Feature Article - May 2021
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Hindsight Is 2020

Landscape Trends That Are Making a Difference

By Kelli Ra Anderson


Although we can officially mark 2020 off our calendar, the shockwaves of its many unprecedented challenges are still being felt in 2021. Moving forward, as we enter spring, many landscape trends for the new year are a direct result of the impact from COVID-19, the economic downturn and environmental extremes.

And yet there is good news. Necessity, the proverbial mother of invention, forced us to creatively adapt, adjust and address better ways of using landscaped spaces that ultimately save money, improve the health of society and the health of our environment. Landscaping done right can be so much more than a decorative flourish or routine afterthought. It can be a significant game-changer. It can make a real difference.

More Functional Space

One of the biggest trends—a demand for even more functional outdoor sites—is the result of newfound public appreciation for experiencing nature and all the benefits that come with it. The mental health benefits in particular as people looked to outdoor activities to escape the confines of their homes during phases of lockdown was an enormous catalyst for this increased demand.

"In general the use of outdoor environments has skyrocketed. After the initial months of COVID-19 and parks opened back up, we saw the numbers increasing," said Michelle Kelly, PLA with Upland Design Ltd. in Plainfield, Ill. "People weren't able to go on vacation or the movies or restaurants, but they could use a trail or park and sit under a picnic shelter to enjoy a homemade meal. Now they see how important these spaces are."

Similarly, reported increases nationwide in biking, hiking, trail walking, camping and birding are continued evidence of the public's expanded appreciation of the great outdoors.

Outdoor seating and eating areas also multiplied last year when social distancing requirements pushed people into landscaped space in an effort to keep businesses afloat and functioning. From university fitness facilities to municipal rec centers and everything in between, people who seldom had time or opportunity to exercise or take lunch or coffee breaks outside during an ordinary weekday suddenly found they could incorporate nature into their daily 9-to-5. And many decided they liked it.

To that end, landscape designers continue to answer the call to enhance existing outdoor social spaces and to repurpose purely decorative ones. With the addition of sensory elements like soothing water features, more fragrant, colorful plantings and overhead weather protection, landscape designers then and now continue to make the best of a very difficult situation.

But last year's indoor-to-outdoor challenges also created a whole new way of experiencing recreation. The requirement to social distance compelled us to appoint new uses for landscaped areas that had been little more than a patch of lawn or a floral afterthought.