2013's Landscape Design Winners and Losers

by Ben Bowen

Like any craft or art, landscaping design changes and evolves.

Landscape elements, techniques, materials, and aesthetics go in and out of favor. And that's a good thing! Everyone is happy that we stopped planting swaths of junipers. And do you remember the world before ornamental grasses were commonly used?

From my perspective, landscape tastes change gradually- but they are always changing. The trends I notice are not fads (looking at you pallet garden), but real shifts that I think will continue. What rose or fell in 2013?  Here are three winners and three losers:

Landscaping Design Winners and Losers

First the winners!

What was the "ironic mustache" of landscape design?

landscaper with mustache
  1. Hardscaping. Patios, walkways, pool decks, and driveways drove a lot of projects this year. As outdoor living is embraced and desired by more people, hardscaping has taken off. Paver or stone patios are the foundation for these spaces. Other landscape contractors and suppliers all say the same thing, "Hardscape is king right now."
  2. Sustainable Landscapes. People, especially here in Portland, have become keenly aware of the environmental impact of their landscaping and gardens. Our landscape clients want low-maintenance, low-water use, and no-chemical use landscapes. Native plant lists, wildlife friendly landscapes, and Backyard Habitats have dominated our consultations. This is not a fad, but is quickly becoming the gold standard in landscaping.
  3. Fire. Fire is the new water (see below). Fire pits, outdoor fire places, pizza ovens, built in grills- all of these have become standard elements in the landscape. All of these elements are part of the larger "outdoor living" trend. And my clients seem to appreciate that a fire pit or fire place will only consume resources when you want it to. The rest of the time it just sits there, looking pretty (if it was done right).

And now for the losers...

This was lawn before  Ross NW Watergardens  got to it.
  1. Lawns. All across Portland, OR lawns are getting smaller. In many cases they are just plain disappearing. Probably half of our designs this year involved reducing or eliminating lawns. Why? Water, chemicals, and time- lawns take too much of all these for many of my client's.
  2. Irrigation Systems. Most of my clients have to cut things from their landscaping wish list to keep the budget under control. So many times this year the sprinklers were the first thing to go. With no lawn and native or drought tolerant plants foregoing sprinklers is not a big deal. However, when irrigation is installed clients are opting to invest in high efficiency systems and smart timers.
  3. Water Features. Yes, there will always be water features. In fact, we installed several this year. But there is no longer the overwhelming demand for them. People realize that they consume electricity, water, and time. Many people have had (or know someone who has had) a bad experience with a poorly built pond. And a properly built water feature is often much more expensive than people expect.

Portland Landscape Design Trends

Looking at the winners and losers, it becomes clear what our Portland area clients want in a landscape.

  • "Set it and forget it" landscapes. Spend the time and money to design and build a great landscape- that takes very little time and money to maintain. Patios, fire pits, and garden structures are ready to be enjoyed. And they don't consume resources when life is too busy for us to enjoy them.
  • Gardens the whole neighborhood can love, including the animals we share them with. Wildlife, backyard chickens, and dogs all get consideration.
  • As little water as possible. Water is recognized as a finite, precious, and increasingly expensive resource. The landscape gives us the opportunity to make an impact.

What will 2014 mean for landscape design? That's for another post, but we are looking forward to it.

How about you? What landscape trends have you seen this year? Comments are open below!