What's going to be hot in the landscape industry? If you look carefully, you can almost predict the next thing, you don't have to stumble around cluelessly in the dark.
As a contractor, you have some idea of what your costumers want, or of what's popular in your neck of the woods. Ther are other ways to get a picture of some of the broader green industry trends that are emerging around the country. One of them is a survey done by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) every year, asking what their members predict will be in demand in the near future.
Topping the most recent ASLA poll were outdoor living spaces, such as kitchens and entertainment areas. The landscape architects also expect a strong market for installed seating, landscape lighting, water features, pavers and fire pits. People also want sustainable, low-maintenance landscapes, edible gardens and native plants. In addition, they wish to cut their water usage.
“If I had to pick something that was going to be hot, one of the things that’ll really get going again is outdoor kitchens,” predicts Stephen Lisk, owner of Lisk Landscape Management in Mt. Ephraim, New Jersey. “With the economy getting better, people have been spending money. They’re really going to start investing in outdoor living spaces.”
Stan Hoglund, owner of Fargo, North Dakota-based Hoglund Landscape, Inc., agrees with the results of the survey, as he’s found himself building a lot of fancy outdoor kitchens lately. “I’m seeing a big demand for built-in grills and built-in outdoor seating,” he says.
These new cooking and entertainment centers are a far cry from yesterday’s iconic backyard barbecue, the kettle of charcoal on skinny metal legs where Dad blackened hot dogs. Today’s outdoor kitchens have built-in refrigerators, gas ranges, smokers, wood cabinets, and even big-screen TVs. Edible gardens are often part of the scene.
Ted Cleary, an ASLA member and owner of Studio Cleary Landscape Architecture in Charlotte, North Carolina, designs outdoor kitchens for both high-end clients and those of more modest means. He says “the foodie thing,” the influence of the Food Network and celebrity chefs, is part of what’s driving the desire for well-equipped outdoor kitchens and edible landscapes.
“When clients throw out the idea of having a vegetable garden, then I say, ‘Let’s not just have some little box out in the middle of the backyard; let’s integrate it into the outdoor kitchen design, and create a terraced herb garden.”
“I’ll build planting beds at different heights that kind of weave in and out of the kitchen,” explains Cleary. “That way, while he’s grilling, the client can simply reach over and pick off some fresh rosemary or basil.”
“He and his guests can be enjoying a nice outdoor meal of say, something with cilantro. And their guests can see that cilantro growing, right next to them. It adds to the whole experience, the whole ambience.”
Hoglund has seen the demand for all kinds of pavers grow. “And also, for rock-faced block retaining-wall pavers,” he adds. “We’ve been using those in a lot of applications, too; people really love them.”
Lisk agrees, saying, “Concrete paver stoops and driveways are huge.” Hoglund says, “The new ones they have now are so nice, a lot nicer than they were just ten or 15 years ago. They’ll probably become the standard.”
On a recent build, he used a lot of different paving products. “On the lakefront, we built a natural stone retaining wall. Then, we built several rock-faced block retaining walls up the hillside, leading to an outdoor fireplace which we made out of cement pavers.”
Staircases were incorporated into the elaborate design. “Walking up the staircases from below, you come to a patio and a landing with a seating wall. The staircases were all out of rock-faced block, with pavers between them and the next rock-faced block retaining wall. Mixing the rock-faced block pavers with the other pavers gave it a really interesting look.”
You’d think all of that would provide spectacle enough. Not for Hoglund. He also added a water feature and a bridge.
Low-voltage lighting When people go to the trouble and expense to build beautiful backyards, they want to be able to see them, and not just in the daytime. So it’s not surprising that landscape lighting was at the top of the survey, with a score of 98 percent.
Lisk cites a recent project as an example. “We just went back to a house where we had built an outdoor kitchen a couple of years ago. This time, we put in some area lighting, and also added some uplighting of the trees and the house. It really made a huge difference. It was not only great for security purposes, it was just a fantastic effect overall.”
He has seen a growing desire for landscape lighting installation even during the winter months. “In December and January, it gets dark at 5:00 p.m. With this hard winter we had around here, I think people were trying to extend the days out, and get a better feeling about things, not so depressed.”
Serving the demand for lighting is easier than ever, said Lisk. “The lowvoltage LED lighting we have now is just easier to install than the old halogen systems. That was a little bit tricky, trying to get those voltages correct, with the larger transformers. Now it’s a lot easier to install lighting systems, and doesn’t take as much time.”
Low water, low maintenance landscapes Another clear trend centers around the more efficient use of water. This includes the use of native plants, reducing the amount of turf and installing permeable pavers. Although Cleary’s area wasn’t hit badly by drought this past year, his clients have been telling him they want to use less water. At the same time, they want to keep their lawns green.
“In my area, I see a big trend toward managing water better,” says Drew Lathin, owner of Creating Sustainable Landscapes, LLC in Novi, Michigan.
He believes the concern about water is simply part of an expanding overall consciousness about environmental issues. “Just about everybody’s heard about the plight of the monarch butterflies, and the bees, with colony collapse disorder. People believe those are real issues.”
Lathin adds, “I know a bunch of people who have already ‘drunk the Kool-Aid,’ so they’re talking more and more about stormwater management, and building rain gardens.
For the time being, in the Great Lakes region, we have abundant water resources. But there are those who are looking towards the future, and know there are issues coming down the road.”
“People around here are starting to understand those issues,” he continues. “For instance, the city of Ann Arbor has a program where if you put a rain garden on your property according to certain specifications, you’ll get a break on your stormwater bill.”
Programs such as these create demand. If there are such programs in effect or going into effect in your area, it might behoove you to gear up to capture that business, whether it’s residential or commercial.
“Also, more and more, commercial developers want LEED-certified materials and designs,” adds Cleary.
“For instance, there are a lot of great products out there now that can reduce stormwater runoff. That can be a deciding factor as to whether a project passes a review board or not.”
One of those products is, of course, the permeable paver. “I think one of the biggest things coming will be permeable pavers,” says Lisk. “That’s got to be at the top of the list— around here, anyway. Right now, with all the snow melting, people are having a lot of problems with water collection.
They know how fantastic those systems are.”
Homeowners not only want landscapes that take less water, they also want them to take less work. “People want to spend more time with their families,” said Lisk. “They want landscape elements that they’re not going to have to spend a ton of time taking care of.”
Fire pits and water features
It seems that the more high-tech life gets, the more people long to bring out their ‘inner caveman.’
“Fire pits are getting to be really popular,” agrees Hoglund. “We’ve done quite a few of those lately. For example, on this one townhome development, we enlarged all of the existing patios, making them about three times bigger. And we put fire pits in all of them, except one.”
“Water features are in demand,” says Lisk. “Not only do they look great aesthetically, but there’s something very soothing about hanging out near a splashing fountain.”
Your trends may vary
Taking a look at what other contractors around the country are seeing can only give you some clues about what might be up-and-coming for your own business. Of course, trends in your area will be affected by your local economy, weather, and, as we’ve seen, even acts of legislation.
Lisk says the long, hard, Polar Vortex-infused winter has really taken a toll on his fellow Jerseyites, making them itchy to get outdoors and enjoy their backyard living spaces. “Normally, we have 50-degree-ish winters around here, but this one…every other week, we got eight inches of snow. People have cabin fever to the max, so they’re going to be excited to get out and get planting. I think we’re going to have a great spring and summer.”