Welcome to our annual list of emerging landscape and garden trends in the goals and priorities of our clients, with plenty of our staff’s creative genius sprinkled in.
Yardzen is the leading online landscape design service. We help homeowners get beautiful and functional yards, starting with the kind of photorealistic 3D design that was previously only available for high-end commercial landscape architecture projects. By rethinking the outdoor renovation process from start to finish, we’re delivering a new experience to homeowners and contractors alike—one that’s more efficient, transparent, and affords great design to many. And we’re off to a great start: in 2019, Yardzen created more than 3% of all landscape designs in the United States.
Yardzen is in a unique position to forecast outdoor design trends. For our 2020 Outdoor Design Trends Forecast, we analyzed 12,320 individual responses to our Yardzen design profile, completed by homeowners about to embark on an outdoor renovation project. We also received information and observations from our talented design team, who hold B.A.s and M.A.s in Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, plus years in the field.
We’re all doing our part to bring native and climate-adapted plants to our yards
Re-wilding, or restoring urban and suburban yards to life-supporting habitats, is an undeniable garden trend of 2020.
What’s driving it? “Our clients understand that native and climate-adapted* plants add beauty and biological benefits to their yard. Native species support critical pollinators, promote biodiversity, and in arid climates, require minimal water,” says Yardzen’s Design Director Kevin Lenhart, who holds an M.A. in Landscape Architecture from UC Berkeley. “A healthy landscape of native and climate-adapted plants is our ultimate goal.”
Native and climate-adapted plants have another significant benefit, too: because they have learned to be successful in local biomes, they tend to be low-maintenance. “We want to make it easy for people to care for their yards because, at the end of the day, a yard full of thriving, climate-adapted plants is the best solution for our clients and for Earth.”
*Climate-adapted plants are species that aren’t natively found in the region but are well-adapted to the environment and play nice with native plants and animals. In California and Texas, many plants from South Africa and Australia work well.
BY THE YARDZEN NUMBERS
A whopping 91% of Yardzen clients want plants that encourage climate-helping pollinators like bees and butterflies and 76% want native or climate-adapted plants in their outdoor space.
The New Garden
Millenials are gardening, but it looks different this time around
Gardening’s popularity among American households is at an all-time high. Household spend on gardening increased from $400 (already the highest in decades) to a whopping $503 annually in 2019, driven almost entirely by people aged 23-38. “The under 40 set now occupies 29% of all gardening households. It’s a strong sign that they’re finally ‘in,'” says Garden Research industry analyst Ian Baldwin.
But it’s not like it used to be. Gardens look different—they’re smaller and low-maintenance. For some people, it’s a fruit tree and an herb garden (hello, cocktail garden!), for others, it’s raised beds to encourage kids to get their hands dirty. Homeowners are longing to connect to their produce in a hyper local way, but they do’t want to give up their weekends for their zucchini.
BY THE YARDZEN NUMBERS:
Based on Yardzen’s 12,320 design profiles, 51% of prospective home renovators want fruit trees and herb gardens in their yard, and 40% want to grow vegetables and cutting flowers. People want their produce to have a story, and for that story to be their own.
A push for a lower carbon footprint is changing how we approach exterior renovation—from design decisions to demolition
As people take stock of their impact on climate change, homeowners are carefully evaluating their landscape choices with an eye toward Earth. A sustainable approach to landscaping takes many forms, from design to materials and plant selections to construction.
Construction demolition is a leading waste creator in the United States. According to the EPA, the United States creates 569 million tons of construction & demolition debris each year—more than twice the amount of municipal solid waste. At Yardzen, we are changing that.
In every project we work on, our waste-generated carbon footprint is top of mind. Wherever we can, we encourage our clients to repurpose their existing materials, like decking, stone, and even plants, working around existing elements instead of simply ripping them down and starting over.
BY THE YARDZEN NUMBERS
93% of Yardzen clients ask to retain existing elements of their yard, like decks, mature trees, and fences. Those people look to us to “make it work,” in the words of Project Manager Deanna Glory, an experienced landscape designer.
Functional Front Yard
The new back yard is the front yard, where homeowners can find a sense of community and connect with neighbors
In 2019 Yardzen saw a surging number of clients requesting patio spaces, vegetable gardens, and space for pets and kids to play, not only in the back yard where one would expect such requests but in the front yard.
“Few opportunities to socialize present themselves in many suburban American neighborhoods, where people leave in the morning, come home in the evening, and generally keep to themselves,” said Yardzen co-founder Adam Messner. “But we’re seeing lots of our clients resist that by asking for elements in their front yards — where neighbors might be walking by — that invite socialization.”
What it means to be “water smart” in your landscaping continues to evolve, and it changes region by region
In arid climates, like California and West Texas, to be water smart doesn’t just mean planting drought-tolerant plants and swapping out your lawn, it also means creating permeable surfaces for water to absorb into below-ground aquifers. Many cities offer rebates to ensure that your yard makes the best use of water.
In regions like Southeast Texas, high levels of precipitation lead to frequent flooding, so to be water smart is to focus on drainage and permeability. In many cities throughout Texas, municipalities require that a property is at least 20% landscape, specifically plants and permeable hardscape, to ensure proper drainage.
Climate change is affecting water patterns the world over, but one thing is clear: water is top of mind for nearly everyone when approaching an outdoor renovation project.
BY THE YARDZEN NUMBERS
More than 87% of Yardzen clients say being water smart is important to them when thinking about their outdoor space.
SANTA MONICA CASE STUDY
For this Santa Monica project, our staff Horticulturalist, Zolene Quindoy, who holds a degree in Horticulture from UC Davis, designed a yard that meets all of the lawn replacement rebate requirements for the local municipality. The whole yard is permeable—pavers count as a permeable material as long as gravel surrounds them. Also, the plants, including Echeveria, Agave, Yarrow, and climate-adapted grasses, are all low-water.
An understanding that connection to nature leads to wellness is prompting the creation of outdoor relaxation spaces
In 2019 the journal Nature Scientific reported what many already knew intuitively: spending 120 minutes a week in nature, or just 17 minutes per day, can significantly boost happiness and overall well-being. There is a substantial body of research linking green spaces to lower risks of disease, mental health problems, and mortality, and better health and cognitive development in children.
Homeowners are taking note and creating their own, private green spaces, designed for wellness. Meet the Zen Den, an outdoor space purpose-designed for connectedness with nature.
BY THE YARDZEN NUMBERS
74% of Yardzen clients say that creating a space for relaxation is their primary goal for their outdoor space.
Prime Real Estate
The real estate industry is coming around to what we already knew: lives are best lived outside
The data is in and home buyers have gotten the memo. According to the AIA Home Design Trends Survey, functional outdoor space is the single top priority for home buyers. Whereas updated kitchens and bathrooms used to be a top priority, outdoor living space has overtaken interiors as the key selling point.
Many Yardzen clients and prospective clients are recent homebuyers who are looking to extend their home’s functional space by improving their yards. According to Yardzen cofounder Allison Messner, “outdoor rooms add square footage to your house. In California and Texas — where Yardzen is currently designing — our clients aspire to enjoy their yards all year long; think: all-season play, entertaining, and relaxing. There’s nothing better than enjoying the company of friends and family outside. It makes your breath deeply and put your phone down.”
BY THE NUMBERS
79% of Americans surveyed by the National Association of Landscaping Professionals say green space is important when buying a home.
The joy of the campfire comes home with the rise of the firepit
In short order, the firepit has become table stakes when it comes to choosing yard elements. Why is this? Yardzen’s Kendra Poppy, a former Sunset Magazine editor, believes “the backyard experience has become the new camping trip. We long to connect to nature, so just like a staycation, the ‘yardcation’ is a more accessible way for people to connect and relish in the joys of outdoor living—with a cozy bed waiting inside.”
BY THE YARDZEN NUMBERS
In 2019, more than 50% of the 1,500 designs created by Yardzen included a firepit at the client’s request.
Open Air Dining
The dinner table (and kitchen) has moved outside
Where people once used to gather around the kitchen island, those gatherings are moving outdoors whenever possible. According to Yardzen project manager Deanna Glory, an experienced landscape designer, “every single client wants an outdoor dining space. I can’t think of one who doesn’t. People enjoy living outdoors and want to bring their entertaining experience outside.”
In addition to outdoor dining, a full half of Yardzen clients want an outdoor kitchen. These outdoor kitchens take all shapes and sizes, from built-in BBQs to chef-style setups.
BY THE YARDZEN NUMBERS
Out of more than12,300 people polled, an outdoor dining space is the single most requested design feature.
What’s in is now out(side). Exterior’s taking its lead from interior
The design trends we’re seeing inside have a new home outside, too.
Nod to Neutrals
According to Architectural Digest, one of their biggest trends for the 2020s is “Amped-Up Neutrals.” “Earthy colors, like off-white, tinted grays, tactile beiges, slate lavender will take center stage, reflecting a movement toward “nature and authenticity.” (AD)
This move toward a softer, subtler palette inside is also happening outside, too. No more primary colors. Your new yard is now composed of earthy neutrals: subtle greens, hints of purple, and greige. (If you have to ask, that means gray + beige). We see that reflected in many of our clients’ plant selections. The most requested plants: lavender, succulents, and native grasses.
By the Yardzen numbers:
70% of Yardzen clients want a “medium” or softer color palette in their yards, with shades of green, beige, gray, and colored foliage accents.
Interior design trends that have dominated the past few years, like statement pieces and accent walls, are making their way into outdoor spaces. Light fixtures adorning outdoor eating or living spaces that until recently would only be found indoors, large-scale planters, and stand-alone accent walls are the newest additions to the American backyard.
The big interior trend of 2020 that’s making an appearance outside, too? Built-in seating. Everyone wants a banquette in their dining room, and now they want one outside, too.
Tired: big-box store structures
Wired: play spaces that make use of natural elements and topography
More than half of Yardzen clients say they’re designing their yard with their kids in mind. Increasingly that looks different from the play structures of yesterday.
In 2020 more people will seek to create a playscape in their yard, with elements like tree rounds for stairs, climbing walls, tree houses, trampolines, and rope swings. Often what you already have in your yard can be creatively repurposed as a foundation for your playscape.
According to Harvard faculty doctor Claire McCarthy, MD, making sure your kids get plenty of time to play outside is a simple way to help ensure their future health and success. Outdoor play boosts executive function, encourages taking risks, teaches socialization and appreciation of nature.
BY THE YARDZEN NUMBERS
Out of more than12,300 people polled, more than 48% say that their top priority for their outdoor space is creating a space to play for their kids.
Get your gravel on
The eco-friendly material is having a moment
In recent years, the ancient practice of gravel hardscaping has gone decidedly modern. Over the last thirty years, garden pioneers like Sunset magazine have touted xeriscape, composed of permeable ground covers—generally gravel—and native plants. But, the tastemakers on Instagram have taken that to a whole new level, showcasing all-gravel hardscaping, like insta-famous @casa.mami. We’re predicting that the all-gravel landscape will be a huge trend in 2020.
One of our favorite aspects of gravel is that it’s water-smart. Water-smart no longer means drought-tolerant, which it is, but it also means that the material allows water absorption—critical for capturing groundwater and preventing flooding.
Most gravel on the market is made in the U.S. and has a relatively low carbon footprint (source). For an even more sustainable material with a similar effect, consider using crushed seashells underfoot.
BY THE YARDZEN NUMBERS
Out of over 1,500 designs completed by Yardzen, 71% include gravel, ranging from decomposed granite to river rock.
2020 Plant of the Year
People love lawn, but they’re eager to see it evolve. And evolve it is. The Yardzen 2020 Plant of the Year is a versatile ground cover that punches above its weight class. Meet No-Mow Sod from Delta Bluegrass.
Why No-Mow Sod?
Let’s start with the obvious: It’s just a beautiful grass, rich and lush. Looking at it makes you want to lay out a blanket and take a nap in the sunshine. It’s equal parts wind-swept coastal garden and tranquil meadow and, really, no matter where it’s planted it seems to look right at home.
Also, and this is the best part for many: it doesn’t need to be mowed, hence the name No-Mow Sod. You can mow it and keep it looking groomed and tidy like a traditional lawn, or you can let it exist in its perfect natural form, and if that’s your preference, it doesn’t require any maintenance. According to Stockton, CA-based Delta Bluegrass, in non-mowed areas the grass will reach a height of 8 to 10 inches and then begin to lay over on itself.
Less water, no chemicals and more
But looking further there are some impressive benefits of this mighty sod. According to Delta Bluegrass, you can “reduce your irrigation to 50% less than what you would apply to traditional areas.” That means you can switch to native grass and recoup the cost of your investment (water and maintenance) pretty darn quickly.
Also, and this is a big one: because this is a native plant it doesn’t like or need chemicals to grow and thrive, which is unlike more traditional sods. Native grasses like Delta Bluegrass No-Mow Sod control soil erosion, reduce dust, lower and cool ground temperatures, reduce noise and clean our ground water. Properly maintained native sod is one of the most cost effective and environmentally-beneficial products in urban development.