photo of Landscape Designer Julie deLeon
Julie deLeon


Two rooftop gardens by Landscape Designer Julie deLeon
Julie deLeon recently opened her own firm, Groundwork Design, after six years at Chicago Specialty Gardens.
Above are two roof gardens she designed in Lincoln Park—one crisply geometric, the other softened by a
planter-topped fence of ipe planks interspersed with bands of branched willow.


WHAT IS YOUR DESIGN PHILOSOPHY? You have to consider the inhabitants of the site and also the architecture of the home. This could mean planes of Corten steel in a modern building or the canopy of a 60-year-old tree. I try to develop subtle plant palettes around these elements. I like to think of garden design as art that imitates nature. 

WHICH OUTDOOR SPACES INSPIRE YOU? The Caldwell Lily Pool in Lincoln Park, for one. I also like the Nature Boardwalk designed by Studio Gang Architects in Lincoln Park Zoo and the view from the terrace of the Art Institute’s Modern Wing.

DO YOU HAVE FAVORITE PLANTS? I love ornamental grasses such as Panicum virgatum and Miscanthus sinensis. The way they sway with the wind is soothing. They are also versatile from a design perspective—they convey both a contemporary aesthetic and a native prairie quality.

WHICH FRUITS OR VEGETABLES LOOK THE BEST IN A GARDEN? Ornamental cabbage comes to mind, of course—it stands out in fall plantings. I also love Green Zebra tomatoes. They are this gorgeous variegated green.

WHAT DOES EVERY OUTDOOR ROOM NEED? Accent lighting. During the summer, my clients tend to enjoy their gardens in the evening, after work, so something like a subtly up-lit tree can help create a calm late-in-the-day garden experience.

ANY REALLY NICE CONTAINERS ON THE MARKET RIGHT NOW? Grow Modular makes beautiful plant containers from locally harvested black locust trees in Chicago. Salt Lake City–based Ore is also great for planters—and for water features and fire elements, as well.

ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT ANY RECENT PURCHASES NOT FOR THE GARDEN? I bought a pair of Warby Parker glasses—they’ve got  great frames, and every time you buy a pair of glasses, one is provided to someone in need. I also got a beautiful set of sawhorse table legs from Strand Design [prototypes from this local furniture company’s new collection]. They’re solid local oak—yum. I have a lot of respect for handcrafted things.

WHAT ABOUT IN YOUR CLOSET? WHAT CAN'T YOU LIVE WITHOUT? My white leather cowboy-boot-like clogs from Vialis, a Spanish shoe designer I really like. I bought them  in Barcelona in 2003. They’re in great shape for being nearly ten years old, a testament to the great cobblers of Spain.

WHAT'S YOUR IDEAL CARRY-EVERYTHING TOTE? A handbag from Orla Kiely’s 2005 collection. The fabric is a vintage-looking floral jacquard with leather accents, and a book and a camera fit perfectly.

ANY FAVORITE GARDENING EQUIPMENT? I love the handmade bags from Artifact Bag in Omaha. They’re made of waxed canvas and leather—designed for a carpenter and perfect for gardening tools. Tool-wise, I’m going to say my Saboten folding pruning saw, which I use regularly. The tri-edge blade makes for clean and efficient cuts.

Groundwork Design, 312-379-9277,


Photograph (Portrait) Saverio Truglia