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These Outdoor Design Trends Will Dominate in 2021

Last updated: 01-19-2021

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These Outdoor Design Trends Will Dominate in 2021

These Outdoor Design Trends Will Dominate in 2021
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These Outdoor Design Trends Will Dominate in 2021
Six landscape designers weigh in on the features and plantings we’ll be seeing more of this year
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After nearly a year of confinement, our outdoor spaces have become sanctuaries of solace and sanity. Naturally, landscape design has become top of mind. Even those who call city apartments home are finding ways to integrate the gentle presence of nature into their dwellings.
“The pandemic has reinforced the idea that horticulture is therapy,” says New York City–based landscape designer Todd Haiman . “Green spaces in cities and private outdoor space are increasingly valued to improve health and mental wellbeing.”
We asked Haiman—along with landscape designers Renée Byers, John Hart Asher, Holly Kuljian, Christine Ten Eyck, and Fernando Wong—for their predictions on the outdoor design trends that will dominate our spaces in 2021.
An outdoor entertaining space designed by Frances Merrill for a client outside Los Angeles.
Photo: Laure Joliet
Gardens with purpose
“We’re witnessing a significant and exciting shift away from the traditional static plantings and unused lawns that have dominated American front yards and properties at large,” says Holly Kuljian of Pine House Edible Gardens . “We’re seeing multigenerational family members using every square inch of the garden at all hours of the day. With clients taking Zoom meetings in the hammock or learning the joy of pruning their fruit trees, we’re called to look to the oft-forgotten front yard for additional outdoor space.”
Kuljian and her team are seeing increased demand for dynamic activations such as group seating for neighborhood gatherings, sports courts, kids play areas, and sculptural features, as well as vegetable beds, mini orchards, medicinal and tea plantings, and beehives.
“With families of all ages at home so much more now, there is a renewed interest in kitchen and vegetable gardens,” Renée Byers says of the edible garden trend. “The potager, where both flowers and kitchen herbs and vegetables can be combined, is making a big comeback. We locate kitchen gardens in sunny spots as close to the house as possible and integrate them into the landscape with paths and fencing, so they are integral parts of the composition.”
A Mexican estate ’s amenity-filled outdoor area by designer Ken Fulk and architect Victor Legorreta.
Photo: Douglas Friedman
The world outside your door
“We’re getting requests for covered outdoor living areas that have all of the comforts of inside on the outside,” says Fernando Wong , whose latest landscaping projects include the Four Seasons Fort Lauderdale. “People want family spaces with everything from big-screen TVs to pizza ovens and billiard tables. They want their homes to look like and have the amenities of the resorts that they used to travel to for vacations.”
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The humble freestanding grill will no longer cut it, says Byers, whose clients are requesting fully equipped outdoor kitchens with fridges, storage space, and custom-built grills. The challenge, she says, is making them look like they belong. “Oftentimes, outdoor kitchens look like an awkward appendage in the landscape,” she says, adding that she favors the use of cabinetry and masonry to conceal appliances.
Christine Ten Eyck of Ten Eyck Landscape Architects says that while swimming pools are as popular as ever, it’s no longer a case of the bigger, the better. “Smaller swimming pools take up less green space of urban properties and give the illusion of swimming in a fountain-like water body surrounded by lush landscape versus a sea of paving.” She notes that outdoor showers are also high on people’s wish lists: “Showering or bathing surrounded by the intoxicating fragrance of plants in a completely private small garden gets the day started right.”
A serene backyard setting by Renée Byers.
Photo: Annie Schlechter
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It’s not just interiors that can swaddle us from the chaos of the world—people want their gardens to do the same.
“Formal, manicured gardens are less relevant today—people are more interested in creating enveloping comfort and serenity,” Byers says. “They want a garden that looks like it has always been there. The right plants in the right place can create private and serene settings, but still be full of interest and color as one moves through them.”
She suggests evergreens such as boxwood or hollies contrasted with drifts of ornamental grasses and flowering shrubs, such as certain panicle hydrangeas, mostly in white. “The grasses sway with the wind and catch the light, and by keeping the flowering color palette limited to white, with blooms that fade to pinks and burgundies as the season progresses, we can achieve a very soothing effect over many months.”
Kuljian says that clients are becoming more adventurous. “For a more modern garden, we’ve been enjoying black and dark burgundy foliage and flowers with accents of light dusty apricot and watery blue,” she says. “We’re also using yellow much more, and it looks great with silver foliage and a charcoal gray backdrop. Always green, though—no matter what, being surrounded by verdant green is a timeless human desire.”
“We’ll see plants with happy colors in a post-pandemic world,” adds Haiman, who was recently made resident landscape designer at 30 Warren . “Regardless of the size of the garden, people are making choices to orchestrate the flowering throughout all four seasons.”
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Invasive gardens begone
Chief among all the experts’ predictions: Native plants will be essential.
“Native plantings in residential gardens attract urban wildlife such as birds and pollinators while providing year-round beauty,” Ten Eyck says. “With the pandemic and climate change looming, interacting with and prioritizing native plants at home is becoming more important to people and the planet. Native plants use less water and provide habitat for urban wildlife, and they are resilient since they belong naturally to the region.”
Haiman adds that increasing awareness around sustainability is pushing home gardeners toward a “do-no-harm” philosophy. “Decision-makers in the garden will think twice before planting invasive and exotic plants that may escape cultivation.”
John Hart Asher, founder of Ecosystem Design Group (now part of Ten Eyck), favors the use of pocket prairies to attract local birds. “Part of our current predicament with the loss of biodiversity stems from how we have defined what a ‘good-looking’ yard consists of,” he says. “Many traditional designs have produced landscapes on life support that derive their beauty from an ascetic aesthetic. Pocket prairies allow us to revive our connection with nature.”
Another Ten Eyck landscape showcasing effective moonlighting.
Photo: Bill Timmerman
Subtle lighting
One of the best ways to decompress when the world is in disarray, Wong says, is with soothing lighting both inside and out. “For outdoor lighting, it’s crucial to have areas of darkness and light to highlight the spaces where you want to draw your eye,” he explains. “Always try to aim lights so that you do not see the light source and try to shield the bulbs when possible. Pay attention to light bulb wattage—lower-watt bulbs provide enough illumination for outdoor use.”
“Moonlighting and downlighting in trees never goes out of style with its soft tracery and complies with dark sky ordinances,” says Ten Eyck. “White and silver blooming gardens—plants like Mexican plum, fragrant jasmine, gardenias, white camellias and roses, artemisias, and night-blooming cereus—highlight easily at night with lighting.”
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