Award-winning garden inspires neighbors, builds community

warner7When Carol Warner moved into her Northrup bungalow, her outdoor space certainly wouldn’t have won any awards with its rotting retaining walls and vast concrete surfaces. But the home had potential, so she moved in and got to work. Thirteen years later, her lush gardens have gotten notice – and also an award by the Metro Blooms nonprofit organization for Best Alley Garden in 2014.

A backyard transformed

As an artist specializing in colorful metalworking, her visual arts training influences everything she does in her garden, taking into consideration color, texture, and scale to create beautiful outdoor space. “When I moved in, it was ugly – and I can’t do ugly!” she laughed. “One thing led to another.”

Her backyard and alley spaces now include a succulent garden, edibles and a small lily pond with a waterfall, which many neighbors have noticed. “I can hear the sounds from the waterfall from my patio, and it drowns out alley noises. My neighbors often comment on the sounds and enjoy it as well.”

She considers her style organic and free-flowing, and it has evolved along with her garden over the years. She has removed concrete to increase her garden size and retain rainwater, and completely removed grass from her yard. “I sold my lawnmower 10 years after I bought it for the same price!” she said. “I now use sedum ground cover, which is a lovely chartreuse green color.”

warner8Bringing neighbors together

One of her favorite aspects of gardening is the community-building aspect to it. “Our neighborhood is so connected – we share plants and things like that. Just being outside and being accessible, I meet so many people when I am in my garden. It’s a friendly, interactive thing to do.”

She has also noticed a change in the neighborhood in recent years, with new neighbors moving into the community and learning to garden and creating beautiful spaces. In the front yards, the gardens blend together, and “many of us have chairs in our front yards – it’s so friendly this way.”

A never-ending process

Her advice to new home owners learning their way around their yards is simple: “Just get outside! Meet your neighbors, and ask questions. It’s an ongoing process, and it never really ends.”

As an artist, she also recommends getting dirty to energize the mind. She shared, “I think there is something special about doing this sort of calm, at times mindless and meditative, work – and I really believe it facilitates creative thinking.”

You can see this and other award-winning gardens at Carol Warner is a Northrup-based artist who currently teaches at the Chicago Avenue Fire Center ( For more information, go to



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