What to Know Before Landscaping Your Chicago Parkway Flower Bed

Steven Jack
Written by Steven Jack
Updated June 15, 2021
Chicago parkway designs like this hedge require the approval of the city. (Photo courtesy of Cityscape Landscape)

Before digging into parkway planting, a Chicago landscaper explains the city's process and street planting tips.

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Walk down any residential street in the city of Chicago and you’re sure to notice varying degrees of parkway landscaping.

Owned by the city of Chicago, residents are free to landscape the parkways, but there is a lot to know before you go digging up city-owned property. 

As the owner of highly rated Cityscape Landscape in Chicago, Brian Coogan designs, builds and maintains dozens of the streetside parkways throughout the city each year.

He says picking the right plants for your location, navigating city of Chicago ordinances and protecting your investment are some of the top considerations before laying out anywhere from $1,500 to more than $10,000 on a parkway landscape design.

Plant what's right

When it comes to plantings, Coogan says location is the No. 1 consideration. Coogan always asks clients about their Chicago neighborhood and whether they want to match the theme of the area.

"Lincoln Park typically has more formal English gardens, with a lot of boxwood hedges and annual plantings," Coogan says. "Wicker Park / Bucktown often has a natural native plant appearance, with several perennials and ornamental grasses."

Local traffic patterns also come into play.

“Higher traffic areas will require very tolerant and hardy plants that may not be the showiest,” Coogan says.”The more protected the parkway, the more options you have. If it's a busy street that will be salted in the winter, then you need salt-tolerant plants.”

Contact the city

Before any work can be done on a public parkway, a formal application is required through the city of Chicago. Coogan says his company’s project managers help clients through that process, but they also remind residents that the city or utility companies can rip up the area without warning.

“Chicago maintains the right to perform work in the parkway at any time without notice to the homeowner,” Coogan says.

“Peoples Energy can show up at any time dig up the parkway to fix a gas leak," he says. "Occasionally the raised planters or the fencing you paid a landscape firm to install has to be disassembled or removed by the city employee or contractor to perform their work. Chicago is not bound or liable to restore the landscape improvements you paid for. The parkway really is a 'Buyer Beware' area.”

Protect your investment

Though homeowners can do very little to protect the area from workers who need to make repairs on the parkway, Coogan says there are steps homeowners can take to keep neighborhood pets from destroying costly plantings

“We always recommend adding fencing or walls to keep the dogs at bay,” Coogan says. "A 16 to 24-inch high, wrought-iron fence with 1/2-inch pickets, top channel and two punched channels is fairly typical,” Coogan says. “On the wall side, we recommend 12 to 16-inch tall walls constructed from retaining wall blocks or landscape timbers.”

For additional maintenance, homeowners should budget annually for up to 10 percent of the original project estimate to keep up fence painting, mulch and plant trimming, Coogan says.

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