Winnetka house backyard
This Winnetka house’s backyard now plays host to a blossoming garden, courtesy of Chalet Landscape, Nursery & Garden Center. Photos: Courtesy of Chalet

For years, the tennis court sat neglected behind a Winnetka residence, taking up valuable yard space and racking up maintenance bills. The owner was once a regular doubles player, but her partner on the court—and in life—had passed on. She couldn’t remember the last time she had picked up a racket.

So, after receiving some sage advice from her adult daughter and professional assistance from Michael Blackwell, senior landscape designer for Chalet Landscape, Nursery & Garden Center in Wilmette, the homeowner began planning a new use for the space. “This garden represents a change in lifestyle,” Blackwell says.

Winnetka house prairie-style lawn
An abundant assortment of flowers, including Magnus coneflowers, Russian sage, sunflowers, daylilies, irises, and Blue Queen salvia, has free rein on the prairie-style lawn.

Once the Chalet crew removed the tennis court, the owner and her daughter were surprised at the vast space it had occupied—plenty of room for the entertaining area and walkable garden they envisioned. Their wish was for a garden reminiscent of those they’d seen in France, where the owner had lived before meeting her future husband in Paris during World War II. But other than suggesting a few favorite flowers, they gave Blackwell a mostly free rein with the design. “Michael was the artist of this garden,” the daughter says. “He chose the flowers and arranged all of them in groupings of different colors and various heights.”

Winnetka house backyard seating area
Bluestone paving allows guests to meander through the garden before arriving at the seating area in the center of the backyard.

To promote new growth where the court had stood, Blackwell laid down rich soil and installed appropriate lighting and drainage. Next came the layout. He designed a garden composed of eight 12-by-20-foot rectangles surrounding a 20-by-20-foot cedar pergola stocked with comfy outdoor furniture clad in earthy, umber-colored fabric. Adjacent to the pergola, a three-tiered fountain provides the centerpiece for a garden of Knock Out roses encircled by boxwood. Other sections, added as the garden was built in stages during 2011 and 2012, contain fruit trees or vignettes of perennials, all connected by a meandering river of Magnus coneflowers, Russian sage, daylilies, irises, and Blue Queen salvia. “Each rectangle has its own personality,” Blackwell says.

Winnetka house cedar pergola
The cedar pergola offers ample seating options in comfy fabrics, so guests can relax and observe the three-tiered fountain nearby.

From the pergola patio, one can admire a large Crimson Queen Japanese maple, set off by tall grasses and an array of sunflowers. During fair weather, the owner takes daily walks in the garden, where something is almost always flowering. Other times, she simply looks out through the windows of the home’s office space, which afford the best views of the blooms—and the diverse array of birds they attract. As for the old tennis court? She doesn’t miss it one bit.