Des Plaines residents have a week left to choose who, among four of their neighbors, has the best looking front yard in town.
Four finalists in Des Plaines Mayor Matt Bogusz's inaugural Curb Appeal Challenge are battling in the "best curb appeal" category for the chance to win $1,000, or $500 for second place. Another four finalists are competing in the "most improved curb appeal" category.
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Residents have until July 31 to vote for the winners online at desplaines.org/curbappeal.
A total of 79 homeowners entered the contest; the finalists were chosen by members of the Des Plaines Garden Club.
Bogusz said he launched the community beautification contest in an effort to recognize residents who take pride in their homes.
Here's a closer look at each of the finalists in the best curb appeal category.
1381 Shagbark Lane
Since Keith and Sandy Bachtell moved into their Des Plaines home in 1985, they've endured four major floods -- compounded by their home's proximity to the often-overflowing Des Plaines River.
The flood of 2008 took an especially harsh toll, causing $300,000 worth of damage and leading to a complete home renovation. It also spurred them to install a stone flood wall around their home -- 385 feet in total, 6 feet deep in the ground and 3 feet above the surface.
"I was getting too old to sandbag," Keith said.
The Bachtells install flower arrangements along the wall and in the yard.
"It's a really pretty area," he said. "Personally I think it's one of the prettier homes in town."
329 Drake Lane
Landscaping and gardening runs in Ron Crook's veins.
His grandfather was "a huge fanatic" for maintaining his yards.
And growing up, Crook loved to spend time with his mother, tending to the family garden.
He's worked hard on his finely manicured front lawn, complete with trees, bushes, shrubs, flowers and plants.
"When people come over here for the first time, they say, 'You've put a lot of work into this. I'd like to get my yard like that.' But it's taken me 20 years. It's a labor of love. It's taken a lot of time."
He says one of his neighbors thanked him for his yard "being so easy on (her) eyes."
125 Stratford Road
Barbara and Stan Hardwick have done a lot to make their front yard attractive since purchasing their home 30 years ago.
It was so overgrown with bushes and shrubs "you almost couldn't see the front door," Barbara says.
And when they moved in, she admits, they weren't "very smart about gardening."
But over the years they learned tips from a helpful neighbor with a green thumb, and have gotten better and better at designing an attractive landscape.
They've also installed flagstone sidewalks on their property.
"My husband was instrumental in laying out the front," Barbara says. "He has a great eye."
306 Columbia Ave.
Much of what you see in Bob and Barbara White's front yard is the result of a planned, methodical discernment process that begins long before they make a trip to their local garden center.
"Many people buy flowers, then figure out where to put it," Bob said. "We kind of work the other way around. We know where we want stuff, then we go find the thing that's right for that spot."
After choosing and planting annuals, they make sure to keep the flowers well-watered and fertilized.
One of the things Bob is most proud of, he says, is having no weeds in his front yard.
The retired couple doesn't vacation much during the summertime, opting to spend most of it at home in their own little paradise.
"Between our front and backyards, it's gorgeous," he said.