City Soirée

Project Brief

Knowing their 2,043 square foot terrace rooftop in Chicago could be an amazing outdoor space, our clients had begun investing in upgrades before hiring us. But they quickly realized that their original vision wasn’t satisfactory. Upon engagement with us, we excitedly conceptualized how their wide open, unprotected space could fulfill their dreams to live beautifully outdoors.

For this couple, the ease of entertaining was key with space for dinner parties as their highest priority. This meant a dedicated space for their large dining table and multiple spaces for people to gather in – all enhanced by ambient lighting. Our clients were also concerned about privacy from a neighboring building that looked directly onto their space which was addressed through plants as screening and the pergola. The noise of the mechanicals needed to be damped. This gave us an opportunity to define separate areas so that we could play with different materials and level changes through decking. Along with privacy, the sun exposure made the space very hot on summer afternoons and they wanted to find a way to create shade that would withstand the punishing winds off the lake. While the custom panels are fixed in place, their design allows for dappled sun and wind movement. With the addition of heaters anchored on the pergola and a fire feature, the couple has a space for extended seasonal use. And, of course, they wanted plantings that would soften the space and invite you outside. By using/transplanting some of the trees and shrubs they had, and adding other shrubs, perennials, green roof trays, and containers for annual displays an urban garden oasis was created.

Their outdoor terrace went from a Hodge podge commercial looking space to a sophisticated, welcoming, relaxing space that make entertaining a piece of cake!

All You Need To Know About Parkway Fencing

I’m binge watching the second season of CHEER on Netflix, so I’ve written a pump-you-up call and response.

Why do we fence?

We fence to protect!

What are we protecting?

Our investment!

This even made me laugh out loud because it’s sooo bad . . . I do not have a career in writing cheers! (I can lit-tra-ly hear Craig’s eyes hit the ceiling cuz he wishes he could have deleted this!)

My point is that using your parkway as an extension of your landscaping is a GREAT idea, but it also means that you’re going to need to protect your investment from car doors, people, dogs, and weather. And the best way to do this is utilize the fence (or a version of one). Hip-hip-hooray!

So, here’s all you need to know about fencing on a parkway.


Fencing around a parkway is typically 24 inches. Any shorter, it could be a trip hazard and any taller it starts to look out of place and disproportionate (a.k.a., weird).


The longest lasting and strongest is wrought iron. (Stainless steel works too.)

There are two options for finishing wrought iron. But I’m going to pause here for a quick PSA. It is a GUARANTEE that ALL METAL WILL RUST when it is outdoors. There’s nothing you can do to stop it; you can help mitigate it with your finish choice, but it won’t be stopped. Plug your ears and run if you’re ever promised differently.

Back to the finishing options. 

1. Use a high-quality metal primer and paint. 

2. Opt for a powder-coated finish. This will deter rusting longer than primer and paint, but the fence will have to be prefabricated and bolted together on-site. 


Should priming and painting be the choice, the fence will require regular upkeep with continued priming and painting over its lifetime to keep it looking sharp. 

If powder-coating is the choice, then the whole fence will need to be disassembled and brought to a shop for a new coating. (Yes, this is a bigger deal than just painting.)

Set Backs.

Chicago city code requires there be 24 inches from the street side of the curb to the fence in the parkway with 18 inches from the inside of the curb to the fence. The setback allows vehicles space to open their doors.

There are no codes for how to landscape the 18 inches, but we highly suggest having paving installed. So, when folks are exiting their vehicle, they can step on something solid versus sinking into mud. A nice neighborly choice too!


The design style is all about context and preference. Click here to see our portfolio of options and ideas. 

I mean I could repeat the cheer to wrap this up, but I should most definitely leave that to the pros. Just like you can leave your parkway fencing and design to the pros. If you’d love to get started on a plan for yours, contact us today! Fencing is a fantastic option for protecting your landscaping investment in your parkway.

Go Fencing! Go!

 – Sara J-S

P.S. You, your neighbors, and the city-at-large benefit greatly from well-designed and cared for parkways. But please remember that the city owns the parkways, which means they do have the authority to access the property and utilities there without consent and are not liable for reimbursing you on any landscaping they disrupt. 

What You Need To Know About Trees in Parkways

With my head on my desk, I said to the guy on the phone, “You’ve got to be kidding me. If this was such a thing, why wasn’t I told about it at ANY POINT in the process of buying my home or my commercial property?”

In order for Topiarius to secure our business license at our building, we needed to apply and pay for a $10 life of ownership driveway permit so that anyone visiting 5030 W. Lake could turn off the road, legally drive over the city sidewalk, and into our loading dock. The city owns the sidewalk so if you have to drive over it you need to have permission. (Fingers-crossed – we’ve not been found out about our own garage access!)

Hold off on Googling this (cuz it’s freaking cuckoo) and stick with me for a moment because not everything the city does is illogical, especially when it comes to trees in your parkway.

As you know the city owns your parkway (the local term for the area between the sidewalk and street. If you missed last week’s blog post, here it is.) The city also owns all the trees in parkways (no matter who plants them). Seriously.

But this definitely comes with some perks.

The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation, Bureau of Forestry are responsible for maintaining more than 500,000 parkway trees. This means that if your tree(s) need pruning, removal, or debris clean up, you can submit a request and, while it may take time, you will get these services completed for free. (OK yes, we pay taxes et all, but you get my point.)

The other thing to know is that these departments also plant trees for free. There is a master list that’s downloadable on their website and you can POTENTIALLY pick the tree you’d like for either their spring or fall planting schedule. Most likely you will only get to choose between 4-5 options based on what other trees are planted in your neighborhood. The city’s goal is to diversify the plantings. (This is a good thing).

If you’re not interested in waiting for the city, here’s what you MUST know.

Technically you’re supposed to get a permit to do any work in/on parkways, but functionally the city is fine with homeowners making improvements.

However, existing trees cannot be removed! THIS IS HUGE! The fine is $1,000 per caliper inch. This means if you remove a 20” diameter tree you will be fined $20,000!

BUT you can plant a tree. You just have to hire a company that is licensed by the city of Chicago to plant parkway trees, and again you will be limited to 4-5 options. These companies can also care for and prune your parkway trees.

The upside to using a licensed company means they’re educated, qualified, know how to get permits, and they especially have the insurance coverage needed for you and your home, as well as themselves. 

At Topiarius we don’t want you to be frustrated with your head on your desk because you didn’t know all the codes so your projects are delayed or derailed. We’ve got the knowledge that will guide you to the outcome that you’re looking for.

If you’re interested in working with such a knowledgeable company to create your outdoor sanctuary and oasis, then contact us today. No time like the present.

Knowledge is power! 

Sara J-S

P.S. If you want to know more about city codes, check out our post: Top 4 City Landscape Codes. 

It’s Crazy That There Are So Many Names

Here in Chicago We Call it the Parkway

Welcome to 2022!

I’m heading into this year with one thing on my mind.

You may think the obvious answer would be to find continued success, advancement, and world peace.

But nope.

Let’s Jeopardy style this topic . . .

What is . . . ?

  • A public property that needs to be maintained by the property owner.
  • A space that provides distance between the sidewalk and road.
  • A space that is used for bus shelters and utilities.

Can you guess what it is?

Thanks to Wikipedia, and depending on where you live, the answer is . . .

  • Berm
  • Besidewalk
  • Boulevard strip
  • Curb lawn
  • Curb strip
  • Devil strip
  • Extension lawn
  • Grass bay
  • Grassplot
  • Hellstrip (love this one!)
  • Island strip
  • Median
  • Mow strip
  • Nature strip
  • Neutral ground
  • Park strip
  • Parkrow
  • Parkway
  • Planting strip
  • Sidewalk law
  • Sidewalk plot
  • Sidewalk strip
  • Swale
  • Tree belt

It’s crazy how many names there are for this, but here in Chicago we call it THE PARKWAY. 

The parkway (no matter the name) can be a significant conundrum when it is part of your property – at least in Chicago. I mean, it’s not your property but you’re required to maintain it. So, what’s allowed? Should it have its own design or look like your neighbors? Is it worth it to add a fence? How much should you invest in it? Can there be irrigation and electricity? What happens if the city needs to access utilities that are buried there? You want to plant a new tree or take one down? Well . . . step on the breaks because the city has rules around this. How do you design a parkway that mitigates dog walker ignorance when they will inevitably let their dog pee on your investment?

More questions than you realized, right?

Over the next few weeks, I will provide clarity by taking you one step at a time through the world of parkways.

Cheers to 2022!
Sara J-S

P.S. So excited to share with you that Topiarius now has a “Resources” section on our website. You now have complete access to our blog, our seasonal guides, and our case studies. Check it out!

The Biggest Mistake with Winter Displays

If you’re looking to avoid the biggest mistake we see in winter container displays then all you need to do is read this.

Let’s just say team Topiarius is a bit more aware of this mistake around this time of year. We see winter container displays almost everywhere we go, and while we do not want to dismiss the efforts of others to engage in the festiveness of the season, we also know that we all have a growing edge(s).

Thus . . . the biggest mistake we see is when there is not enough material (a.k.a. evergreens, berries, branches, birch logs, and accents) for the size of the container.

It’s like having your house painted but there’s not enough paint to do the job so you water it down and give yourself a whitewash. The house has technically been painted, but the goal wasn’t accomplished.

Likewise, you can put some beautiful materials into a container, but if you don’t have enough . . . yes, it looks ridiculous. It’s a party fail, y’all. There, I finally just came out and said it. 

So, here are 3 options to solve this:

  1. Reduce the size of your container and keep the same amount of greens/décor you have. Even if it’s smaller overall, it will be magnificent because it’s packed full.
  2. Buy more greens and décor and don’t resize you container. Invest some more dollars into the display and you won’t be disappointed. 
  3. Edit your materials. For example, If you love red twig dogwood, then invest in it. You are going to need A LOT to make it look fabulous. Five twigs poking out of a mass of greens just doesn’t work; they are hard to see and it honestly screams novice. But, if you don’t want that expense, then ditch the idea all together! Seriously! Rather, buy multiple types of greens and mix them together for a festive and LUSH presentation. No one is going to even miss the dogwood.

Keep in mind that simplicity is not in this same category. You can have one beautiful boxwood shrub with some greens draped around the edge and it can look amazing. (Just make sure the boxwood and the container are in good proportions.)

To see what I’m talking about, download our 2021 Winter Color Inspiration Guide. There are 11 different designs that range in sizes and styles. Each one is a great example of how to have plenty of materials in a container for a professional display.

P.S. Have you signed your 2022 Fine Gardening Contract? Reach out to your sales person if you’d like to. I know that Chris Walsh and Tyler Klivickis are ready to connect.

2021 Holiday Gift Guide

  1. Petite Flamenco Outdoor Umbrella from Santa Barbara Designs
  2. Mamagreeen’s Bondi Tall Adirondack and Footrest (kids’ version available)
  3. Ambient Tall Lantern from Gloster
  4. Gloster’s Lima Corner End and Ottoman
  5. Janus et Cie Montpelier Lanterns (26″ – 39″ tall)
  6. Wooden Hammock by Adam Cornish
  7. Outdoor Incense by The Floral Society
  8. Houe Click Rocking Chair  (kids’ version available)
  9. Forest Folly Double Old Fashioned Glasses (set of 6) from Bernadette Schaeffler
  10. The Root Tree Stand by Garden Glory
  11. Shokunin Kamado Grill from Kalamazoo Gourmet
  12. Caneline On The Move Side Tables

Curating your outdoor experience is key to living beautifully outdoors. When you’re ready to #LBO at your home, contact us!