Garden Tour: Autumn Alfresco | Midwest Living

Garden Tour: Autumn Alfresco

In this Chicago-area home’s landscape, intimate retreats and brilliant fall color create fresh reasons to linger outdoors.

‘It’s amazing’

Fall in this Illinois yard starts with a slow burn—feathery grasses turning to buff, a blue beech spinning gold against the sky. Finally, the maples and sumacs burst into flame. “It seems we wait and wait, then pow, it’s amazing,” says Laureen Donahue-Grossman, who designed the fall landscape for her friend Diane Zwicker.

In the backyard, a flagstone path leads to a patio, pond and waterfall. A dawn redwood, a sculptural weeping spruce and a ‘Red Sunset’ maple surround the rock waterfall.

Bright path

Laureen added a long, limestone-stacked, serpentine wall that defines spaces and provides staging for plants. Following the wall, a flagstone path reveals a surprise at every turn. Three ‘Red Sunset’ maples draw the eye like a series of bonfires, mirrored by red chokeberries, fothergilla and viburnum. Golden hydrangeas and witch hazel also brighten the path.

Waterfall close-up

Trees and grasses frame the backyard pond. “I wanted this area to feel very natural,” Laureen says. 

Think curvy

One of Laureen’s yard tips: Incorporate curves. Here, a winding walk encourages exploration. 

Outdoor rooms

Backed by towering oaks, the 2-acre yard incorporates several outdoor rooms. In front, French doors open to a flagstone courtyard with a carpet of creeping thyme. A 4-foot stone wall offers privacy and blocks the wind. The courtyard offers a view over a ‘Green Mountain’ sugar maple in full glory, blazing yellow-orange amid easy-care grasses, prairie flowers and shrub roses.

Plan ahead

Laureen likes to plan ahead for winter beauty.  Evergreens, dried grasses and rocks add interest to winter views. The front courtyard wall’s Euonymus fortunei ‘Vegetus Low’ stays green, preventing a dead-vine-on-a-wall vista.

Fall favorites: ‘Brilliantissima’ chokeberry

Laureen chooses plants that shine in several seasons. Chokeberry has striking fall color, subtle spring flowers, attractive summer structure and berries in winter.

Fall favorites: Lacy Japanese maple

Leaves of this graceful tree are wine-dark in summer and red in fall.

Fall favorites: Ornamental kale

Ornamental kale stars in many fall gardens and containers. Depending on the variety, the rosette's interior leaves may be blue, pink, red, white or purple.

Fall favorites: Endless Summer hydrangea

Long-blooming hydrangeas brighten the garden throughout the summer and fall.

Resources Landscape designer Laureen Donahue-Grossman, LDG Landscapes, P.O. Box 1546, St. Charles, Illinois. (630) 945-4514;

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