. Looks great Carolyn! They must have quite a progressive association. I have a few townhouse clients (all in the same subdivision.) Their assn. requires them to leave the lawn as is, and they are only allowed to plant in the allotted foundation beds (with my plans approved by the assn.'s landscape committee before I can install.) They do have a good amount of space for gardens, especially for a suburban townhouse development, but still . . . !

  2. Hey Linda,

    These townhomes were unique in that they were joined but had no associations and so could do whatever they pleased.

  3. I really like your style of garden design. I'm not a professional garden designer, but I do enjoy your pictures above. Here in the central portion of Illinois we are still battling the green lawn+ evergreen+ chemical + bland landscape design. People do not understand the concept of feeding native bees, growing native plants and wanting edible foods in your yard. We are often seen as weird and " Are you leaving ANY grass in your yard" So we have to approach carefully how we design our front yards, however, the backyard is game on!...We are from the Chicago area originally, transplanted to central Illinois on the Mississippi many years I am going to explore your blog a bit here and enjoy the wonderful gardens you create!

  4. I hear ya Roberta. Conformity is rampant everywhere! I once designed a beautiful fence for a suburban client and the next Spring when I made a return visit I glanced over to her neighbors to see everyone of them had an identical one - I'm talking about 6 at least! I just had to laugh.

    Keep me posted on your adventures in landscaping and if I can be of any help I'd be happy to give you free advice. Be sure to make the "before and after " photos.


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