Nature-Inspired Landscaping


Landscape inspiration is easily kick-started by trends chronicled in national news sources. Area experts can help shape those ideas with a local sensibility.

We asked two of those experts, Tom Ball, owner and president of Ground Affects in Sullivan, and Kerry Mattingly, co-owner of Treetops Landscape Design in Grafton, to give their impression of several 2018 national trends recently published in online newsletter Total Landscape Care.

Outdoor Living Spaces
Our experts note outdoor living room spaces remain popular as homeowners extend their favorite indoor activities while enhancing their natural landscape with fire and
water features.

“It started out with outdoor kitchens and then (evolved) to more elaborate fireplaces that actually became the focal point,” Mattingly says. “Gas switches have been added and some fireplaces have been built with two sides, one facing indoors and the other outdoors.”

Mattingly notes water features continue their popularity as demonstrated in koi ponds, waterfalls and brooks. Fire and water, he adds, is a sensory feast for eyes and ears.

Fueling the outdoor living trend is the emergence of using the latest technology that enhances the space. Ball says LED lighting and audio technology provides a new landscape dimension.

“You can change colors for mood or the seasons,” he explains. “Outdoor speakers let you enjoy your favorite music.”

The advent of technology, Mattingly says, also requires homeowners to learn new skills.

“If the design is not made easy to operate it won’t be used,” he says. “We try to tailor all of this to the client’s comfort level with operating it.”   

New technology also enhances professional design. Mattingly just last year began using drones to develop landscape designs for his clients.

“It’s fascinating to be able to zoom in on certain areas and show what designs will look like,” he says.

Downsizing Lawns
Drought areas like California and Arizona see the trend in smaller yards, but Ball says that trend doesn’t translate here unless it is to accommodate living spaces for relaxation, recreation or cooking.

“People don’t want to spend their day mowing,” Mattingly says. “If you have a meadow or prairie area, you can mow a path through and create small additional areas.”

While those additional areas can provide a place to relax and reflect, others offer other pursuits such as gardening.

According to Ball, gardens may not be as popular because of busy double-income lifestyles, but growing tomatoes in containers and moving them around for visual interest can be a good alternative.

Mattingly does see more organic-minded clients interested in gardens for growing herbs and vegetables. “There’s a sensitivity to the environment, getting away from chemicals and additives,” he says. “Composting also has increased.”

Wildlife Havens
“It definitely depends on the client and the location, whether it is in a subdivision or a more open area,” Ball says. “Generally, no one wants deer to eat their plants and they do a lot of damage to arborvitaes, for example. Hummingbirds are attracted to vibrant colors.”    

One way to add vibrant colors for the birds is by planting tulips. This familiar flower may be a hot trend nationally, but Ball and Mattingly say tulips are more an annual staple in southeastern Wisconsin while other plantings share year-to-year notoriety. Ornamental grasses and various hybrids of coneflowers, knockout roses and daylilies add to visual interest over the entire year.

“Color is important to a lot of people,” Ball says. “They want pops of color like vibrant purples, reds, pinks and yellows.”

In addition to hosting animals such as hummingbirds, some homeowners are looking for ways to attract deer. Mattingly says deer-friendly plantings (like certain serviceberry trees) paired with resistant plantings (like foxglove, daffodils and stronger scented species) can help homeowners who want to maintain a current ecosystem.
Our experts see a different kind of opportunity for domestic wildlife: canines.

“You have to make sure dogs have lawn space for exercise,” Ball says. He warns about ensuring they are not exposed to harmful plants such as hydrangeas.

Mattingly says he is asked to design kennels, although that need has been diminished by the use of electric fencing designed to keep dogs on property. Otherwise, he says there are plenty of dog parks in the area to give homeowners another option.

Landscape design can be a thorny path of time and expense. Our experts advise seeking professional help and taking it slow. It’s better to tackle a small section at a time and do it right, they say, than to do it all wrong at once.