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Landscaping trends affirm tradition, trying something new
Jill Odom | January 21, 2016
Container gardens allow for flexibility of design and versatile plants.

Container gardens allow for flexibility of design and versatile plant life.
Photo: Scrappy Annie/Flickr

A new year means new resolutions, but it also means new trends for fashion, technology and, of course, landscaping.

Some trends carry over from the previous year, gathering more popularity as more people notice them. If someone had to summarize what the landscaping trends for 2016 are, the old wedding rhyme of “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue” would work quite well.

Here are the eight trends to watch for this year:

Manageable maintenance

People are busier than ever and with all the different commitments requiring their attention, caring for a backyard could be one of the last things on their lists. This isn’t to say that clients are forsaking their yards entirely, but simply that they want manageable ones.

Thankfully, low-maintenance design is achievable, but landscapers have to make it clear to customers that there is a difference between low maintenance and no maintenance.

“Drought-resistant plants need an establishing phase; there are seasonal demands, and most of all we have the mature plant size to contend with,” says Ketti Kupper, owner and principle designer of Conscious Living Landscapes in Los Angeles. “Plants are not furniture. They are going to morph on us all.”

Some options of a low-maintenance design include the use of ground covers, such as jasmine, to prevent weeds, as well as using containers instead of annuals. Container gardens offer versatility and variety. Plants that normally couldn’t survive in an area’s soil can be placed in the soil they need. Plus, the container can be moved around so the plant gets the sun or shade it requires.

Edible gardens can come in many shapes, but those who are pressed for space can create vertical edible gardens.

Edible gardens can come in many shapes, but those who are pressed for space can create vertical edible gardens.
Photo: akadesign.ca

Edible gardens

A popular inhabitant of container gardens are edible plants, as they can be moved close to the kitchen for some ultra-fresh herbs and produce. With people becoming more interested and more willing to pay for the farm to table freshness at restaurants, it makes sense that some would want to keep that theme going at home as well.

“To have it at home is a popular landscaping feature lately,” said Pam Belecki, general manager of Four Seasons Garden Center in Oak Park, Michigan. “We’ve installed a beautiful vertical garden that was also edible.”

The desire for healthier options shows no sign of diminishing, so edible gardens seem likely to continue appearing in landscapes and perhaps especially in outdoor living spaces that feature a kitchen.

Outdoor living spaces

True, this trend has been around for a while now, but it’s clear that people’s craving for backyard getaways is not dying out anytime soon. What is changing are the features clients want installed in their outdoor oases. Since people are thinking of their lawns as living rooms, there is a desire to have something to gather around. Nothing attracts people more than food or heat and this is what the trend is showing so far.

Fire features are in high demand for outdoor living spaces.

Fire features are in high demand for outdoor living spaces.
Photo: Amy Materson

“They’re always coming out with new appliances,” said Brad Johnson, a salesman with Dalzell Design Landscaping, based in Augusta, Georgia. “Expanded kitchens, that’s going to change the design of the feature.”

According to Warwick Hunt, principal of Studio H Landscape Architecture in Newport Beach, California, the kitchen feature he has seen growing in popularity is wood-burning pizza ovens. Fire features have also been steadily growing in demand and because they extend the amount of time customers can spend enjoying their space, they’re typically seen as well worth the expense.

“Water features have dropped off,” Belecki said. “People want fire features because they’re family-friendly and are multiuse.”

LED lighting

As the demand for fire features grows due to their ability to extend the number of seasons outdoor living areas can be used, landscape lighting is also expected to flourish since it, too, enables clients to enjoy their outdoor spaces longer.

LED lighting will begin to have more colors introduced in 2016.

LED lighting will begin to have more colors introduced in 2016.
Photo: McKay Landscape Lighting

“The complex outdoor jobs that we have seen have been bigger and crazier than we have ever seen,” said Jerry McKay, owner and president of McKay Landscape Lighting in Omaha, Nebraska. “I see it only continuing, and perhaps increasing.”

As LED lighting has solidified its place as the energy-efficient option, McKay expects manufacturers to begin focusing on color options and dimmable independent lighting. Also, as a new generation begins purchasing homes, control via smartphone apps will be in higher demand, as technology is more of an integral part of life for them.

“Hopefully you’ll see improved quality,” McKay said. “We’re still seeing premature burnout outside, and still higher failure rates than I’d like to see.”

Sustainable landscaping

Sustainability is a growing concern and desire for homeowners. As houses get renovated to conserve energy, yards will be redesigned to conserve water. There are plenty of design options that can be used to achieve this, but the two main options will be low-water-use plant material and better irrigation systems.

“Either using more targeted irrigation so you’re not watering everything at the same time or collecting rainwater runoff are good forms of water control,” Belecki said.

Native plants

One of the options for sustainable landscaping is to install plants that have low water use. Native plants have been promoted for this ability for a number of years now and it seems landscaping clients are finally coming around to the idea. Not only do native plants require less water, they also help promote biodiversity and attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

Native plants are a water-wise choice as they are adapted to that specific climate.

Native plants are a water-wise choice as they are adapted to that specific climate.
Photo: University of Delaware

“Some natives are easier to integrate into the landscape with success and some are now even available at home improvement stores,” Kupper said. “It’s fabulous that the idea of incorporating natives is now a mainstream interest.”

However, not all natives are easily available and some small natives take a full year to settle, according to Kupper. If customers want fast results, warn them that native plants may require some time to take hold and thrive.

“I think they like the idea (of native plants) more so than what that means; there’s a certain upkeep,” Belecki said. “They are more aware and more willing to try.”

Untamed yards 

Wild, untamed gardens are a new trend that will have to be treated with caution.

Wild, untamed gardens are a new trend that will have to be treated with caution.
Photo: Wavehill.org

A new style that is evolving with the rising popularity of native plants is the wild, untamed look. This is a design trend that is for those who are really into letting nature do its thing, and aren’t trying to keep greenery in defined boundaries. The danger in this trend is the thin line that landscapers are going to have to walk to prevent the yard from transforming from an imperfect beauty into unappealing beast.

“This new trend is not an easy fix for landscapers or property owners,” Kupper said. “We have a new set of plant materials to learn, a new aesthetic, and new maintenance needs to manage. I expect that we’ll see poorly pruned and overgrown gardens during that learning curve. Most likely landscapers will develop personal plant palettes using materials where they have developed experience and some confidence.”

Monochrome structures

By using black structures that blend into the background, the garden becomes the focus.

By using black structures that blend into the background, the garden becomes the focus.
Photo: Alcro Trend

This last trend is the one that has been borrowed. People in Europe have been doing it for quite some time. Using a monochrome color, especially a dark color, for exterior structures such as fences or pergolas helps bring attention to the bright hues of the garden.

This contrast can even be created by painting houses black or dark blue. Even though the idea sounds like it would make the house look like it belongs to the Addams Family, it actually creates a classy, dignified look.

Some landscapers see this trend as a fad and Belecki has seen a mixture of colors used, rather than a one-color palette, but Kupper believes the dark structures are around to stay.

“The dark background is a wonderful backdrop for plants, plus it tones down outdoor glare,” Kupper said. “I love using dark colors for walls and fences in particular.”

Plant to watch for

As for the something blue, several landscapers – when asked what they thought the plant of 2016 would be – chose hydrangeas.

Meanwhile, Pantone, the self-described authority on color, chose two colors for its Color of the Year for 2016 and hydrangeas come in both: soft baby blue and sweet cotton candy pink.

Coincidence? Perhaps, but it doesn’t hurt to keep it in mind as 2016 plays out.

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