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Article posted: 12/16/2012 5:27 AM

Landscape architect uses her yard design to teach others

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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.

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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