A garden designer’s view on trends

Beckie Fox

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Determine how you want to use the space. (Photo by Catherine Geraats)
Determine how you want to use the space. (Photo by Catherine Geraats)
Determine how you want to use the space. (Photo by Catherine Geraats)

Catherine Geraats of Aphrodite Design Group was the garden designer who designed Garden Making’s feature garden for Canada Blooms in 2012 in Toronto. We asked Catherine about what’s new in garden design. And she had some advice for new homeowners hiring a landscape designer.

Q: What new design trends — colours, structures, specialized themes — do you see in residential landscaping?

A: The newest design trend is eco-landscaping, which uses environmentally sustainable landscape solutions. By incorporating rainwater management on site, plus green roofs and other features, homeowners can save money, reduce garden maintenance and protect the environment.

For example, rain gardens and permeable pavers allow rain, either from your roof or the sky, to slowly soak back into the ground instead of being diverted into storm sewers. This helps filter out contaminants and recharges the local water table, too. By adding a separate rainwater harvesting system, rainwater can be used to water plants and wash the car. This reduces water bills and allows you to irrigate your garden, even during water restrictions.

Green roofs on residential and commercial buildings, garages and sheds provide insulation, rainwater absorption and habitat for birds and butterflies. They also help reduce what is called the “urban heat island effect,” which is when an urban area is significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas.

Eco-landscaping also emphasizes native plants, which are adapted to local growing conditions and usually require less maintenance than non-native specimens. Other low-cost practices include mulching plant beds, composting and using a rain barrel.

Colour trends for outdoor furniture and accessories in 2012 follow the lead of fashion and interior design, so expect to see bright, clear, happy colours for the next few years while the economic forecast is down. This is the year of orange and pink, although bright purple is still around. We can also expect to see deep blue, aqua, lemon, lime and red in garden accessories.

Outdoor furniture trends include reclaimed wood and rattan furniture. Reclaimed wood is being used alone or in combination with metal in footstools, benches and tables as part of the overall current green theme. It can be found in modern and rustic interpretations. Rattan furniture is updated in cool, modern shapes such as a hanging egg chair or oval lounges for poolside.

Advice for new homeowners

Q: What advice do you have for new homeowners interested in hiring a landscape designer, such as yourself?

A: Before starting a landscape project, a priority is to get agreement between yourself and your significant other as to how you want to use the space, the overall budget and the timeframe for installation. A photo file of landscapes, plants or even rooms that you love can also be useful. This helps a landscape designer save you money by focusing the decision-making process and ensuring that you get the most return from your investment.

For comparison purposes, 10 per cent of the cost of a home is typically the initial amount allocated to the landscape. This budget usually covers the design, the hardscaping such as patios, walkways or retaining walls, and the softscaping such as the plant bed preparation and the plants. Outdoor kitchens, pools, hot tubs, fireplaces and other specialty features add significant extra costs.

An experienced designer is trained to first solve site problems such as drainage, wind, visual and noise issues. Then the homeowners’ needs and wish lists are used to develop the design further and to establish a style, while keeping an eye on the budget. Homeowners working on their own often spend a lot of money on plants that perform poorly, outgrow their space or die. A landscape designer can guide the client to suitable plants for their property, and ensure that the hardscaping installed is of sufficient size and design to be functional.

A landscape design can be broken into components so that it can be installed in stages, as the budget allows. Starting with an overall design ensures that the final product will look cohesive, function as required, and elevate both the look and perceived value of a landscape.

Most designers can recommend local, reputable contractors and often they can provide a project estimate from them, as well. Project coordination or management is also offered by most landscape designers and is well worth considering. The designer briefs the foreman initially and then visits the project at key points throughout the installation. This ensures that the plan is being accurately followed and the designer can also deal with any issues that arise. The client has peace of mind, but is kept up-to-date on the project. There is also typically a final site visit with the designer once the project is completed.

Q: Do you have a favourite landscape project that you’ve recently worked on?

A: I designed a small courtyard in the Rosedale area of Toronto that needed to complement an existing flagstone patio that had been there for years. Two pillars with small, attached walls were used to divide the old space from the new and create the feeling of another room. New planting beds on both sides of the walls harmonize the two spaces and soften the new patio, which are two interconnecting circles of Unilock’s Copthorne pavers. The project was installed at the end of the summer, and I’m looking forward to seeing the plants fill in over the next three years as they mature.

Catherine Geraats
Catherine Geraats

Q: Tell me a bit about Aphrodite Design Group—when it started, some of your recent projects, any special services your company provides.

http://www.aphroditedesigngroup.com/A: I started Aphrodite Design Group Inc. in 2006 after working for Parklane Nurseries in Gormley, Ont., for a number of years and Sheridan Nurseries prior to that. I’ve been a designer for over 20 years, but 10 years ago I was a jewellery designer, creating high-end custom jewellery. While I was at my drafting board, I would listen to Mark Cullen on the radio and think about garden designs rather than jewellery. I knew then that I needed a career change. I went back to school as a mature student and studied construction, horticulture and landscape design at Humber College. Along the way, I overcame my dread of computers and learned to love doing CAD drawings.

Some of our recent projects have included collaborating with another firm on multi-residential complexes of townhouses and apartment buildings.  It was enjoyable designing large sites and being able to have an impact on many people with beautiful outdoor spaces.

Aphrodite Design Group Inc. offers residential and commercial landscape design, tendering and project coordination services. We also work with a number of design-build contractors.

Q: Aphrodite is an interesting name—is there a story behind your choice?

A: When I first considered starting the company, I knew I wanted something different from the typical landscape company. I love plants but more than that, I have always loved beauty and design. The name Aphrodite, after the Greek goddess of love, seemed appropriate. I thought it would differentiate our design-focused vision from many other landscape companies.

What’s interesting at Canada Blooms

Q: When you visit home and garden shows like Canada Blooms, what do you find most interesting?

A: As a designer, I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting products used in different ways, as well as new installation techniques. I like a point of view in a booth design that is impactful and consistent, even when it’s not to my own taste. Shows like Canada Blooms are an opportunity for designers and contractors to fantasize, be playful and to push the envelope. Consumers can find novel ideas to incorporate into their own landscape, as well as find designers and contractors whose work they connect with.

Q: What do you hope visitors will take away from visiting Garden Making’s display, which you designed for Canada Blooms 2012?

A: The concept behind Garden Making’s display is a “Plant Walk of Fame, ” which is based on the “Walk of Fame” of famous Canadians in downtown Toronto. This references this year’s show theme — CityCulture. It’s laid out as a path to showcase plant introductions, grown by Rodger Tschanz of the University of Guelph. The 34 planters hold individual specimens and are primarily at waist level to highlight the plants’ unique attributes. The booth is not built as a typical garden with landscape materials such as stone and soil. Rather, it gives the impression of a balcony garden with the contrasting, diagonal tile flooring highlighting different areas. The custom glass fountain surrounded by white tulips provides the gentle sound of flowing water and acts as a focal point. A seating area with a simple black bench surrounded by black planters on three sides, evokes a garden room, a spot to enjoy a book with a glass of wine.  I hope visitors will appreciate the simplified design and find plants or design ideas that they can incorporate into their own gardens.

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