Garden Tour: Fall Fireworks | Midwest Living

Garden Tour: Fall Fireworks

Trees, shrubs, and frost-tolerant grasses and perennials ignite a passion for the glories of autumn in this suburban Chicago landscape.
  • Blaze of glory

    Wrapped in blazing gold and fiery red with flickers of violet-blue, Jan Langer’s autumn landscape captures all the colors of a flame—and it’s just as mesmerizing. When she bought her Chicago-area home in 2004, she appreciated its large lot, which flows into a tangled wood. But the yard itself sparked little excitement. A brick patio spanned the back of the house, but the landscape beyond was drab.

    Now, Jan loves to linger outside thanks to a dramatically different yard by landscape designers Shelda Murray and Stephanie “Zoe” Hazard of Plant Tenders Inc. The variety of plants makes it inviting year-round, but come fall, it just glows. 

    The shimmering gold of witch hazel highlights the sweetest surprise: a new flagstone patio warmed by a fire bowl (pictured). Tucked in a remote corner within the curvy mixed border stretching the yard’s perimeter, “it’s a little getaway,” Shelda says. 

    Click ahead to read more about Jan's garden and its fall foliage. 

  • Lush layers

    The designers sought to create a lushly layered landscape. To stay within Jan’s budget, they installed beds in several stages, but every one emphasizes contrasting foliage. “We took full advantage of all the blues, chartreuses and burgundies,” Shelda says, “and we repeated them throughout the beds, ... that’s important for a sense of harmony.”

    Blue notes include lamb’s-ear, blue spruce and spiky blue-gray ornamental grasses. Gold spirea and ‘Golden Mop’ false cypress add bright yellowy-green pops. Wine-dark barberries and purple coral bells represent the burgundies. Sedum delights with its orange-gold coat, and ‘Gro-Low’ sumac turns an intense orange-red.

    “I just wanted a nice yard with some good overall color,” Jan says. “It’s hard not to wander out ... it’s so beautiful all around, the panorama just pulls me outside.”  

    Pictured: A red Japanese maple shades the pond.

    Landscape designers Shelda Murray and Stephanie “Zoe” Hazard, Plant Tenders Inc., 5944 Clarendon Hills Rd., Willowbrook, IL 60527. (630) 654-8022;

  • Lovely borders

    A curvy bed and pond edge the brick patio.


  • Dry stream

    Solving drainage issues, a dry stream winds between golden Stephanandra and strappy carex. Topped with flagstone, it doubles as a path.

  • From the front

    The colors of fall add drama to the front of Jan's home as well as her back yard. A golden climbing hydrangea and red-tinged Boston ivy cloak the house in fall finery. 

  • Container drama

    Peacock kale and mums fill this planter in the front garden. Dried pampas grass and iris pods add height and texture.

  • Fall garden ideas: ‘Golden Mop’ false cypress

    This low-mounding yellow-green conifer sets off the brilliant oranges, reds and browns of other shrubs and trees.

  • Fall garden ideas: Mophead hydrangea

    Red-tinged gold leaves and bold flowerheads characterize this plant's fall foliage.

  • Fall garden ideas: Japanese maple

    With its golden-yellow or dark red finely cut leaves, the Japanese maple is a fall garden star.

  • Fall garden ideas: Witch hazel

    Brilliant gold leaves splash any yard with color.

    More ideas for shrubs and trees with surefire fall foliage:

    Barberry Thorny; bright red fruits in fall.

    ‘Gro-Low’ sumac  Low-growing shrub turns orange-red.

    Spirea Delicate yellow-green to orange-red foliage. 

  • Fall garden ideas: Ornamental grasses

    Pennisetum (pictured) has soft gold panicles.

    More ideas for ornamental grasses:

    Blue oat grass Blue-gray with mounding habit.

    Japanese forestgrass Mounding; variegated leaves flush red.

    Prairie dropseed Golden yellow, finely textured, tufted plant.

    Switchgrass ‘Heavy Metal’ stiff blue-gray leaves turn gold; ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ is airy and red.

  • Fall garden ideas: Perennials

    Cranesbill’s aromatic  leaves turn orange-yellow to red (pictured).

    More ideas for perennials:

    ‘Palace Purple’ coral bell Purple leaves look good in borders.

    ‘Spotlight’ coral bell Variegated leaves.

    Russian stonecrop Sedum ground cover with yellow and orange or burgundy leaves.

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