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The Best Bungalow Gardens - Our 2023 Winners

Every summer, we have the pleasure of hosting our annual Bungalow Garden Contest. CBA members from every pocket of the city submit pictures and stories about their labors, creative work-arounds, and ambitious project executions. Since the first Bungalow Garden Contest in 2017, contest participants have created lush, cascading gardens exclusively from dying plants found in alleys; a memorial garden-turned-neighborhood-oasis; and lounging areas for countless populations of desperate pollinators. So many residents in this city have manifested their gigantic hearts onto patches of land all around us. The enthusiasm and range of projects is always mind-blowing, leaving some of us (cough) with the feeling that we could be way better plant parents (sorry elephant ear, sorry large, nameless cactus!).

This year, we had 96 total submissions divided into three categories: Front Garden, Rear/Side Garden, and Planter Boxes & Beds. We agonized and whittled until we selected what we believed to be the ten strongest entries in each category. Then, we created an online ballot and asked the public—you—to decide the winners. Of course, we didn’t want the decision making to feel too brutal, so each category had both a winner and a runner-up.

Once all the ballots were in, we honored the intense efforts of the winners with funds for additional gardening dreams—a $500 cash prize—and tapped some of our most creative friends for gifts. Craeft, LLC designed and hand-crafted award plaques, Baltic Art Studio made gorgeous stained glass suncatchers, and Prairie Godmothers contributed vibrant, handmade birdhouses. We also filmed the winners in their yards so we could hear more about the projects and see more of what they’d actually pulled off. Of course, we couldn’t leave out our runners-up, so they also received a $200 cash prize.

The Winners & Runners-Up

Front Garden

Winners: Jessica Grzegorski & Bradon Webb, Jefferson Park

Grzegorski and Webb spent several seasons replacing their grass lawn with more than 40 types of native perennials and compact shrubs. “Each season brings new colors, textures, and friendly pollinators, including bees, Monarch butterflies, and finches,” they told CBA. "Having all of the easy-to-maintain shrubs and the native plants, it’s just a lot less work for us, and a lot less work for the plants and the environment. They’ve been pretty self-sustaining, and we need to do almost no watering,” Grzegorski said. 

Runner-Up: Katrina Morrissey, Austin

“Our garden consists primarily of flowering perennials, many are native, and all are pollinator friendly,” the Morrisseys wrote about their garden. “The garden is completely DIY, designed, maintained, and lovingly cared for by us! Our favorite thing about the garden is that there’s always something different blooming; from March to October we have flowers!”


Rear/Side Garden

Winners: Candido & Victoria Santiago, Belmont Cragin

The Santiago’s backyard garden started in 2003 with the addition of a small pond, then, “I took up the whole yard,” Candido said, “little by little, we came up with our little getaway in the back.” He explained, “I have always loved gardens, especially Japanese gardens. My garden captures the essence of peace, tranquility and calmness. The sound of the waterfall and the sounds of the wind chimes provide a soothing feeling to those who enter.”

Runner-Up: Patricia Mills, Morgan Park

About her garden, Patricia wrote, “My garden is a mix of zen and natural habitat. When I sit in my garden, I see cardinals, woodpeckers, blue jays, and hummingbirds and of course my koi fish. My garden is calm and tranquil, exuding joy and peace to all that visit.”


Planter Boxes & Beds

Winner: Eileen Whelan, Garfield Ridge

“My garden has been a work in progress for over 30 years,” Whelan said. In addition to planting native plants around the home, she filled several window boxes and planter pots with colorful flowers, keeping pollinators and wildlife in mind. “The nature that comes, the insects, the butterflies, the dragonflies,” she said, “I feel like this is a home for them here in my yard.” 

Runner-Up: Jack &Maureen Mahoney, Beverly

“We love the city of Chicago, so we just want to show it off as much as we can,” said Maureen Mahoney. “It’s always been a clean and pretty city. We were trying to do our part.” (For more on this project and Patricia Mill’s Side Garden Runner-Up project, read the August 1st Beverly Review article here!)

Didn’t win this round? You still did a wonderful thing just by participating! For every eligible contest entry received, CBA donated $25 to South and West Side community gardens. As a result of the contest’s success, a total of $2,400 went to six community gardens: CCA Academy’s PermaPark Food Forest in North Lawndale, Englewood Veterans Garden and Heritage Community Garden in West Englewood, Peace in the Valley Garden in Austin, Rosemoor Community Association Garden in Roseland, and Urban Growers Collective in Bridgeport. 

Thanks, everyone, for another inspiring summer, and we’re excited to sort through your stellar entries next year!


Our winners were kind enough to share more about their gardens. Hear from them yourself! For more information and inspiration from our members’ gardens, check out the following links:

  • Click here to hear from Jessica Grzegorski & Bradon Webb

  • Click here to hear from Candido & Victoria Santiago

Access links mentioned by our winners in the pdfs above here:

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