Last summer six readers were chosen as winners in our "Get Your Summer On" outdoor makeover contest, submitting essays about the sad states of their yards and how they could use some ideas and help to update and enhance them.
Calamities or life, in general, had gotten in the way of the best intentions and plans of most of them and, unfortunately, their yards had suffered.
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Enter to win: Get Your Summer On!What you could win: Backyard improvement package
How to enter: Submit a photo of your boring backyad and tell us why you want to have it spruced up.
Submit online: www.dailyherald.com/contest/getyoursummeron
Deadline: Monday, April 21
Jenny Kendall of Palatine was the winner of our "Patio Make-Over" package and JoAnn Lee of Arlington Heights was the winner of our "Entryway Make-Over" package. Each package is worth $10,000. Four runners-up also received packages worth varying amounts.
Kendall and her husband moved into their Palatine home four summers ago. She recalled being excited about having a blank canvas with which to work in their relatively empty backyard, hoping for a pond, a lovely garden and a fireplace around which to gather in the cooler weather.
None of that had happened by this time last year, however, thanks to a storm that first summer that flooded their basement. Costly repairs depleted money set aside for the yard, the Kimball Hill School program assistant explained.
Cathy Richardson, senior landscape designer with RYCO Landscaping of Lake in the Hills, worked with Kendall on the redesign of her patio, which suffered a lengthy setback because of zoning issues. An extra wide driveway, installed by the former owners of Kendall's home, had taken them to the limit on their impervious surface allowance so RYCO's expansion plans for the backyard patio were out of the question.
The Kendalls are still waiting for the final approval on their new plan, which involves installing Belgard patio pavers on top of the existing concrete patio to dress it up, along with adding two small, free-standing seat walls and a small auxiliary paver patio with a firepit.
"The Kendalls have applied for a variance to add that very small area of pavers which won't affect their ground water runoff, which is what the village is concerned about," Richardson said. "We are also planning to add some fresh new plants to infuse the yard with color. We expect this to be one of the first projects we install this year."
"It is going to be awesome," said Kendall. "I am looking extra forward to summer this year because of this new patio. It will really be special. I already have our dinner club and my book club scheduled to meet out there. Having that extra space in the summer will be really enjoyable. My kids are particularly excited about the fire pit. And once the patio is installed, we are looking forward to shopping for the new patio set we also won."
Northwest Metalcraft of Arlington Heights will give them a new patio set to replace the former owners' set that they have been using. In addition, Northwest Lighting and Accents of Mount Prospect will provide the Kendalls with path and accent lighting to highlight RYCO's installations and Gordon Food Service and Binny's will provide some extras for one of those gatherings that Kendall has planned.
The other winner, JoAnn Lee, is a licensed day care provider in her Arlington Heights home, so her backyard is littered with swing sets, slides, sandboxes and the other tools of her trade. Since it is the place where her young charges frolic, it isn't exactly a good place for her and her husband to relax in the evenings and on the weekends.
Consequently, before winning the contest, they carved out a little space next to their front door for a small bistro table and that was where they sat in the evenings when there were no children around.
"I have often thought of building a small deck in this area for our little table and chairs," she wrote in her application, "maybe removing a small tree for more space and adding some flowers, but I really have no ideas on how to do this myself and finances right now will not allow it."
Everything changed last fall when RYCO did their makeover.
RYCO's Richardson transformed the area for the Lees by giving it more of a courtyard feel with a larger Belgard paving space to match their flagstone-look paver driveway and a small curved seat wall to one side, along with some attractive flowering shrubs and perennials for color and height. They removed an unsightly tree to make the improvements.
The Lees also got landscape lighting, a post lamp and lights along the seat wall from Northwest Lighting and Accents in Mount Prospect.
"It turned out really well and now it is a great entryway for her guests. It made a big impact since it is in the front of her house," Richardson said.
Lee agreed. "It is absolutely gorgeous! The things they added I just could never have imagined on my own. The lighting took my breath away when I saw it at dusk the first time. I would never have done anything this grand on my own."
In addition to the design work, pavers and lighting, the Lees received a bistro patio set from Viking Patio and Ski in Barrington, a new mailbox from Northwest Metalcraft in Arlington Heights and goodies from GFS and Binny's.
Amy and Scott Bell of Mount Prospect won a major improvement to the "mud pit" their backyard had become when they jack hammered out an old, nonfunctioning concrete pond with the intention of replacing it with a pond-less waterfall and some plantings.
They never got to make those improvements on their own, however, because their sewer pipe collapsed in the front yard and they had to spend the money they had allotted for backyard beautification on front yard sewer pipe replacement and landscaping repair instead.
To help them, "Get Your Summer On" gave the Bells an allowance from Aquascape Designs of St. Charles and Lisle, as well as a Toro lawn mower from a local Toro dealer, a gift card from Viking Patio and Ski for outdoor furniture and goodies from Binny's and GFS to help them celebrate when the work was complete.
"We love the finished product," Amy said late last summer. "They gave us just the right-sized pond-less waterfall next to our L-shaped deck. It is really a beautiful and there was truly an art to building it. It took three guys from Aquascapes all day to put those rocks together like a puzzle. They also helped us plant some small trees and other landscaping around it and we have been enjoying it almost every night ever since."
"They will be surprised by the birds and butterflies that will come to their yard now," said Brian Helfrich, construction manager for Aquascape Designs. "And they will find the sound of the water soothing and extremely relaxing. It will help them to retreat from their hectic lives and they will be able to later dress it up with creeping plants and other things that look nice with a water feature like Japanese maples."
"We also love the furniture we got from Viking when they had their end-of-season sale. We got a fire table, love seat and two side chairs. It is really comfy furniture so we find that we want to be out there all the time," she said.
Rose Waber of Wheaton was another winner. She received a conversation table with an umbrella and four "very comfortable" Adirondack chairs in a tropical lime green from Hearth and Home in Mount Prospect, as well as goodies from Binny's and GFS.
"Our backyard is the reason we bought our house. It backs up to a meditation meadow that provides a sense of peace and opportunities to observe wildlife in the middle of the suburbs. Little did we know that we would need to dedicate our available time and money to rehabbing the house. Our backyard has remained only an opportunity to dream and plan," she had written to the GYSO committee.
After she got her prize from Hearth and Home last summer, Waber said, "We couldn't be more pleased with our new furniture. We used to have a traditional patio set. But this table and these chairs give a more relaxed feeling because they are at a conversation level. So we want to be out enjoying our yard much more often now."
Amy Dawes of Aurora loves the Kamado Joe slow cooker she won from Northwest Metalcraft in Arlington Heights, admitting she had forgotten how good food could taste when cooked outside on a grill.
Last fall she showed off both the slow cooker and her new round Meridian patio set with chair cushions from Viking Patio and Ski in Barrington when she held a pot luck dinner for her fellow teachers in Naperville District 204, using some of her food prizes supplied by Binny's and GFS.
"We are entertaining more now because these prizes have once again made being outside fun for us. We have family over all the time to enjoy our elegant new yard, and my husband, Carl, is cooking outside again," Dawes said. "We were so happy to be able to replace our rusty old patio set and grill."
For her townhouse patio, Cindy Parcher of East Dundee won a Solaire infrared grill from a local Solaire dealer and a bubbling urn water feature, set off by stone and larger rocks, from Aquascape Designs, as well as some do-it-yourself LED landscape lighting from Northwest Lighting and Accents in Mount Prospect. She also received goodies from Binny's and GFS.
"Fountains give the homeowner the soothing sounds of water, which is very relaxing," said Helfrich of Aquascape Designs.
"I am loving my new space," Parcher said last fall, confirming Helfrich's prediction. "I had a fire pit before, but had nowhere to place it. I now have incorporated it into my new outdoor space. I plan to spend tonight sitting outside with a small fire."