Trends of trends
When is a trend a "trend"? Well, we can call something a trend when it moves beyond the "fad" stage, but what happens when a trend has hung around long enough to become - what? Can a trend become permanent?
Let's hope so. That is, let's hope certain trends become permanent. If you've got Bieber Fever, you have my sympathy and I hope you recover soon. But if you've got the fever for certain landscape trends, you might plan for the long haul. It appears that several of them will have long-term homes.
Recently the American Society of Landscape Architects released the results of its 2011 residential trends survey. Each year the association polls residential landscape architecture professionals to gauge the popularity of various design elements, and the responses, we can infer, reflect what's de rigueur among the landed gentry. (Hey, we all know there are still those among us who can afford to hire a landscape architect, and thank goodness for them.) ASLA's results this year reveal (surprise!) that homeowners want function, efficiency and fire pits. Don't we all?
Translating "function and efficiency," we find that homeowners are looking for the basics, but done well. Elements such as lighting, warmth, food and a cozy den define the interior as well as the exterior; thus, outdoor rooms continue to be a primary trend. A whopping 96.2 percent of LAs polled rated exterior lighting as somewhat or very popular this year, followed by fire pits or fireplaces (94.2 percent); seating and dining areas (94.1 percent), grills (93.8 percent) and installed, permanent seating (89.5 percent). And when we speak of "grills" among these installations, we're not taking about a portable Smokey Joe.
Water is still popular, especially in the form of a "natural" installation. Ornamental pools, splash pools, waterfalls, grottos, water runnels or bubblers topped the list of amenities at 84.7 percent. Spas and swimming pools emerged at 75.9 percent and 69.4 percent, respectively.
But what's happening with the plants? The new normal, it seems, is "low maintenance" landscapes - even among those who can afford to have someone else maintain their properties. Native plants won the vote at 87.2 percent, but take note: Vegetable gardens (including orchards and vineyards) came in at 80.3 percent. That's a lot of fruit and veggies, and it confirms the sustained popularity of the homegrown movement.
Speaking of sustainability, we again see "native/adapted, drought-tolerant plants" taking the lead at 88.8 percent. Drip/water-efficient irrigation came in at 83.1 percent, which bodes well for the environment as well as the landscape professional. LAs reported that their clients are also requesting permeable paving, recycled materials, rainwater and graywater harvesting - and reduced lawn. That doesn't mean no lawn.
So. Trends we spotted years ago seem to have settled in nicely. Judging from the results of this survey, the only "new" element is the desire for more space for edibles - which happened to be trendy decades ago, and decades before that.
Should the industry be concerned? Not at all. We know we're on the right track. But let's do more to lead the trends rather than react to them.