Think of the outside as part of the inside Landscaping: The thriving economy and a trend toward home improvements create "an insanely busy season for landscapers."

August 02, 1998|By Rita Beyer | Rita Beyer,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

For some homeowners, it's what's outside that counts.

When Ruth Shaw moved into her townhouse, she didn't rush out to buy a new sofa; she called a landscaper.

"I did that before buying a piece of furniture," said Shaw, who has lived in her Mount Washington home since 1986. "I believe in doing the outside first." Since then, she has ensured that her end-of-group home is continually surrounded by a casual, English-style garden, with a variety of plants, including dogwoods, azaleas, ferns, rhododendrons and black-eyed Susans.

"I wanted it very casual," she said. "I wanted it as close to an English-type garden as I could get, where things can just grow and be wild."

Shaw was strategic in the planting, not only ensuring that different plants would bloom each season, but in thinking about her view of the foliage from the inside of her house.

While washing dishes at her kitchen sink, she can be mesmerized by the blossoms of a flowering tree. Waking in the morning, she is greeted with the back yard's greenery on two sides: a mirrored wall opposite the windows reflects the view.

"What's interesting to me is that so few people think of the outside as part of the inside," said Shaw, who had a brick patio built as an extension of the back of her home. "When I look outside, I don't want to see a concrete slab."

More and more homeowners are starting to agree with Shaw, as they invest extra time and money in the house's external appearance.

"It's been an insanely busy season for landscapers," said Anne ++ Trone of the Landscape Contractors Association of Maryland, D.C. and Virginia. "They've had more business than they've had in a decade." She believes this year's boom was a result of the mild winter and thriving economy.

While some landscapers acknowledge that the economy plays a role, they believe there are other reasons for the increased interest.

"That [the economy], of course, always helps, but I think the trend is to relaxation and to improve your home," said Stephanie Pippen, vice president of Aspen Grove Landscaping. "Gardening so relaxing. It's therapeutic for many people."

Many homeowners have become interested in creating a flow between the outdoors and indoors.

"People build these homes and they want the exterior to reflect what's going on in the interior," said Michael McWilliams, president of Maxalea Nurseries. "That's sort of a trend change." Some homeowners are creating "outdoor rooms" through the use of patios, terraces, trellises or pergolas.

Many landscapers work closely with interior decorators, looking at the home's color schemes and designs.

'Their personality'

"You see how they decorate the inside of the house, and that's usually how they want the outside to look," said Pippen, who said she sometimes asks homeowners to show her a favorite painting to get an idea of what they are looking for in landscaping. "It's their personality."

McWilliams and other landscapers are seeing increased interest low-maintenance landscaping.

"These people right now are looking for low maintenance, something they don't have to fool with," said Jack Hickman, owner of Chesapeake Lawn Care. "They want to try to maintain it themselves."

More homeowners are looking not only for plants that do not need frequent watering, but also for irrigation systems. However, some upkeep will always be required, said Hickman: "There is no low-maintenance landscape."

Still, homeowners continue to seek landscaping that will require less upkeep, and they are passing over some previously typical exterior changes, such as decks, for more "hardscape" -- structures made of stone and brick.

"There is less and less decking. I think people are realizing wood is high maintenance," McWilliams said. He sees more of his customers choosing stone terraces and brick patios.

Waterfalls, ponds and sometimes palm trees are becoming more popular, perhaps because they do not require the weeding or trimming that many plants require.

Landscaping trends are just that, however, and different elements appeal to homeowners each season. "Planting schemes sort of change year after year," said McWilliams, who heads the nursery in Stoneleigh founded by his grandparents.

Classic is back

McWilliams can recall the Japanese gardens of the '60s and '70s, and watching perennials become the plants of the '80s. Now he sees his customers asking for more classic landscaping.

"People are tired of this sort of contemporary look," McWilliams said. "They want to go back to hedges and stone walls."

But that doesn't mean that customers aren't still interested in butterfly gardens, full of flowers and shrubs that attract various colors and breeds, Hickman said. And, it doesn't mean that landscapers aren't trying to provide some options for their customers.

"We do what we call a bosque, a series of trees planted in a geometric design," McWilliams said. "It's stuff that we've come up with to treat an open area. It's the same type of tree, pruned and shaped to create visual allees."

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