Landscape architects across the Midwest are thinking less about designing gardens and more about creating outdoor rooms. Ohio landscaper Marty Grunder of Grunder Landscaping Co says he has one goal when designing a yard, a lesson learned from an industry colleague: “Create an inspired space that gives people a reason to grab that back-door handle and go outside."
Try these tips from Marty and other members of the National Association of Landscape Professionals for a gorgeous yard—or brand-new outside room—this year.
1. Be weather-wise
Don't let unpredictable Midwest weather keep you from enjoying your yard. Plan for rainy days with one of many "roof" options for your outdoor room, like a canvas awning or pergola. Bruce Williams of Sun Valley Landscaping in Omaha also suggests planting trees (like pine) and shrubs to block the wind. "Use a tall, narrow, cylindrical-type plant that doesn't take up a lot of space, but offers some height for a screen," he says.
Some pergolas include canvas on a track that runs through the overhead slats. On rainy days, homeowners can pull the canvas closed (like blinds on a window) to stay dry. Photo courtesy of Grunder Landscaping Co.
2. Get control with your smartphone
Change the music, light up the yard, check the grill temperature and make sure your plants have enough water, all without moving from your lawn chair. Marty says he's worked with clients to make that convenience a reality using apps on their smartphones. “We used to have to run wires everywhere, drill through stuff," Marty says. "The wireless technology is so effective now that you’re not running wires everywhere. There’s a lot of savings.”
3. Think sustainable
Bruce says the best yards work with the environment, not against it. That means finding clever ways to conserve water and prevent flooding (or fix that one part of your yard that's always...mushy). One solution is rain gardens, which capture water and drain it slowly back into the earth in a way that avoids erosion and pooling stormwater. Incorporating native plants can also help. "For problem areas that are too wet, we can use natives that like wet soil and plant that out to alleviate drainage problems," Bruce says.
Curious about native plants? Ask the helpful staff members at one of these 12 Standout Midwest Garden Centers.
A landscaper in Vernon Hills, Illinois, used native plants and rocks to help naturally conserve water and reduce run-off. Photo courtesy of James Martin Associates, Inc.
4. Invite landscapers inside
If you want your yard to be an extension of your home, the indoor and outdoor "rooms" should match. That's why Marty and his team ask to see the inside of clients' houses. "If you go through the house and see a lot of eclectic colors, purples or yellows or pinks or greens, that would probably lend itself to doing a muted patio with colorful furniture, pillows, umbrellas, things like that," he says. "The things you use in the outside of the house, they ought to tie in well with what’s going on in the inside."
5. Incorporate colors and textures
Purple is having a moment, especially because Pantone's Color of the Year 2018 is ultra-violet. Try irises, hydrangeas or lavender to add a pop of color to your yard. But this year, it's not just about color: Bruce says more people are using plants with patterns to create visual interest. "In the Midwest, some plants only bloom for a week," he said. "So we're getting plants that don't necessarily flower but have leaves with color and texture."
Try the patterned leaf of Persian Shield (left) or the delicate Toad Lily (right); photos courtesy of Sun Valley Landscaping