All posts by gms-user

chicago flowers

5 Chicago-Area Places to Visit to See Flowers, Plants, and More for Design Inspiration

As the weather becomes warmer, many homeowners start thinking about redesigning and landscaping their gardens and yards. If you’re eager to start working in your garden, but need some ideas or inspiration, there are a few great venues in the Chicago area that you can visit if you’re eager to get your creative juices flowing.

Wicker Park Community Garden

Spread over more than 10,000 square feet, plants in these gardens at 1425 N. Damen Avenue are maintained and designed by volunteers from the Wicker Park Garden Club. Visitors to the garden will be able to enjoy seeing a fantastic array of plants and colorful flowers, along with several native bird species. Visitors can stroll through these gardens as often as they like to obtain inspiration or to simply enjoy the relaxing environment. Various activities are available to partake in as well.

Cornell Oasis Community Garden

Located at 5491 S. Shore Drive, this community garden is home to numerous varieties of wildflowers, ferns, woodlands species, birds and butterflies. Spread over 42 impressive garden plots, visitors will not only enjoy a relaxing walk through the grounds; community members grow many different organic vegetables on some of the plots as well. Guided birding and butterfly experiences are also available for members of the public to enjoy.

Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse

Situated at 3501 N. Kilbourn Avenue, visitors can enjoy seeing a wide variety of beautiful and attractive plants, while also learning a lot about tending their own gardens at home. Several opportunities are available for members of the public to volunteer their time and expertise here virtually all year round and various events are held such as plant swaps, demonstrations on growing various vegetables, flowers and other plants in the most sustainable ways possible.

The Bahá’í House of Worship

Located at 100 Linde Avenue, the temples on this property are surrounded with lush, beautiful gardens that visitors are able to spend time in every day of the year. Plants and trees that can be found in these gardens include more than twenty-four flower varieties and Chinese juniper trees. Some of the main aspects that these gardens are known for are their superb arrangements of more than 10,000 individual tulip flowers.

Chicago Botanic Garden

This garden can be found at 1000 Lake Cook Road and it has become well known for its extensive collection of bonsais, along with 26 gardens that have been dedicated to four separate habitats such as lakes, woods, shores and prairies. The master plan for this garden was originally designed in 1890.

Each of the above-mentioned locations will not only be a pleasure to visit; you will be able to learn a lot about the various plant, bird and butterfly species that abound in them, as well as gain inspiration for your next large garden or landscaping project. If you would like to find out more about the best types of plants to have in your garden, contact us for professional advice.

protect flowers rain

Ideas to Protect your Plants during Summer Downpours

After spending hours or even days planting your new flowers and shrubs, the last thing you’ll want to experience is having your hard work decimated by heavy summer downpours. Below are some tips that can be used to help provide your plants with a little extra protection.

Proper Runoff is Essential

Before attempting any of the measures below, it’s important to check that your garden has sufficient runoff. This means that rainwater needs to be directed away from your garden instead of damming up in the center.

Start by Protecting Roots

The quickest and easiest way to protect the roots of plants against a downpour is to spread mulch around them. Apply a two to three inch thick layer around the roots area of each plant, but ensure that it doesn’t cover any of the foliage. Ensure that the mulch is spread generously.

Provide Coverage wherever Possible

Individual plants can be covered with overturned bowls, pots, buckets or virtually any other containers that are large enough to protect them against heavy rainfall. You may need to weigh each of these coverings down with pieces of rock, brick or even old cement pavers to ensure that they don’t blow away or overturn when the rain becomes heavy.

Some Plants can be Wrapped

Some plants will benefit from being wrapped in durable fabric, such as burlap sacking – this will provide them with much needed protection against heavy rain. Ensure that the burlap is securely tied with twine and plant a few additional garden stakes for extra stability if needed. Where there are newly planted trees, these should also be wrapped in this manner.

Plant Row Covers

Beds of smaller plants can be covered with a floating row cover or frost blanket before heavy rains start, and this will provide adequate protection in most cases. If you intend using a cover like this, it’s essential to ensure that a little extra room is left on each side of the row cover so that it can be fastened down or weighted with heavy objects in the event of strong winds picking up.

Provide Anchors for Shrubs and Trees

Newly planted shrubs and trees could suffer severe damage as a result of a heavy summer downpour if they aren’t provided with adequate protection. Young shrubs and trees can be anchored by pounding two to three foot long stakes into the ground until they are about 20 inches deep. Ensure that these are angled away from the plants before tying the twine and securing it to the stakes.

Keeping up with weather reports in your area will enable you to plan ahead with regards to protecting your most delicate plants from the after effects of heavy rainfalls. If you would like to find out more about providing your plants with adequate protection and the best possible level of care, our professional team will be able to assist you in this regard. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with us.

plant caretaking

No Green Thumb? Here are 5 Tips to Improve your Plant Caretaking Skills

Are you a homeowner who dreams of having lush lawns and gloriously gorgeous gardens, but don’t seem to have fingers that are green enough to make this happen? If this is the case, the hints and tips below have been compiled especially to help property owners like you to not only learn how to plant your garden, but how to provide it with the best possible care over time as well.

Less is More where Water is Concerned

Most plants will recover quicker if they have been deprived of water than if they have been overwatered. If one of your plants has been overwatered, it may need to be repotted and have any unhealthy-looking roots trimmed off. If the plant is in your garden outside, it will need to be relocated to another spot that is drier.

Keep a Sharp Eye out for Bugs

Although most novice gardeners think that bugs will only cause cosmetic damage to their plants, this is not the case.  Damage caused to leaves and other parts of a plant by bugs provides the ideal opportunity for harmful bacteria and viruses to enter them. Bugs also act as carriers of various plant-related diseases, so it’s important to eliminate them as quickly as possible.

Use the Right Fertilizer Correctly

It’s often thought that all fertilizers are he same. However, different varieties have been specifically formulated for various types of plants and soil, so it’s essential to use it only as directed.

Using too much fertilizer can cause plant roots to burn, which will affect their ability to withstand bad weather. Plants with damaged roots will also not be able to absorb as much water as they need, resulting in premature wilting.

Before using any fertilizer, it’s recommended that you have your garden soil tested by a reputable garden center or extension agency. The level of acidity or alkalinity in your soil will help determine the best types of fertilizer products to use.

Consider a Self-watering Planter

If you’re constantly busy or simply don’t have as much time to spend tending your plants as you’d like to have, it may be possible to ensure that they are at least watered at the recommended intervals. Place a potted plant into a container that is slightly larger than the one the plant itself is in, put a little water at the bottom of the larger container and run a piece of string up into the plant pot. Water will travel up the string and provide liquid refreshment for your plant.

Drainage is Important

After bringing new plants home, ensure that the containers they are being placed into have sufficient drainage. This will prevent overwatering and save plant roots from rotting as a result of standing in too much water.

If you’re new to gardening and would like to learn more about caring for the plants you’ve chosen, don’t hesitate to contact us right away. Our team looks forward to assisting you.


colorful flowers

The Importance of Color Contrast in your Flower Garden

While planning your garden, one of the main aspects you’ll most likely be considering is how much color you’d like it to have. Although it may seem easy to simply place assorted colored plants and flowers at random throughout your garden, it’s important to take color contrast into consideration as well.

Considering Warm and Cool Colors

Flowers and plants in cool colors will provide you with a completely different effect when compared to those that are classified as being warm colors. Reds, yellows and oranges are warm colors and they are known for being highly expressive. They also tend to catch the eye quicker than cool colored flowers in most cases.

Purples, violets and blues are classified as cool colors and they are usually a little less conspicuous, but more subtle than their warm counterparts. Cool colors will produce a relaxing effect on their own, but will make for a vibrant show if paired with flowers in warm colors.

Personal Preferences

Using color contrast to create various combinations of flowers and foliage is what will give your garden the personal touch you desire. If you’re aiming for a garden with various contrasting color combinations, it’s recommended that you combine colors that are further away from each other on the color wheel.

Combining contrasting colors from opposite ends of the color wheel will create exciting color combinations that are sure to attract everyone’s attention while they’re admiring your garden. For instance, planting red and violet flowers next to each other, or yellow and blue, orange and purple or even violet and white flowers alongside each other will provide beautiful contrasts throughout your garden.

When using your color wheel, it’s important to remember that the further away from each other two specific colors are, the more of a contrasting result will be obtained.

Don’t Forget that Foliage

Although the flowers you choose will be the most eye-catching component of your garden, it’s just as important to give consideration to the foliage plants that you’ll be planting to accompany them.

Many perennials or plants that are used as foliage have leaves in various colors such as yellow-green, deep purple, spotted or striped patterns and even silvery-colored varieties. Taking these into account when working with your color wheel will help you create nothing less than a spectacularly colorful and well-designed garden – which will be the envy of family and friends.

Also keep in mind that some flowers will grow just as well if used in containers that are placed throughout your garden. These can also be moved around from time to time for some added variety if they aren’t too large or heavy.

If you’ve been considering planning your flower garden and require a little professional help with regards to selecting the correct flowers and foliage plants for your hardiness zone, we have professionals on hand who will be able to assist you. Contact our friendly team today to schedule an appointment with one of our experts.



Top 5 Landscaping Tools Every Homeowner Should Have

Spring weather is here and many Chicago-area homeowners are excited about preparing their landscaping, flower beds, and gardens. Below, you can discover five of the most important tools to help you achieve your springtime landscaping goals.

#1 – A Great Pair of Gloves

Believe it or not, things like pulling weeds and moving plants can take a toll on your hands. Not only can you find species like stinging nettle, which will prick your skin and leave a fiery burning sensation behind, but you might also run into poison ivy, sumac, or oak – all of which can leave you miserable. What’s more, certain weeds have very strong roots, and attempting to pull them with your bare hands can lead to cuts and abrasions. Invest in a good, strong pair of gloves made especially for gardening and landscaping to protect your hands while you work.

#2 – A Wheelbarrow

Whether you’re pulling weeds, moving your starter plants to the perfect area of the yard, or even hauling paving stones from the back door to the edge of the lawn, a wheelbarrow will make these tasks much faster – and it will also save your back from the repetitive bending motion. Wheelbarrows may appear to be one-size-fits-all, but not all were created equal. Some give you incredible control over the movement, some are collapsible for saving storage space, and some are even self-propelled. There’s a wide variety from which to choose, so get a wheelbarrow that best suits your needs

#3 – A Lawnmower (with Extras!)

It may still be a few weeks before the combination of warmer temperatures, longer days, and more rain brings your lawn back to life, but now is the perfect time to make certain that you have the best lawnmower for your needs. It’s critical for maintaining your landscape, and you can choose from several options. If you have a very small lawn and you want to reduce your carbon footprint, you might choose a cylinder mower that requires no gas or electricity. On the other hand, if you have very large lawn, you might want to opt for a ride-on lawnmower or even a lawn tractor.

#4 – A Weed Trimmer

Trimming is an essential part of a well-groomed lawn, and like wheelbarrows and lawnmowers, there are several different trimmer options from which you can choose. Ideally, you’ll want to invest in a cordless option that gives you the freedom to move from place to place without being tied to an outlet. You can find rechargeable electric options with removable batteries, but you might also choose a standard gas-powered trimmer. If your lawn is very small, though, corded electric trimmers tend to be the most affordable options. Weigh your needs and your budget to choose the trimmer for your needs. 

#5 – A Garden Hose

Once you have your plants in their perfect places, you will need to find a way to keep them hydrated. Some homeowners rely on sprinkler systems that come on automatically to provide a drink at just the right time of the day, but most use a garden hose for more accuracy and control. You can find highly affordable hoses online and in most home improvement stores, but these can be frustrating when they kink and leak. A quality rubber hose that is thick enough to resist kinks and also comes with heavy-duty brass couplings at either end will not only reduce frustration but will also last for years with proper care and storage.

These five essential spring landscaping tools will provide you with the basics to groom your lawn back to life. Of course, you can also rely on a trusted professional to help you design, create, and maintain the landscape of your dreams – even if you still like to get out and care for it yourself now and then.



Why Now is the Best Time to Put Together a Springtime Landscaping Plan

If you’re dreaming of longer days and warmer temperatures, you are certainly not alone. Winters in the Chicago area can seem endless, but spring is here. In fact, if you haven’t put together your springtime landscaping plan, now is the perfect time to do so. Here are a few reasons to start now along with a few things to consider.

Determine Who Will Do the Work

One of the first things you should think about early on is how you will establish your springtime landscape. Do you want to make only a few small changes, or will you completely redesign things from the ground up? Are you familiar enough with the area and landscaping as a whole to design it yourself, or would you be better off calling a professional to help you with design, implementation, and maintenance? If you decide to hire a professional, calling early in the season is by far the best way to make sure you meet your landscaping goals on time.

Establish New Plantings & Germinating

When you start planning early enough in the season, it’s possible to have your plants established at the perfect time to put them in the ground. This is especially true if you’re thinking about growing certain flowers or vegetables from seed; it can take some time to germinate them, and in many cases, doing so indoors is the best way to protect the plant from the possibility of a cold snap in the early spring months.

Consider Your Maintenance Needs

If you have a fairly solid idea of what sort of things you want to plant for the upcoming warmer months, then you can also take the time to plan a maintenance schedule. Think about things like the number of plants you will have – trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetables, especially – and then determine the work that goes into caring for them throughout the season. You also have the ability to call on a professional landscaping team to help you maintain your landscape if the yard of your dreams turns out to be more work than you anticipated.

Get Your Orders in Early

Unless you plan to grow everything from seed, late winter is the best time to put your order in with a local nursery. Decide on the type and quantity of plants you want for your landscape, then call or visit your local nursery to place an order. Though you can wait until you are ready to plant to take a trip and browse the selection, once the warmer months have arrived, there’s no way to guarantee that you’ll be able to find the pink pansies you really had your eye on. If you want specific plants, early orders are best.

Springtime landscaping can be a lot of fun whether you choose to do it all yourself or hire a professional landscaper to help you design it. Either way you go, it’s always best to plan things early so that you have everything you need to get the job done when the time comes.


Landscape Lights

Want to Spruce Up Your Landscaping? Try New Lighting

If you have worked hard on your landscaping but something still isn’t quite right, or even if you want to add a finishing touch, but you aren’t quite sure what it is, lighting could be the missing key. Lighting plays an important role in the way your landscape looks, especially at night. Below are some ways to utilize new lighting to really spruce up your landscape.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Lighting

The first thing to keep in mind when it comes to choosing lighting for your landscape is the difference between indoor and outdoor lighting. For instance, you won’t need to worry much about reflection outdoors since surfaces tend to stay dark and won’t reflect much light at all. Glare could be an issue, though, so you will want to make sure you position your lights so they illuminate the right areas while still shielding them in such a way that they don’t hurt your eyes when you look toward them.

Direct vs. Indirect Lighting

Another important consideration is the difference between direct and indirect lighting. A direct light is something designed to illuminate a specific object or relatively small area, such as your entry door or a flag on a flagpole. Indirect lighting, on the other hand, is designed to provide a soft wash of light on all the surfaces it reaches. The most aesthetic landscapes make use of both direct and indirect lighting in ways that are not only pleasing to the eye, but also functional for visitors.

Areas to Consider Lighting

Now that you have read about the differences between indoor, outdoor, direct, and indirect lighting, it’s time to choose where you will put your lights. The most popular areas for landscape lighting are:

  • Walkways – Lighting up a walkway at night is always a great idea. You can use soft illumination, or you can use carefully-placed direct lighting depending on the aesthetic you choose. Not only does this make walkways safer (and in many cases, cities and neighborhoods require lighted walkways), but it also extends a warm welcome to visitors and adds a sense of coziness to your home.
  • Entries – A direct light that illuminates your entry door is another great option. Even if you forget to leave your porch/patio light on, the outdoor direct light should provide you with enough illumination to find your keys and unlock the door. Consider a single direct light overhead or two lights on either side. Never light an entry door from the bottom since your shadow will block the light when you stand in front of the door.
  • Patios, Decks, and Gazebos – These are important landscaping features and when they are well-lit, they are stunning. You can use direct lights to highlight important areas, such as the grill or the hot tub, and you can use indirect light to show off the architecture. Ideally, you will want to consider a combination of both.
  • Your Home’s Architecture – Depending on how your home is built, using outdoor lighting to highlight its architecture can add a unique flair. For example, you can use indirect outdoor lighting to cast shadows from plants along an outside wall and give it a subtle glow. You might also choose to use a direct light to focus on decorative walls or features.

As you can see, lighting can have a tremendous impact on your home’s curb appeal, especially at night. It provides extra safety for your family and your visitors by illuminating their path and your entry doors. Finally, with the right types of lighting used in all the right places, it can highlight all the best features of your home and provide unique interest.

Plants that Grow Well During Cold Chicago Spring

Whether you are brand new to the Chicago area or you have been here for years, you have likely been introduced to the freezing cold temperatures that come with being so far north – and so close to the Great Lakes. Though it can certainly get too cold for many species, there are numerous flowers, trees, and shrubs that can thrive – even in Chicago’s freezing spring months.


Pansies are long-time Chicago area favorites. They might look delicate, but they’re incredibly hardy and they come in a wide range of colors to suit your landscaping preferences. While most flowers wither away in winter and don’t show themselves again until late spring or even mid-summer, pansies are early bloomers – particularly when winters are relatively mild. To optimize growth, plant them in highly visible areas where people will be certain to notice the pretty blooms, even when most everything else is still dormant.

Moss Phlox

Pretty ground-covering plants are always great for lining walkways and patios, and moss phlox is a fantastic choice for Chicago’s cold spring months. It has numerous cultivars from which to choose: some have white flowers with bold pink stripes, some have white-tipped flowers that fade to deep purple centers, and still others are pale pink or even lavender. 

Ornamental Onion

Ornamental onion, also known as alliums, can be found growing wild in some parts of the region – especially along shorelines. They’re colorful, long-lasting, and relatively large, so they make a great piece to add to the back of your flowerbeds where the bright heads will contrast nicely with the walls of your home or building. If you have issues with wildlife like rabbits or even squirrels digging at your flowers for their next meal, ornamental onion could very well keep them away. Consider using them as a protective barrier for the plants that these critters tend to favor the most.

Japanese Black Pine

If you’ve avoided pine trees in your landscaping because you believe them to be boring, the Japanese black pine may surprise you. Not only does it come in a full-size form that can grow as high as 50 feet and provide a great deal of shade year-round, but it can also be found in a dwarf cultivar known as “Thunderhead” that stays small and grows very slowly – only to about six feet tall in 10 years. When properly cared for and pruned, you could use the full-sized version as a canopy for an outdoor seating area, and you can keep the smaller variety in a large pot to decorate gazebo entries and patios.

Blue Oat Grass

Finally, if you’re looking for a clumping grass that you can use to accent bright colors from ornamental onions, pansies, and other early bloomers this spring, blue oat grass is a phenomenal addition to your landscape. Not only does it thrive in the early spring, but it offers something of interest all year round. It grows in a rounded-off mound that grows to two to three feet in height, and while the traditional cultivar is a green-gray blue color, it can sometimes be a bright teal blue or even a pinkish color. It’s a great option for planting along sidewalks, but it will require some trimming here and there.

Each of these plants grows incredibly well in Chicago’s early spring months, and some, such as the Japanese black pine and blue oat grass, will provide interest and greenery throughout the coldest winter months, too. To learn more, or to design a landscape that includes these and other hardy plants, contact your trusted landscaping professional today.

5 Shrubs that Produce Fruit or Flowers in the Wintertime

The Chicago area falls within the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone 5, and while there are many plants that simply cannot tolerate the cold winters, others certainly will – especially shrubs. Below, you can learn more about some of the most beautiful fruiting and flowering shrubs that will give your landscape some color or texture during the coldest winter months.

#1 – Black Chokeberry

Black chokeberry can add pops of color to your landscape – long after all your other plants have stopped fruiting and flowering. It exudes fragrant, pinkish white flowers in spring. In the late summer, these flowers reveal gorgeous black berries that last well into winter months, and contrast nicely with the bright pinkish-red foliage. The best part? You can even make jams and jellies with chokeberry for a wintertime treat!

#2 – Red Osier Dogwood

This is a medium-sized shrub that looks incredibly interesting throughout the year. In the summer, gorgeous foliage is often variegated for interest. Once foliage is gone in winter, the shrub reveals stunning red stems with brilliant, white berries that add texture and fun to any wintertime landscape. It grows as high as nine feet tall, and can get as wide as 12 feet, but gardeners find the Red Osier dogwood is easy to trim into shape.

#3 – Winterberry (Red Sprite Variety)

As its name would suggest, winterberry (namely, the Red Sprite variety) is a very small shrub that provides color and beauty all year round. It’s a holly bush that offers gorgeous greenish-white flowers in warmer months. Following, insanely bright red berries show in winter. If you’re a fan of birds (and who doesn’t love their sound in dreary winter months?), this is the shrub for you – birds that don’t migrate can’t seem to get enough of the winterberry fruits.

#4 – Oregon Grape Holly

The Oregon Grape Holly is a unique shrub that you won’t see very often, and makes an ideal conversation starter in your landscape! It grows best in the shade; up to six feet tall and five feet wide. In winter, the leaves turn a deep, dark burgundy. In spring, you’ll notice bright yellow flowers with a bit of fragrance. In summer, blooms fall away to reveal blue-purple berries. These will stick around until the cold sets in for good, and can be plucked and eaten or turned into delicious jam. How lovely!

#5 – Snowberry (Hancock Variety)

Finally, if you love bright colors, it’s hard to go wrong with the Hancock variety of the snowberry shrub. First, this shrub provides phenomenal ground cover, and is particularly adept at preventing weed growth. But its real appeal is made evident in late summer, fall and winter. Starting in late August, pink bell-shaped flowers will begin to sprout from the tips of the branches. Then, the flowers are delightfully replaced with white fruits with red speckles, that attract numerous bird varieties in fall and early winter.

Though Chicago winters can be downright cold, there are still plenty of shrubs known for their ability to produce flowers or fruit (even in January and February)! We hope you explore and enjoy all of these are great options, and if you need help planting or caring for your chokeberry, dogwood, winterberry, snowberry, or holly bushes and shrubs, Martin John Landscaping has the tools and expertise to keep your shrubs looking amazing all year. Happy landscaping!

Don’t Forget to Cut Back Your Perennials Now

In gardening terms, “cutting back” refers to reducing the size of a plant. Some perennials fare better through the winter when they are trimmed back prior to the colder months. Others rely on their foliage for protection, so they should be trimmed only in spring. Below, you can learn more about which perennials should be cut back in the springtime to ensure their health and create a beautiful home garden.

What Does “Cutting Back” Really Mean?

Cutting back is the act of reducing the size of a plant for various reasons, including to help promote better branching, to control the plant’s size, or even to help a plant rejuvenate and become healthier. When it comes to perennials, the act of “topping” – removing material down to two inches above ground level – is ideal, but only for some plants. Though some perennials fare better when topped in the winter, there are some – including asters, black-eyed Susan, campanula, foxglove, hostas, and more – that should be left alone in winter and trimmed back in spring. 

Which Perennials Should Be Cut Back?

The list of perennials that should be left to go dormant in the winter and trimmed back in the spring is exhaustive, but some of the most common include:

  • Asters – Asters require a bit of work during the blooming season. They must be pinched and forced in order to get the gorgeous blooms seen on television and on magazines, so by the time winter rolls around, they’re best just left alone to rejuvenate. Come spring, they can be trimmed back to your liking.
  • Black-Eyed Susan – These are incredibly resilient flowers. While you absolutely can cut them back in the winter, many hobbyists choose to leave them alone because the seeds found on their heads are fantastic for feeding non-migrating bird species. If you leave the heads on during the winter, be sure to cut them back in the fall.
  • Campanula – Campanula is fairly fast-growing. Many gardeners find themselves tending to the foliage in the summertime to remove any dead or damaged leaves and encourage more blooming. But because campanula continue to grow through fall, it is best left alone in late fall and winter, and only trimming back in the spring.
  • Hosta – Hosta foliage is quite delicate. Leaving it alone through the winter for frost protection is ideal. In the spring, trim it into the desired shape. Remove any dead or damaged leaves.
  • Mums – Leave the foliage alone through the winter; it will do an excellent job of protecting the crown.
  • Valerian – Valerian is a beautiful addition to any garden. If you’re going to cut it back, it’s best done in late summer months. Then, leave it be through winter. Valerian struggles in colder zones, but if you can avoid cutting it back once fall rolls around, it’s much more likely to survive.

Understanding which perennials to cut back in spring is sure to help you enjoy your garden all throughout the year. Of course, you may also prefer to leave your grasses, foliage, and blooms to expert professionals who can provide all the services you need to keep your garden looking fresh throughout the year!