Connecting Outdoor Spaces

What if all the hallways in your home were left unfinished? So there were just studs and subfloor. No lovely hardwood floors with carpets or walls to display your amazing art collection or family photograph. I mean this would never be allowed! Rightfully so.

So it is with connecting outdoor spaces. Not only do connections between outdoor spaces give direction they also enhance the experience.

Below are a collection of images exhibiting the ways outdoor spaces can be connected. They range from elevated walkways, aggregate paths, mown grass, mulch, to built paths of concrete, stone, or clay pavers.

Inspiration abounds! Connection is everything,

If you’re curious about what this could look like at your home, contact us now!

From gallery of Horizon House / Bauen. Photograph by Darío Mereles
‘The Cancer Research UK Legacy Garden’, designed by Tom Simpson. Photo: RHS / Neil Hepworth
Leiden Botanical Garden. Photograph © GardenVisit.com
Garden Design Magazine.
Old Oak Stouring Park. Posted by Camp & Glamp Glastonbury.
Pinterest image. Credit unknown.
PHOTO BY: Grant Harder POSTED BY: Dwell
Pinterest Image. Credit Unknown.
Zeterre Landscape Architecture. Posted on Houzz.

What Does Living Beautifully Outdoors Mean to You?

TOPIARIUS asks, What does living beautifully outdoors mean to you?

Chris Walsh, Topiarius Exec. VP of Sales and Design, weighs in this week.

2019 Walsh Family Reunion.
Living beautifully outdoors means having a comfortable (and shady) place to visit with friends and family!
When my entire family came to our home in New Buffalo, MI  the summer of 2019 (above) it was so lovely to be able to fit everyone in the backyard! No, I don’t have a table that seats 26 people, but I have garden rooms where smaller groups can visit and play card games, eat, cook a burger, lounge by the spa, relax in a hammock or sit by the solo stove. (Not an ad for Solo Stove, but it could be I LOVE mine.)
Having covered seating  for sunny days to share a meal on the patio is a must! Why sit inside when there is a lovely late summer breeze moving through the garden? And when there isn’t a breeze we just turn on our outdoor fan. 
I grew up spending most of my youth outside in the garden, or messing around with the plantings around my parents home in Oakton, Virginia. And that is really what I do now, I spend my available time weeding and maintaining our gardens – it is relaxing for me. Being able to dig out weeds, prune branches and transplant perennials and grasses to change the mood of one of our garden rooms is magic to me. I love walking through our garden cutting branches for a big vase on the mantle or small vases on bedside stands for weekend guests.
That’s what living beautifully outdoors means to me. I have a space to stretch after a long run and a place where family and friends can feel comfortable outside and enjoy our natural surroundings for a reconnecting visit. We have a place to share a meal, or S’mores, decompress in the spa or just sit and daydream.  I can wander around prune away branches and have a fresh cut floral arrangement for the dining table or to give a bouquet to a neighbor!  
This is why I want to create special places for our clients. I want them to also have places to reconnect with family and friends, to decompress, and enjoy what nature has provided. 
Preparing floral arrangements from the garden.
Enjoying the shade with friends.

Curious how others have answered the question? Click here.

What Does Living Beautifully Outdoors Mean to You?

TOPIARIUS asks, What does living beautifully outdoors mean to you?

If you haven’t caught on yet, all of us at Topiarius are obsessed with living beautifully outdoors. [HASHTAG!]

Because of my curious nature, I have begun asking our staff, our clients, and our partners in industry what it means to them to live beautifully outdoors. And, I’m getting such gorgeous insights!

This week my partner in crime is sharing his thoughts. (i.e., my business partner and husband Craig 😆.)

Here’s Craig:

Living Beautifully Outdoors to me is all about destination. This definitely means travel to amazing places – both urban (Hello! Have you ever been to Rome?) and nature (Oregon coast pic may have been staged???). Travel feeds the imagination and is key for the inspiration that continues to drive our business. But since we don’t all get to travel as much as we want, Living Beautifully Outdoors has to happen at home as well. 

We have been in our home for 14 years (longest I have lived in one spot!) and we are SO close to the outdoor spaces that we long for (can you say cobbler’s children have no shoes?). When we were designing our home’s addition a major component of our brief to the architects was that we needed multiple outdoor destinations. As we have worked on the landscape design this year, again, we are focusing on creating multiple destinations. 

So let’s do a quick count . . .

  1. Front Terrace: Westward facing and large enough to have comfortable seating to accommodate six. Sara spends afternoons lounging in the sun, listening to neighbor’s conversations as they walk by (neighbors – careful what you say, she is out there a lot on weekends).
  2. Back Terrace: East facing and perfect for me in the afternoon. Two comfortable chairs where I sit and count planes flying into O’Hare.
  3. Back Deck: A lovely raised deck looking into our backyard. It is covered by the cantilevered second floor. I sit here even in the rain and watch the birds fly in and out of our Hornbeam hedge. Oh, and did I mention the outdoor shower!
  4. Fire Pit: I am not a pyromaniac! 
  5. Dining Patio: Still under construction. We will have a cedar pergola and a fabulous outdoor chandelier (need to find that still).
  6. Lawn: Small and very biodiverse, as I am not a huge proponent of wasting time and resources on it. Large enough for a game of Bags and for our friends’ small children to run through a sprinkler.
  7. Vegetable Garden: Raised beds filled with our garden favorites and perennials that pollinators love.
  8. Outdoor Kitchen: Yes, I have a gas grill, a Traeger, and a ceramic grill. Don’t you?
  9. Main Entrance: Setting the tone for our guests, open and welcoming with plenty of space to greet people as they arrive and for the long goodbyes when they leave.

How do I Live Beautifully Outdoors? Let me count the ways.

Curious how others have answered the question? Click here.

Or Here!


The Reality of Our Supply Chain

Amazon has ruined us. With a few clicks we can get anything we want at any time we want it no matter where we are located.

Will I stop using Amazon? Will Topiarius stop using Amazon? That’s a big fat NO. Whether your like or dislike Bezos, Amazon is still genius.

But here’s the thing. Custom luxury goods do not have the option of Amazon accessibility.

In a recent article I just read in House Beautiful called “The Waiting Game,” the author notes that “there isn’t some giant warehouse containing every potential combo waiting to be sold.”

The good news is to have it YOUR way means you get it your way. The bad news is you’ll have to be patient and wait. (And trust me . . . I am waiting for a bed that I ordered in January to be delivered – fingers-crossed – 9 months later.)

The same thing applies to the plant world. And I KNOW this is not known to many of you, particularly because it’s about a trifecta of COVID, the 2008 financial crash, and weather.

According to Lisa Fiore, co-founder and CEO of LandscapeHub, in another recent article called “How Supply Chain Issues Are Impacting Lawn and Landscape Industry” published by National Association of Landscape Professionals, she says,

“When it [the recession] hit in 2008, many nurseries reduced their production.

They either didn’t have the cash or the appetite to risk the investment of putting more plants in the ground 12 years ago.

Because trees and evergreens take 10 to 12 years to produce, the effects from the Great Recession are now being seen with those shortages.

COVID and the increased consumer demand from more people staying home have impacted the availability of faster-produced plant material.

Severe weather events have also impacted the availability of plant material in locations like Texas and Louisiana while increasing demand as people seek to replace the plants they lost in the storms.”

Topiarius’ expertise is knowing which plants will work well in your yard – neah, which ones will thrive – whether in-ground or on a rooftop. We also work diligently to make sure you get THE one plant that’s going to make the design inspired. We want YOU to look at your project and go WOW, just as much as WE want to go WOW.

So . . . here’s what we do. We look at options. We look at alternative designs. And we know that we are going to be working in phases over the next year. Patience and a willingness to be flexible are the rules that guide this “game.”

Our work for you will get completed that’s a 100% guarantee, it’s just going to take, well . . . time.

Top 5 Favorite Local Gardens

Here are our top 5 favorite local gardens that are must visits. From Rockford, IL to Niles, MI. Friends, get outdoors and take in the beauty!

Photo: CBG

Chicago Botanic Garden

Glencoe, IL

Hours: 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. The Garden is open every day of the year; hours change seasonally.

Entrance: Garden members do not need to preregister—they are invited to visit at any time. Nonmembers must preregister for a timed entry. Per CDC guidelines: Wear a mask indoors if you’re not vaccinated for COVID-19.

About: “Every year, more than one million people visit the Garden’s 27 gardens and four natural areas, uniquely situated on 385 acres on and around nine islands, with six miles of lake shoreline. The Garden also has a renowned Bonsai Collection.”

Photo: Morton Arboretum

Morton Arboretum

Lisle, IL

Hours: The Arboretum grounds are open 365 days a year from 7 a.m. to sunset. Buildings are open daily, except on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day; closed at 3:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Entrance: Timed-entry tickets are required for all guests.

About: “The Morton Arboretum, a 1,700-acre living museum, champions trees throughout the world through science and conservation, education and outreach, and plant collections. Conveniently located approximately 25 miles from Chicago, the Arboretum features an award-winning Children’s Garden, Maze Garden, and 16 miles of hiking trails. Whether you seek a quiet stroll or an active family adventure, the Arboretum offers a variety of exhibitionsactivitiesevents, and classes for all ages to enjoy.”

New Exhibit: “The Morton Arboretum’s outdoor art exhibition, Human+Nature (pronounced: Human Nature), inspires awe and wonder as it  connects people and trees. Internationally renowned artist Daniel Popper created five 15- to 26-foot-tall sculptures exclusively for the Arboretum featured in various locations across its 1,700 acres, leading guests to areas they may not have explored before. It is his largest exhibition to date anywhere in the world.”

Photo: AJG

Anderson Japanese Gardens

Rockford, IL

Hours: The gardens are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. – last entry time is 4 p.m. 

Entrance: Timed-entry tickets are required for all guests. Garden members are no longer required to make a reservation.

About: “The Anderson Japanese Gardens is a beautiful, outdoor setting that inspires the mind and energizes the soul. [A] twelve-acre landscape of streams, waterfalls, winding pathways and koi-filled ponds has been rated one of North America’s highest quality Japanese gardens for more than a decade.” Designed by Hoichi Kurisu. 

Photo: Friendship Botanic Gardens

Friendship Botanic Gardens

Michigan City, IN

Hours: May 1 through October 31, Tuesday – Sunday  9 a.m.-5 p.m. (Central Time) CLOSED to the public on Mondays. In November, Saturday & Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (Central Time) – (Weather permitting: 45 degrees or above and NO precipitation). Members have 365 day access.

Entrance: Pre-registration not required.

About: “Friendship Botanic Gardens (a volunteer-based, not-for-profit organization) is a community treasure and an oasis of formal gardens and wooded nature trails tucked in an old-growth forest surrounding Trail Creek in Michigan City, Indiana.”

Their history is worth the quick read!

Photo: Fernwood Botanical Garden

Fernwood Botanical Garden

Niles, MI

Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10am-5pm and Sunday 12-5pm

Entrance: While no longer a requirement, visitors can pre-register prior to their visit.

About: “Fernwood comprises 105 acres and protects at least 10 ecosystems and is a birder’s paradise. Visitors may enjoy natural areas with miles of walking and hiking trails, a reconstructed prairie, an arboretum, and cultivated public gardens that include an herb garden, Japanese garden, perennial border, rain garden, railway garden, nature adventure garden, hardy fern collection, and other special collections and gardens.”

Dermatologists Cheer! Umbrellas!

Have you ever left your dermatology appointment with a high-five because you’re protecting yourself from the sun ALL the time in ALL the right ways? 

I never have.

Erin (my dermatologist) gives me pamphlets, a huge bag of samples of sunscreen, and a stern warning EVERY time I leave her office. Protect yourself!

It’s a hard pill to swallow, not because I don’t believe she’s 100% right, but I just love the feeling of sun on my skin. I also know I gots to take care.

So, what the heck does this have to do with Topiarius?! Cha-ching!

If you want to get that high-five like I do, then you want to protect yourself from the sun by choosing one of these wildly creative SHADE options.

Some of these we’ve installed and used in our designs and others we want to. They are all easy to use and so visually cool.

A wall mounted, cantilever umbrella that requires no pole from Umbrosa! No more tripping around the base. Photo: Topiarius
A Mamagreen personal shade that moves where you do! Photo: Mamagreen
Double your fun! Heavy-duty cantilever umbrellas from Umbrosa that can rotate easily to create shade. Photo: Topiarius
These are for when your only decision of the day has to be whether you put the cover on or take the cover off the Sombrero booth. Photo: Mamagreen
It's not just enough to have shade during the day! You should also have evening light with the Extremis Sol Luna! Photo: Shadescapes

If you want to know more about some of these umbrellas, please take a look at this blog post on our website. AND, if you want to talk with us about your new design and installation, now is a perfect time. Can’t wait to hear from you!

From the gal who is learning to love the shade – 

Sara J-S

P.S. Curious about other ways to beat the heat, check out these posts as well: fans and misters and pergolas!

Top 4 City Landscape Codes

If you’re planning on building out a rooftop or updating your landscaping in the city of Chicago, then these are the top 4 codes you should know.

But to put this into perspective, I suggest we think about codes as something to embrace rather than be amazingly annoyed by them.

This is not an out-of-the-box thinking kind of conversation. This is about codes. We all live with codes. We all agree in the US to drive in the right lane, stop at red lights, walk through an intersection at appropriate signals (most of the time), park in designated spots, etc. You get the point, right?

We use codes because we need to have ways to operate with each other; we need best practices to keep ourselves and others safe.

Just like homebuilders have codes to follow, so do we in landscape design/construction. And these codes are set by the city / municipality in which you dwell.

For Chicago city dwellers (i.e., residential properties), there are 4 key codes that are worth knowing about when you’re planning for landscape construction.

Since 2016 . . .

ONE: Rooftop Structures

On a private residential roof deck any structure above the parapet wall that is within 3’ feet of a property line or 6’ off a neighboring building has to be noncombustible. If this applies to you, then your pergola needs to be made of a metal and any screening needs to be made of metal, glass, or cement board.

TWO: Backflow Preventer

Irrigation systems require a backflow preventer installed by a licensed plumber and they need to be inspected yearly. The inspection is typically done by your irrigation company which has proper certification.

THREE: Fence Height

Anything less than 5 feet tall does not require a permit when built with typical materials (e.g., wood, vinyl, steel). But fencing can be up to 6 feet for solid panels and up to 8 feet for open slats. These heights may require a permit and a variance request. The takeaway is to follow neighborhood fencing heights, always talk to your neighbors, and hire professionals who know the codes!

FOUR: Parkway Trees

All trees in parkways are city property (no matter who plants them). 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!

In order to plant a tree in a parkway, you must hire a company that is licensed by the city of Chicago to plant parkway trees, and you are going to be limited to 4 – 5 options. The city determines which options you have by what other trees are planted in your neighborhood. The city’s goal is to diversify plantings.

Major take away: When you’re contracting with a company (like Topiarius) to work on / at your home make sure you find and use a reputable firm that has up to date knowledge of codes. And don’t ever be discouraged by these codes . . . design solutions abound so that you can live beautifully outdoors.

P.S. This list is simply an overview of codes we encounter on a regular basis. It is not intended to replace city code documentation.

P.S.S. To see a pergola system that fits within city code, click here.

What Should Your Budget Be?

The #1 question we get is what should my budget be?

I’ll tell you this. It’s an easy answer, but it does require explanation.

You can see our answer if you skip this part and scroll to the bottom.


Craig and I had the absolute pleasure to spend time on Memorial Day weekend at a cliend home (new word for client turned into friend) for a summer kick off party. Unsolicited to a large group of party goers, our cliend said, “Having invested in my outdoor space (her back yard and rooftop), Topiarius has completely changed the way my family (of 5) lives together. It’s amazing.”

Here’s another way for me to explain. I’ve heard the following story told with a few variations, but let’s assume that while the specifics may not be 100% that the sentiment is 100% correct.

  • On a lovely afternoon at a café in Paris, a woman notices that Pablo Picasso is at a nearby table.
  • She musters the courage and walks over to him.
  • “Excuse me Sir, would you mind sketching me something on my napkin? I’ll pay you.”
  • “Of course.” says Picasso.
  • He takes her napkin, pulls a pen from his shirt pocket, and draws a few lines.
  • “That will be $20,000 francs.” he says.
  • “What?! You only spent 5 seconds on it?” she says incredulously.
  • Picasso responds, “No Madame, I’ve spent 30 years on this.” 

When you are looking for a luxurious outdoor oasis, a sanctuary at your own home, you will have to understand budgeting and expenses. But, friends, you’ll also have to understand that good design, quality installation, exceptionally kind and honest staff are not just fine-tuned overnight. They take time, energy, and lots of work to manifest and develop.

So, dig into our Budget Calculator and get a sense of what we suggest as starting points. Our goal is that these amounts kick-start conversation getting us on the same page from the very beginning. (I know, right? We are all eager to get your project started as quickly as possible. So let’s not waste time!)

If you’re interested in booking a call with us to talk through finer points, then let’s do it. Contact us today.

P.S. Continue reading our posts. We’ve got some great posts about value, investment, planning, and understanding our industry. Our goal is to always educate and make sure we can answer all your questions. 

I recommend these posts to get started: 

Irrigation. It’s non-negotiable.

Throwing money away. It’s one of my favorite things. EEEEEEK who says this? Exactly. No one.

And this is specifically why I worked yesterday installing irrigation to our plants. I want to make sure that my money has THE best possible return on investment.

And if you get this, then you’ll understand why we won’t do plantings either in containers or in ground if you don’t do irrigation.

Here’s why it’s non-negotiable:

In order for plants to thrive and look the way you want them to, which is magazine gorgeous, they need water regularly – even different amounts at different times of the season.

Plants are a lot like humans. If you stop drinking water you’re thirsty; you can get a headache and start to feel your energy drain. The longer you go, the worse you feel and the more stress you put on your body. While plants are quite tolerant and can bounce back in ways that are unbelievable, the constant stress of an unpredictable watering schedule is going to take its toll.

The fact is that no one likes watering. Sure, you say you do, but it’s honestly time consuming and often done incorrectly. And when approached with impatience it leads to improper amounts of water at irregular times or no water at all.

And let’s talk about the investment you’re making in your annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees, especially if these are planted in containers! Containers inherently have small soil volume i.e., they’re just not planted in the ground. And soil in containers, ESPECIALLY small ones and ones lined with coconut fiber, dry out quickly. If they are not getting water regularly, say up to 2-3 times a day in the heat of summer, they will die. And you’ve just tossed out dollars.

Then what happens when you go on vacation? Having to find someone to watch the dog, the house, get your mail, AND water your plants, sounds fun. Not!

When we’re doing a full design and construction installation, you are already investing 15%-20% of your home’s value on the entire project. i.e., you are choosing to invest in this project, so it doesn’t make sense to cut corners.

Even if you’re not getting a full re-build, irrigation systems and lines can still be added. Most of the time it is always possible.

Our goal is to position you and your plants for success. Our 18 years of experience knows that irrigation is a non-negotiable because it will save you time, energy, worry, money, AND get you the magazine look!

We want you to live beautifully outdoors with plants that live and thrive!

If you’re eager for an irrigation solution, then contact us today! We can get you set  up for success.

Spring Shrubbery

What’s the deal with Minnesotans and their love for Lilacs?

I’m married to one (i.e., a MN not a Lilac) and I know a whole lot more and they all have great memories associated with Lilacs. And, they L-O-V-E to tell you about them! Just ask Craig and you two will have an honest to goodness moment together.

While I love to tease, Minnesotans are definitely on to something. They understand the potency of spring blooms. Not only do they smell fabulous, they also evoke lovely heart-warming memories.

Each spring when the Lilacs bloom thoughts and sensations return. I mean if I had to translate this into today’s context – they’re like the 1-year ago reminders on your Facebook feed.

While Lilacs top the list for favorite spring blooms, here are 2 more that are worth knowing about because they too have the power to create connection and memories.

Cheers to plants and memories!

Above: Rather than the common lilac, Syringa vulgaris, Craig recommends another variety for small yards: Miss Kim Lilac, Syringa pubescens subsp. patula ‘Miss Kim’.
Above: Korean Spice Viburnum, Viburnum carlesii. If you see this one, please stop and smell. It’s delicious!
Rasberry Bloom
Above: Raspberries, Rubus idaeus.