Today's landscape architects seek to create a soothing retreat while enhancing the value of a home

To cure winter blues, think of landscaping

To cure winter blues, think of landscaping the yard

February 27, 2005|By Lucie L. Snodgrass | Lucie L. Snodgrass,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Homeowners anxious to dispel the winter blues and change the whole look of their gardens are not alone, local landscape architects, designers and installers say.

Americans spent $3.1 billion on landscape design in 2002, according to the American Nursery and Landscape Association (ANLA) and $28.9 billion on landscaping-related services.

The days when a few azaleas and a Bradford pear were considered sufficient to give a home's exterior a gracious look are gone. Today's residential landscaping is much more sophisticated, professionals say, aimed both at creating a soothing retreat and an environment where families and friends can gather to socialize and unwind.

And, if and when a house goes on the market, landscaping adds significantly to the house's curb appeal.

"What we're finding," said Bill Akehurst, vice president and director of landscaping at Akehurst Landscape Service in Joppa, which has been in business since 1876, "is that since 9/11 people have not been doing a lot of traveling, so they want to make their homes a place to relax. They're putting in patios, waterfalls and retaining walls just to make an enjoyable exterior area to give them some relaxation."

But while Americans have always loved grilling and relaxing in their back yards, until fairly recently elaborate landscapes were the purview mostly of the very rich. Not anymore. Whereas fancy gardens were once synonymous with Europe, that sensibility is increasingly found across the United States.

The average amount spent on landscaping in the United States is more than $3,500, nearly double the amount spent in 1997, said the nursery and landscape association. And while the rule of thumb for landscaping has been to spend 5 percent to 10 percent of the value of the house, Akehurst and others say many clients are spending tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars to sculpt their outdoor space.

"There's no question that the trend is to invest more in landscaping," said David Thompson, president of Foxborough Nursery in Street, which offers a full complement of landscaping and maintenance services. "What we're seeing is that a lot of our clients are creating terraced gardens and pergola gardens, and they're treating their outdoors like rooms. They're putting as much detail and attention into their outdoor space as they would a kitchen or living room."

Barbara Stafford, a landscape architect with Chapel Valley Landscape Co. in Woodbine, sees a similar trend.

"There seems to be more interest in building nice garden structures, screened rooms, arbor structures and teahouses," she said, adding that her clients increasingly choose stone and other natural materials over less expensive alternatives such as molded concrete.

And as the projects become more elaborate, the price tag grows. "You wouldn't want to spend less than $20,000 for a custom teahouse," she said.

"We are trying to limit our low side on small design-build projects to $50,000," Stafford said. "The high end is a million-plus for things we've designed and built."

Landscape professionals are divided on the reasons that clients are spending so much to improve their surroundings. Thompson and Akehurst attribute it to soaring real estate prices, which have made people cautious about selling and leaving their current homes. Instead of moving into a bigger house, they say, clients are opting to improve where they live now.

"People are investing an incredible amount to make their home and garden the ultimate dream," Thompson said.

Others such as Carol Macht, a landscape architect and principal at Ford, Caplan and Macht in Baltimore, say clients are beginning to see their homes and gardens more holistically.

"Our lives are so complicated that a garden is a way of catching your breath," said Macht. "Gardens are very restorative, no matter what the scale. They make you feel like you've got a little vacation spot in your back yard."

Although many homeowners say that enjoyment, not resale, is their primary reason for landscaping, real estate brokers say that a well-landscaped home can be easier to sell.

"I would say that people get their money back dollar for dollar on landscaping," said Kay Deitz, a real estate broker in Bel Air. "People judge a house on the outside, because they think that's what they can expect on the inside. Many people will pull up and if the curb appeal is not there, they say they won't even go inside."

Deitz strongly advocates hiring a professional landscaper before putting a house on the market, not to undertake a wholesale redesign but to make it more attractive for potential buyers.

"As an agent," she said, "I can always tell when the home is professionally landscaped."

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