Nurseries are bursting with new plants, the sun is shining and we are excited about making our outdoor spaces into the new family room.
A good landscape design is a multifaceted undertaking, and bringing together all the elements is equal parts art and science. We asked Becky Bala, a landscape designer with Designs by Sundown, to share her thoughts on exciting trends for the coming season.
Livable outdoor spaces involve more than just visually pleasing flora. A new material that Bala and her team have been including in their designs is exterior-rated porcelain tile. “Our 300+ freeze/thaw cycles yearly do not affect this material’s performance because it is extremely dense, making it optimal for Colorado,” she says. “It can be laid just like a traditional modular concrete paver but can also be used in an elevated decking system, making it a more versatile product. They also have a sleeker, more contemporary look.”
Lighting is important as well. “The energy-efficiency and consistency of LED landscape lighting has been elevated in the last couple of years with emerging technology, such as zoning and dimmable and color-changing system capabilities,” says Bala, who likes systems such as the Luxor ZDC from FXLuminaire. She adds that the entire lighting system can be controlled with an app on the homeowner’s phone or device.
The use of smart technology also extends to irrigation controllers, sprinkler systems and exterior outlets, allowing the homeowner to have control of their landscape with an app, which provides a new level of convenience but also energy-efficiency and water savings.
“We are seeing a raised level of awareness regarding water conservation and general understanding that the type of plantings you select can greatly influence the amount of water used on a property,” says Bala. “Through careful selection, you can achieve the same level of color and texture in the landscape, but consume far less water.”
Her recommendations include a couple of varieties of ice plant from Plant Select—Alan’s Apricot (1, 4) and Red Mountain Flame (2)—which she says are hardier and longer blooming, and she likes the Glowing Embers Hydrangea, which is beautiful, but she reminds gardeners that, with all hydrangeas, the bloom color is affected by the pH levels in your soil.
Other top suggestions from Bala are the Butterflies Magnolia, which is one of the first shrubs to bloom in the spring with yellow blossoms on a dainty branch; the Crimson Pointe Plum, a narrow variety of purple leaf plum that is great for tight spaces; and the Arctic Fire Dogwood, which she calls a great little hardy shrub.
When it comes to perennial grasses, Bala likes the Standing Ovation Little Blue Stem (3), also from Plant Select. She calls it “a more upright and hardier variety.”
In terms of design, Bala says modern landscapes have been a popular request. “The modern landscape has clean lines and efficient, comfortable and livable spaces,” Bala says, “which appeals to a wide variety of people and their lifestyles.” And she adds that emerging industry technology, such as 3-D modeling of a proposed design as well as video modeling, are important tools that help clients understand what the finished work can look like.
It’s not always necessary, however, to make a substantial investment to spruce up your yard. “Incorporating, for example, a custom piece of steel artwork in the landscape can jazz up a dull space,” she says, “and is oftentimes much more affordable than adding an amenity, such as a water feature.”
“People use their outdoor spaces for a wide variety of reasons,” says Bala. “A nice backyard layout will expand their usable living space and add to their property value. Creating different outdoor rooms with a degree of flexibility allows the same space to be used for entertaining, play/sports, ‘unplugged’ family time and relaxation.”