Chicago city parkway conversion


To some of you non-Chicagoans you may scratch your heads at the designation “parkway” for that seeming no-mans land between the city sidewalk and the street. My St. Louis mother used to refer to it as the easement. I heard another refer to it as the “Devil’s” something or other. Regardless of the nomenclature, this area is often a repository of ill-growing grass and substantial weeds. Though it is technically the city of Chicago’s property, the responsibility for its upkeep falls to the homeowner.

In this case the homeowner wanted to turn the ragged patch of weeds and grass into a more appealing planting bed. The area is on the south side of a broad east-west thoroughfare. The sun conditions are dappled at best, more like deep shade. As such the options were for shade-loving perennials and groundcover.

The first order of business was to remove all the unwanted weed and turf to a depth of a few inches. Next I turned the soil in the length and breadth of the bed and mixed in a couple cubic yards of compost.

Finally the installation of my palette of perennials. Not wanting to return to any turf grass for coverage, the base chosen was Pachysandra for an eventual evergreen carpet. I then filtered in Matteucia ferns, Dryopteris ferns and Chasmanthium for height. Aruncus and Ligularia also provided for a sweep of taller perennials yet with the added feature of splashes of color and shape. Polygonatum, aka Solomon’s Seal, and Hostas of varying size, texture and foliage hues played nicely off one another. Likewise, a Citronelle Heuchera and a Jack Frost Brunerra provided interesting foliage even when not in flower. Lastly, a trio of Chelone promised a late season burst of pink flowers. With a final dressing of hardwood mulch, the new parkway shone brightly in the shade.

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