Staff April 25, 2016

For a few decades now, American Nurseryman has presented the occasional article called “Superior Site.” Basically, it’s a case study of a landscape design/installation project that, for any number of reasons, has the mark of excellence.

What makes a landscape site “superior”? Is it the quality of materials, the cleverness of design? Is it the cost of design and installation? Yes. And no. We thought we’d look to a couple of the national associations for landscape pros and see what they say about the latest trends. Some of the trends identified reflect ongoing movements; some name recently recognized or newly revisited concepts.

According to the National Association of Landscape Professionals, there are six standout trends for 2016. The NALP’s prognostication is based on research into current consumer demands and lifestyle trends—we know these are ever-changing—as well as good, sound practices in and influences from the contributing fields of horticulture, architecture and design.

Overall, the ongoing trend to move indoor living outdoors is settling in— or settling out. This movement began several years ago and shows no signs of letting up. The interest in “staycation” time that began with the Great Recession makes sense, especially to young families and to older homeowners who, for the cost of a visit to Disneyworld or a European river cruise, could make the most of their own property and enjoy it for years to come.

Couple that with the other continuing trend—sustainability—and you’ve got a good sense of what’s “in,” and what’s bound to say in.

Specifically, however, here are six trends that NALP has identified for this year.

1. Fully customized living spaces

Fully equipped outdoor kitchens have been around for a long time, offering the freedom of open-air food prep and consumption without limiting the menu to hot-dogs-on-a-stick. The NALP says that this year, even more kitchens will be built, complete with brick ovens and firepits—for atmosphere and, yes, perhaps for the occasional s’more. Well-appointed dining and living rooms are planned, and it appears that the pup tent in the backyard has graduated to a canopy bedroom. Personalized, themed spaces will be big, with separate areas designated for yoga, for crafts and, of course, for the family dog.

2. Tech takes over

Lighting is the least of the outdoor tech revolution, with functional lighting being de rigueur. Taking that a step further, however, and you’ve got theme-park inspired interactive lighting: twinkling, boldly colored, lighting display as its own focal point.

Wi-fi access is a necessity, as much for business purposes as for communication and entertainment. Sound systems and high-res TV installations continue to be popular.

Honor thy Mother

With a hearty salute to Mother Nature, “naturescaping” designed and installed to support local birds, insects and other wildlife emphasizes the incorporation of eco-friendly and “native” gardens. This isn’t new, but it’s positioned to become a requirement for many clients. And going “green” in the garden means more than planting the right plant in the right place, forgoing truckloads of chemicals and installing water-smart irrigation systems. Solar-powered LED lighting, designed to consume less energy, is the way to go.

3. Eat up!

No one can deny that edible plants have found their way into the ornamental garden, but the convenience of gardening in containers also has made that trend more versatile. A variety of fruits, berries, herbs and vegetables can be grown on their own or in combined planters, serving the dual purpose of beautifying and nourishing.

Plus, the community garden, long a staple of urban areas, is predicted to be planned and planted by landscape professionals in neighborhoods whose developers—or current residents— make room.

4. “Freshwater” features

According to the NALP, rainwater and stormwater management will become a more visible part of the landscape in 2016, no longer relegated to the domain of the public works department. Rain barrels, rain gardens and catch basins will take center stage as integral and perhaps decorative elements. It’s no longer chic to hide the utility, as long as it contributes both form and function.

5. Soft colors, soothing hues

Following the lead of the Pantone folks, who are promoting baby-boy and baby-girl colors this year, clients will be asking for a more subtle palette. Bold statements still have their place, but the prized garden this year will tend to lower blood pressure rather than excite it. Take a deep breath, blow it out, then spec pastels and creams.

Each year the American Society of Landscape Architects polls its membership on a number of topics, and a survey conducted this winter asked members to predict what they expect clients to demand in 2016. The results foretell the Top 10 design trends.

Eco-responsibility appears to be trend No. 1, with rainwater/graywater harvesting revealed as the primary consumer concern. Yes, clients want beauty, but they want their beautiful landscapes to save water.

Here’s what the LAs expect to be designing this year, in order.

Rainwater/graywater harvesting

Nearly 90 percent of landscape architects polled indicated that this is Priority 1. As the threat of drought and tightening water regulations continues in many areas of the country—despite recent record storms and flooding— homeowners are preparing for the future by using their landscapes as part of the solution rather than part of the problem. According to Nancy Somerville, ASLA’s executive vice president and CEO, “Water issues are hot topics for many communities, and many people are turning to landscape architects for creative green infrastructure solutions. Sustainable residential landscape architecture, if part of a broader integrated site design, can dramatically reduce water usage and stormwater runoff over the long term while creating a healthy residential environment.”

Use of native plants; use of nativeadapted, drought-tolerant plants

Eighty-six percent of respondents to the ASLA survey said that they’ll be asked to specify native plants. In the No. 3 spot, 85 percent say that nativeadapted plants that require fewer inputs—read, water—will be in great demand.

This presents an exceptional opportunity for growers and landscape architects and designers to communicate about natives and the importance of “right plant, right place.”

Low maintenance, high value

Tying with native-adapted and drought-tolerant plants at an 85 percent response rate, low-maintenance landscapes continue to be a homeowner favorite. Sure, time is valuable, but the demand for “low-maintenance” also indicates the desire for more ecologically sound properties.

6. Permeable paving

Runoff is waste, and 77 percent of landscape architects have clients who are aware of that—and ask for a solution. Patios and driveways, pool decks and walkways all can be designed and installed to allow ambient water to be returned to the soil. It’s all part of sustainable design and responsible land use.

Fire pits and fireplaces

It’s elemental. Fire is fascinating, and along with water displays, it evokes the primitive as well as the sophisticated. Seventy-five percent of LAs report that they expect to incorporate fire elements where it’s appropriate and where it’s safe to do so.

Food, glorious food

Yes, the edible gardening craze has settled nicely into the ornamental garden. Seventy-five percent of those polled responded that clients will require the incorporation of fruits and vegetables—and on larger properties, orchards and vineyards—into this year’s landscape plans.

Let it rain

Why fight it? If low-lying areas on the property tend to collect water, clients will agree to the development of a rain garden rather than importing fill. Seventy-three percent of landscape architects surveyed predict that their projects this year will include adaptation or creation of eco- and water-friendly rain gardens.

Drip, water-efficient irrigation / reduced lawn

Whether they’re simply frugal or are subject to restrictive local ordinances, clients for 72 percent of responding LAs will require smart irrigation systems. And perhaps as part of this trend, 72 percent will ask for a reduction of turfgrass areas.

What the professionals predict for this year fits in well with what customers have been saying for years: More beauty, less work. More utility, more value per square foot. Higher environmental ROI, less waste.

Designing to fit the trends? Helping clients to understand the value of sound and responsible design and installation is part of the package.

Read more: NALP’s Six Landscaping Trends for 2016

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