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Watchword of today's landscaping: Easy does it

by Kim Cook
| April 16, 2010 9:00 PM

Ditch the grass. Plant food. Go green.

The trends in landscaping and gardening this summer are all toward a more relaxed environment, experts say.

"The rewards of growing your own - basil, berries or flowers - are boundless," says Susan McCoy, trend spotter for the Garden Media Group, an industry marketing firm in Kennett Square, Pa.

She says people are looking increasingly to their plots of green, little or large, to recharge, and reap the benefits both aesthetic and, often, edible.

Some of what's in:

Losing the lawn

Lawns soak up water and cash, and stress the environment by requiring pesticides, say today's green gardeners. Motorized lawn-maintenance equipment also adds to air and noise pollution.

Giving up that expanse of grass may be difficult, but there are attractive, easy-care alternatives. Margie Grace, the 2009 International Landscape Designer of the Year, is on the forefront of the "de-lawning" movement. She urges homeowners to reduce or eliminate "a green pit of wasted time, money and space."

"Ditching the lawn doesn't mean you have to have a hippie yard," she says. "A lawn-free garden can be incredibly elegant and upscale."

And if you can't live without any lawn, try living with less, she says.

Edible gardens

Vegetables, fruits and herbs can be attractive and tasty.

Jamie Durie, host of HGTV's "Outdoor Room" show, calls edible gardens "a huge trend worldwide as people see the economic, environmental and health benefits of growing their own food. You don't need a big garden, either. Vegetables can be grown on balconies, even street parkways."

Grace suggests mixing edible elements with ornamentals, as well as planting in containers to minimize bending and tilling.

To get started with a simple veggie garden, consider a tiered raised frame that comes with protective cover hoops.

Community gardens

In Santa Barbara, Calif., Grace's neighbors set up a weekly table where they share produce and flowers. And many communities have excellent programs for cultivating common green space; for a small seasonal fee, residents rent a plot of a few hundred square feet. Check community Web sites for information.

Thinking green, being creative

Recycle rainwater, think vertically, go native with plants.

Durie is excited about vertical gardens, an easy way for apartment dwellers to enjoy nature. "There are great wall systems available today, which mean gardens don't just have to be on the ground anymore," he says. "Walls, floors, roofs can all be greened."

Lettuce is an easy crop for urban gardeners, as are strawberries, tomatoes and beans. Mix in some colorful annuals.

First, go online to find your growing zone, and check with garden clubs and nurseries about plants native to your area. Drifts of two or three native species are pleasing, and less work than multiple varieties of high-maintenance plants. They're hardier, more disease resistant and need less water than plants suited to a different climate.

San Francisco designer Johan Kahlstrom likes to create space among the plants for birds and even deer; meadow gardens with native wildflowers and tall grasses generally thrive in even poor soil, with no water required beyond rain.

In the arid Southwest, especially, gardeners like containers - glazed terra cotta, resin, any nonporous material. Large pots with a greater soil volume dry out more slowly. Succulents and other lovers of dry heat are great choices.

But containers are popular all over the country - convenient to tend, they're easy on the back and require fewer tools. Among the most user-friendly: rolling self-watering pots.

Many municipalities now have tough laws about residential drainage. Chris Cipriano, who owns an eco-friendly landscape design firm in New Jersey, is a fan of the new pervious pavers. Not only do they manage storm-water runoff, they reduce erosion. Combined with a below-ground water collection system, homeowners save both money and energy; the systems can be used for irrigation, car washing and laundry.

Grace likes creating a bio-swale, or low-lying, shapely garden feature that will collect and redistribute rainwater. Even a balcony garden can benefit from a big rain-collecting pot with spigot and hose.

Work with what you have - heavy shade, hillsides and wet areas all can be landscaped with appropriate plants

See that won't fight their environment.


• - ready-to-go raised bed frames with cover hoops, $129; self-watering rolling planters, $44.95; 65-gallon polyvinyl rainwater urn with 6-foot hose and spigot, $219.

• - hardiness zones for North America

• - landscape design/builder Chris Cipriano

• - Santa Barbara-based landscape designer Margie Grace

• - "The Outdoor Room with Jamie Durie," check local listings

• - San Francisco designer Johan Kahlstrom.GardenLandscapeTrends 1 & 2)

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