Garden Photo of the Day

Nicki’s Chicago Garden

Narrow garden space transformed

dusty pink daylilies in front of a small japanese maple

Today we’re visiting Nicki’s beautiful garden.

I have been gardening my whole life and in my current suburban Chicago location for 25 years. These photos show a long planting bed along the west side of my backyard.

When we moved here in 1996, the garden was a narrow strip along the fence with a few sedate plants in it. Over the next few years I expanded the boundaries and added plants, but it became clear that the heavy clay soil needed some serious work. On one glorious day about 15 years ago, most of my extended family came over and helped us dig out almost every plant in the bed, shovel in a truckload of composted manure I had delivered to our driveway, and replant. Some people even brought gifts from their own gardens. Thanks to my family’s incredible generosity (and willingness to get very, very dirty), my garden got a new lease on life.

The garden has evolved steadily in the years since then to accommodate increasingly shady conditions as well as new plants and new ideas. Even now, I know there are a lot of plants in it that would prefer more sun. But that’s a project for another year.

garden path with pink shrubs on both sidesThis spring, with blooming horsechestnut (Aesculus × carnea, Zones 5–8) on the left and a garden bed with tricolor beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Tricolor’, Zones 4–7) on the right.

narrow garden bed in summerFront layer: hardy Geranium, Heuchera, Hosta, and Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra, Zones 5–9). Middle layer: iris (Iris hybrid, bearded group, Zones 3–9), daylilies (Hemerocallis hybrid, Zones 4–9), daffodil (Narcissus sp.) foliage, nodding onion foliage (Allium cernuum, Zones 4–8), peonies (Paeonia hybrid, Zones 3–8), Phlox, and a tricolor beech in the foreground. In the back is a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum, Zones 5–9) and a climbing rose (Rosa hybrid, possibly the variety ‘Dr. Huey’, Zones 5–9).

japanese maple next to a dark magenta roseIn this closer view of the bed, the Japanese maple and climbing rose take the limelight.

garden bed against a wooden fenceClematis grows on the wall in the background, daylilies come into bloom, and the blooms of betony (Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’, Zones 4–8) add a splash of pink.

dusty pink daylilies in front of a small japanese mapleThe daylilies look great against the dark leaves of the Japanese maple, especially joined by the bloom flowers of speedwell (Veronica spicata, Zones 3–8).

mix of flowers in garden bedAs betony blooms with balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus, Zones 3–8), the nodding onions are just starting to show their flower buds.


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View Comments


  1. Rebeccazone7 08/10/2021

    Ok have you considered letting other people borrow your family? What gratitude you must have for people who will help. I really like the day lilies against the background of the small Japanese maple. My deer family actually allowed me to enjoy my lilies for quite awhile until the ground hog found them. I've never tried the betony will add to my list.

    1. nicki_s 08/10/2021

      My family really is that awesome, and I'm grateful for them all the time!

      I have trouble with deer mainly in the winter - in summer it's the bunnies.

  2. runfortheroses 08/10/2021

    Love the horsechestnut & beech combo. Nicely done

    1. nicki_s 08/10/2021

      Thank you!

  3. sagebird52 08/10/2021

    Beautiful and tranquil. Great job by all.

  4. gardendevas 08/10/2021

    What a lovely rose! Great with the Japanese maple, and the horse chestnut and beech are gorgeous.

    1. nicki_s 08/10/2021

      An elderly couple in the neighborhood let me dig up that rose when they could no longer manage their garden. I wish I could remember what kind it is. They had a lovely large garden and we used to bring our kids to visit several times each summer.

  5. User avater
    user-7007816 08/10/2021

    What a wonderful space you have created.

  6. User avater
    treasuresmom 08/10/2021

    Love that tricolor beech. Everything is so lovely.

  7. coastalgardener 08/10/2021

    Obviously, the enrichment of your soil has really had an impact. Your garden is just lush and lovely! Good work by everyone involved.

  8. btucker9675 08/10/2021

    This is exactly the kind of garden I love and try to created myself. That play of the colors of the tri-color beech and the horse chestnut is perfection! Your family and friends must feel some pride of ownership whenever they enjoy these lovely spaces.

    1. nicki_s 08/10/2021

      That's so nice of you to say!

  9. User avater
    simplesue 08/10/2021

    Super pretty! I love the story of your extended family all chipping in to help with the soil!
    What a big job, but it sure paid off with all those gorgeous plants!

    1. nicki_s 08/10/2021

      Thank you!

  10. [email protected] 08/10/2021

    I'm curious about the structure against the shed, with the clematis growing on it. It looks like a copper project I always was planning to try and build for my own garden. Love all your pictures, and thank you for sharing!

    1. nicki_s 08/16/2021

      That is, in fact, a copper project - my husband built that and the support that the rose leans on several years ago. I'm glad you enjoyed the photos!

  11. darylsavage 08/11/2021

    That combo of beech and horsechestnut is fabulous. They are two of my favorites. You were so lucky to get that rose; I hope you can find the cultivar. You are the stewards of a beautiful rose.

  12. Mashabear21 08/26/2021

    A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself. Cheers from | Cleveland Decking

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