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posted: 12/16/2012 5:27 AM

Landscape architect uses her yard design to teach others

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  • Laura Christensen, a Wheaton landscape architect, has completely transformed her yard and shares her techniques with garden clubs in the area.

       Laura Christensen, a Wheaton landscape architect, has completely transformed her yard and shares her techniques with garden clubs in the area.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • With a goal of creating a wild area in the back yard, with curved lines and focal points for interest, Laura Christensen transformed her Wheaton landscape. These blue chairs stand out all year long, but provide a strong pop of color against a snowy winter landscape.

       With a goal of creating a wild area in the back yard, with curved lines and focal points for interest, Laura Christensen transformed her Wheaton landscape. These blue chairs stand out all year long, but provide a strong pop of color against a snowy winter landscape.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Christensen worked on plenty of seasonal containers for customers this holiday season. Her tip? Combine textures for varied interest. Here is the container she put together for her front porch.

       Christensen worked on plenty of seasonal containers for customers this holiday season. Her tip? Combine textures for varied interest. Here is the container she put together for her front porch.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Laura Christensen is a landscape architect who has completely transformed her Wheaton yard.

       Laura Christensen is a landscape architect who has completely transformed her Wheaton yard.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • The front of Laura Christensen's Wheaton home comes alive with color in the spring with silver maple at left, a blue bench for relaxing and lots of spring flowers.

      The front of Laura Christensen's Wheaton home comes alive with color in the spring with silver maple at left, a blue bench for relaxing and lots of spring flowers.
    Courtesy of Laura Christensen

  • Christensen's winter backyard landscape is serene with a pop of color from the blue chairs in the back of the yard and the berries in the container near the house.

      Christensen's winter backyard landscape is serene with a pop of color from the blue chairs in the back of the yard and the berries in the container near the house.
    Courtesy of Laura Christensen

  • Fall brings a new set of colors to Christensen's landscape.

      Fall brings a new set of colors to Christensen's landscape.
    Courtesy of Laura Christensen

  • Summer in the front yard is full of shade and shade-loving plants under the silver maple tree.

      Summer in the front yard is full of shade and shade-loving plants under the silver maple tree.
    Courtesy of Laura Christensen

 
By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald Correspondent

Members of the Lombard Garden Club had two reasons to book Laura Christensen as one of their presenters: She is a professional landscape architect who specializes in residential work and seasonal containers.

But more importantly, she has spent more than 20 years on a phased design plan -- on her own home.

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That was the subject of a recent meeting, where Christensen brought plenty of before and after photos of her layered, multifaceted plan.

She and her husband bought their Wheaton home in 1989, when it was four years old and had minimal landscaping. For Christensen, who had worked for the village of Schaumburg as a landscape architect and design planner before having children, her new front and backyards presented a blank palette.

"I wanted to have a natural looking yard with lots of curved lines and seasonal color, including tons of flowering bulbs, great fall color, interesting plant silhouettes and tree bark for winter interest," Christensen says.

That was just for starters.

She also wanted to create some privacy, include a "wild" area in the back of the yard where her children could explore, as well as a large perennial garden for summer color, grasses for fall interest, and a patio with seating walls for entertaining.

All that, and Christensen wanted to make sure to leave enough lawn area in the backyard for touch football and other games for her three children and their friends.

She started by selecting plants that were native to the Midwest and could endure the harsh weather extremes and were fairly low-maintenance.

"I didn't have the time when my kids were young to fuss with touchy plants," she exclaims.

She also tried to focus on plants that had multiple seasonal interest. They had to feature either colorful flowers or berries, or offer an aesthetic shape and summer color, as well as give way to vivid fall color, interesting branching structure and some sort of bark interest during the winter.

To offset all of her various plant life, Christensen searched for focal points to add more interest in her garden, including a fountain, colorful planters in plant beds with seasonal plants, bird baths in interesting colors, wind chimes, benches, and garden structures such as arbors and trellises.

Christensen is something of an expert on stand-alone focal points, or container gardens -- for all seasons.

Currently, she is busy designing holiday containers for clients. At a presentation to the Garden Club of Oak Park-River Forest in September, Christensen recommended they fill their containers with plants that offered different textures, from fall grasses with their plumed tufts of lacy seeds, to the many coleus and sedum plants, or even large, ribbed leaves of cabbage and kale.

Christensen likes to create jeweled toned displays, using natural elements, from purple mums and red pansies, to chili peppers and cabbage leaves.

"She was full of ideas for staging the fall garden by working seasonal colors and textures into the container gardens we already have," wrote Marilyn Moore

Lombard Garden Club members agreed, saying they took plenty of ideas away from the evening, to improve their own landscape designs.

"Seeing the progression of her yard from 20 years ago to the present was inspiring," Cynthia Ward of Lombard, program chairwoman, said. "Her personal photos helped to demonstrate her landscaping techniques, planting ideas and mistakes that she has made. It was very interesting."

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