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What's hot in outdoor living for 2018


March 2018

It may seem far off, but summer is just around the corner. It’s time to start planning for its arrival now. From patios to plants and pools, here are this year’s top five trends in backyard design.

Patios and Decks

“This year, once again, people want spaces that all work together — dining area, cocktail or casual areas, intimate areas, such as fireplaces or fire pits,” explains Jeff Hershberger of David J. Frank Landscape Contracting Inc. “They also want areas of full sun and shade. Lighting is an extremely important aesthetic element and can dramatically impact the area. It sets the whole atmosphere and mood and always results in higher usage of the area by the client.”

For decks, the big trend is an increase in choices for the customer, says David Guthery of LandCrafters Inc. “Color choices alone have gone from four or five board colors less than a decade ago to well over a dozen now — and all with different degrees of graining,” he adds. “Last year’s big trend was toward darker deck boards with a contrasting white skirting and posts. Railing choices are much more (varied) as well, with cabling, glass, aluminum balusters and varying types and colors of pickets and caps. The same is true for paving materials for patios and walkways.”

Green and Growing

More people are adding sustainable, eco-friendly elements to their garden design, with xeriscaping taking stronger hold in Wisconsin. Originally developed for dry areas, xeriscaping refers to the idea of conserving water through creative landscaping. This mainly takes the form of using materials like permeable pavement, adding efficient and time-controlled watering systems, and incorporating indigenous and drought-tolerant plants that naturally adapt to the landscape. Other steps include substituting areas of turf grass for mulch, adding rain barrels to capture drainage from gutters, and using bioswales or indentations in the landscape to steer the rain where it is needed most.

Through the use of perennial plants and composting, xeriscaping also has the added advantages of lower maintenance and less need for the use of pesticides and fertilizers. 


“We have seen an increase in the number of pools being built,” says James M. Drzewiecki of Ginkgo Leaf Studio. “Pool projects are normally driven by whether a family has children older than grade school. Homeowners should be aware that there are many associated costs with a pool that aren’t always discussed up front, such as gas and electric utilities, the paved surface around the pool, and the myriad add-on options that can make the overall pool cost go up quickly.”

“Pools are great, but too many people start with the hole in the ground first and then consider what’s going on around it,” cautions Hershberger. “I always explain to my clients that the highest consideration should be given to the areas surrounding the pool, as they will be spending more time around the pool than in it. Pools and water features can create beautiful focal points in the yard, but also provide pleasing views from inside the home.”

“We are putting more pools in now than ever,” says Peter Kudlata of Flagstone Landscaping Inc. “The trend is toward auto covers and dark bottoms and sides. The darkness provides a better reflection of surrounding plants and a more subtle look.”

Outdoor Kitchens

“Outdoor kitchens often now have additional cabinet space, a mini-fridge or cooler and (a) sink with running water. The latter items don’t always work well with Wisconsin winters, so we suggest that the client invests in a high-quality grill island with counter space on either side,” says Drzewiecki. “My advice is that if you are going to make the investment into a full outdoor kitchen, then be prepared to cook year-round to make it worth the money.”

“In addition to the gas grill, the trend seems to be more toward barbecue and smoking meats with different woods, lump coal or marinades. Smokers and units like the Big Green Egg are gaining popularity, and pizza ovens continue to be in greater demand,” says Hershberger.


This year, we will continue to see a rise in the number of gardens that incorporate edibles into the landscape — varietals that not only taste good, but look great too. Some of the best to plant for this double duty are purple eggplants, red or yellow peppers, rainbow or bright lights Swiss chard, purple ruffles basil, or edible kales like Scottish redbor or red Russian. Blueberries are not only delicious, but they burst into color in fall and make great shrub borders. When left to flower, artichokes and chives have beautiful purple blooms. Consider planting more than you plan to eat so that you can leave some to bloom. 

As more and more zoning laws allow, Milwaukeeans are also incorporating beehives and chicken coops into the design of their backyards. Many of these urban farmers then create communities to share and exchange their harvest, which includes both honey and eggs.

This story ran in the March 2018  issue of: