What’s Up In the Yard


Spring is just around the corner, which means it’s time to start thinking about the garden. What are the trends that are likely to influence Sacramento gardeners in 2006? We asked some local landscape designers to give us the lay of the land. Here’s what they had to say.

No Muss, No Fuss

If there’s one thing every gardener seems to want, it’s a low-maintenance landscape. “People like to be in their yards, but they don’t want to be slaves to their yards,” says Greg Harris, owner of Eden Designs, Landscape Planners.

What constitutes a low-maintenance landscape? Some of the elements include an automatic irrigation system (who has time to turn on sprinklers or water by hand?); planting annuals rather than perennials; using mulch to suppress weeds and reduce watering; and smart plant selection (choosing hardy plants that work with, not against, your soil and climate). Replacing large expanses of lawn with a patio or hardy groundcover is another winner: Grass requires a lot of work in the way of mowing, watering and fertilizing.  

The Multipurpose Yard

Nowadays, the backyard has to serve a multitude of functions: as a place to play, cook, entertain (and be entertained), exercise, relax, even sleep.

“People view the yard as a ‘usable outdoor environment’,” notes landscape designer Michael Glassman, owner of Michael Glassman & Associates. That explains the popularity of outdoor kitchens (some equipped with the same high-end appliances you’d find indoors); outdoor dining rooms complete with chandeliers and outdoor heaters; and built-in sound and home-theater systems.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, homeowners also are looking to the garden as a place to escape from the world. Harris designs “quiet spaces” in the garden where people can read, meditate, do yoga or just relax. Landscape designer Gary Kernick, owner of Change of Seasons, says hammocks are back in vogue. And Glassman recently designed a sleeping area with a bed for a client who wanted to sleep under the stars.

Instant Gratification

As architect Michael Malinowski puts it, “Gardeners want it all now.”
Homeowners, particularly those in new-home developments without mature landscapes, don’t care to wait years for plants to fill in. “We’re impatient,” he says. “We don’t want to wait 15 years for a tree to grow.” As a result, he says, there is less emphasis on plantings these days and more emphasis on things that give form and structure to the garden. “There’s a tendency to use built elements, pergolas, walkways, guest and pool houses, built-in barbecues, to achieve an instantaneous sense of completion,” Malinowski explains.

Water, Water, Not Everywhere

Thanks to a recent state law requiring communities to install residential water meters, water-wise landscaping is a hot topic for today’s gardeners.

“Everyone wants their garden to be more water-efficient,” says landscape designer Candace Schuncke. That has put native, drought-tolerant and Mediterranean-style plantings at the top of many gardeners’ wish lists, and put a bulls-eye on water-hungry lawns. “If I can talk someone out of putting in a whole lawn, I will,” says Schuncke, noting that a lawn requires two-thirds more water than, say, a similarly sized area filled with Mediterranean plants such as lavender and rosemary.

According to Kernick, there’s a cool new irrigation product on the market that uses satellite technology to reduce water waste. “It gets daily satellite-transmitted weather data to adjust the amount of water you use,” he explains. “If it’s going to rain, the device shuts off your sprinklers.”

To see water-conservation principles in action, Schuncke suggests visiting Fair Oaks Horticulture Center in Fair Oaks Park, which has a half-acre water-efficient demonstration garden.

Lighting the Way

Gardeners know that a beautiful landscape isn’t worth much if you can’t see it. And in the past few years, lighting has really taken off as an element of garden design. “I don’t do a project anymore that doesn’t include lighting,” says Kernick.

There are a lot of lighting options available, including low-voltage lighting. And the market has become highly competitive. (For gardeners, that means affordable.)

“Everyone, Target, Lowe’s is coming out with exterior-lighting lines,” says Kristen Wiederhold, a designer with Landscape Designers Inc. “And it’s easy to install, so you don’t have to hire a professional. You can do it yourself on a Saturday morning and enjoy it that night.”

Democracy in Action

According to Wiederhold, one of the biggest trends is the democratization of garden design: Big-ticket items, once available only to deep-pocketed consumers, are trickling down to the masses.

“We’re seeing high-end things like built-in barbecues and fireplaces become mobile and cost-effective,” Wiederhold explains. Anyone, she says, can go to Target, Wal-Mart or The Home Depot and pick up an inexpensive fire pit or built-in pond kit.

The popularity of home and garden TV shows geared toward budget-conscious do-it-yourselfers, along with the availability of websites that offer advice and product technical support, makes it easier than ever to create the garden of your dreams, whatever your budget.