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Keeping it real
Sustainable and maintenance-free products lead the way in today's outdoor trends



A fire pit on one side and waterfall on the other create a relaxing environment.

Itís time to start spending some long anticipated hours outside, enjoying our gardens, yards, patios and pools. Creating that outdoor paradise has traditionally been labor intensive, but products on the market today have lessened the burden ó allowing more time for enjoyment.

The increasing use of organic materials has also made outdoor living areas more environmentally friendly and a great way to put Mother Natureís work to good use.

Sustainable Landscape

"The movement toward being better stewards of our environment is very Ďiní right now. The idea of using natural ground covers and native trees and shrubs like alder, viburnum, dogwood and native grasses like miscanthus and Karl Foerster are gaining popularity," says Jeff Hershberger, senior landscape architect with David J. Frank Landscaping in Germantown. "In fact, some developers are now requiring homeowners to leave part of their lot undeveloped."

The use of natural stone in pathways and decorative walls is also increasing, according to Hershberger. "This follows the trend of using materials that are native to this area," he says.

Naturally Permeable Paving

Natural permeable paving material used on a patio or path allows more natural drainage of rainwater, according to James Drzewiecki, landscape architect and owner of Ginkgo Leaf Studio in Milwaukee. "I think it will be a bigger part of the conversation because it allows some water to go into the ground instead of the sewer system. And, it can be made of different materials," he says.

Synthetic Lumber

Homeowners are considering the use of composite and synthetic lumber, which provides the look of real wood without the work. Decks, railings and arbors made of composite and synthetic woods are appealing because they offer low maintenance and long life, Hershberger says.

Harvesting Rainwater

"Going beyond the idea of collecting rain in a rain barrel, people are installing underground irrigation systems. These collect rain water using plastic tubing that might be tied to a water feature like a pond or waterfall," Drzewiecki says. "Itís a great way to conserve water."

Edibles in the Landscape

"Every year, an increasing number of people are planting vegetable and herb gardens and eating what they grow. Weíve seen a sizable demand for more fruit trees, as well. This is true for people living in houses, or even condos and apartments with a balcony. Itís convenient and easy to do, not to mention healthy and good tasting," Hershberger says.

Going Gourmet Outdoors

"We are designing more outdoor kitchens and living areas," Drzewiecki says. "While this isnít a new trend, itís getting stronger. I think because people are traveling less, theyíre choosing to invest in their homes, adding areas for entertaining, including bigger barbeque grills, wine refrigerators, smokers, pizza ovens and built-in fire places and fire pits," he says.

Light it Up!

Extend the time you spend outdoors with the latest in landscape lighting options. "LED lights have improved tremendously in recent years. They use far less energy than regular bulbs and their life expectancy is much longer. And, they donít have that bluish hue any longer," says Hershberger. The lights can be built right into decks, water features and along pathways to complement any landscape. m