Trends in Landscape Design
By JULIE WEST JOHNSON
Nathaniel Hawthorne, reflecting on his Concord garden in 1846,
wrote, “I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day. It was
one of the most bewitching sights in the world, to observe a hill of
beans thrusting aside the soil, or a row of early peas just peeping
forth sufficiently to trace a line of delicate green.”
That many present-day gardeners share Hawthorne’s nurturing passion
for plants is not surprising; the last several decades have seen an
explosion of enthusiasm for landscape design and gardening of all sorts.
And what are the trends in design now, in 2012?
According to Jill Selinger, of the Regenstein School at the Chicago Botanic Garden, current practices mainly reflect a general shift toward the utilitarian, away from the purely ornamental.
Selinger has been with the Botanic Garden for twelve years, and she
notes that many more people have been signing up for gardening classes
recently, hoping to make their plantings useful. The kitchen garden of
yore is back in vogue, with people wanting to grow heirloom tomatoes,
squashes, beans, and other vegetables. A particularly popular course at
the Regenstein School is “The Weekend Gardener,” which focuses on how to
grow blackberries and fruit trees in one’s own yard. Another
heavily-enrolled offering is Regenstein’s urban composting class.
Julie McCaffrey spokesperson at the Botanic Garden points out that two
newer designs now proliferating both lend momentum to the utilitarian
movement: raised bed gardening and vertical gardening. Regenstein now
offers a class called “Raised Bed Gardening,” which instructs people in
how to build such a garden and in how to grow vegetables for maximum
yield. Elevated beds enable gardeners to supply better soil and better
drainage for their plants; furthermore, tending them is easier on
people’s backs and knees. Regenstein also hosts a hands-on class for
whole families interested in tending raised beds, meeting with the
parents and children four times a year, once in each season. This past
year 24 families participated.
Vertical gardening enables people to grow more in small spaces by
planting up. Patrick Blanc, a French landscape architect who has worked
in Chicago, is a cutting-edge advocate of this sort of design. Vertical
planting is a way to create more gardens in urban areas, and
increasingly, “planted walls” help control temperature within buildings
and manage rain run-off, making them ecologically desirable. Sometimes
the walls become “green roofs,” which are planted chiefly to save on
heating and cooling costs. Chicago and Toronto stand out for their bold
experiments in this sphere.
Another gardening trend involves raising animals, such as bees or
chickens, as part of one’s landscape design. Regenstein will be offering
a new course in April on raising backyard chickens, taught by Jennifer
Murtoff, owner of a Chicago business called Home to Roost: Urban Chicken
Jane Mueller and Mark Marcus, owners of the Chicago business Private
Gardens, Public Places, observe that increasingly people want
low-maintenance landscaping. They are also seeing an increase in front
gardens, usually following the removal of a lawn, and in container
gardening. In addition, clients want hearty plants, such as Proven
Winners (PW), bred to grow almost anywhere and with minimal attention.
Jill Selinger, too, has noticed a demand for tougher plants, especially
drought-resistant hybrids. A further development is that more home
gardeners are collecting water in rain barrels and focusing on native
plants that flourish on their own. Roy Diblik, of Northwind Perennial
Farm in Springfield, Wisconsin, offers a Regenstein course on making
home gardens ecological, self-sustaining, and nurturing.
The Mueller-Marcus duo stresses that for people thinking of investing
in landscaping, this spring and summer is an optimal time to do so.
Because the economy has been bad for the last several years, most local
nurseries have not been able to sell trees and larger shrubs at their
usual rate, and their stock has grown huge. Consequently, “You can now
get wonderful buys –unbelievably well-grown plants for very good
So plunge in and reap the rewards. As Henry David Thoreau
observed about his bean fields in Walden, “I came to love my rows. . . .
They attached me to the earth, and so I got strength like Antaeus.”
Published: February 12, 2012
Issue: February 2012 Issue