Glenice Ebedes, author of the Gardener’s Guide to Indigenous Garden Plants of Southern Africa and the owner of Grounded Landscaping, says with people spending more time at home, requests for picture gardens have all but disappeared. Instead, customers want living spaces incorporating features for entertainment such as seating and fire pits.
In many ways, the pandemic served to accelerate the incorporation of certain materials and products in the same way that it ushered consumers toward digital channels. As the world increasingly considers sustainability above everything else, the availability and usage of water-wise and low-maintenance plants and materials has gained momentum.
“The most common requests now are for indigenous and water-wise gardens. Also, where it used to be a case of simply putting plants into the garden, people are now considering much more carefully how their gardens will be used,” says Ebedes.
“On the building materials front, there is certainly a much wider range of materials available than there was a decade ago. Just like with the plants they are requesting, people are seeking sustainability and durability of products put into their living spaces,” she adds.
While some people are resolute about the use of real timber in their gardens, there are pros and cons to any approach and landscapers must now present a wider variety of choices to customers than ever before. “The whole look and feel of what can work in a garden is changing,” says Ebedes.
There are certainly more ways to use building materials in the modern context. As older suburbs with large yards and swimming pools give way to smaller, denser living arrangements in secure estates or complexes, Ebedes says screening is a common request.
“Now that people are living much closer to each other and being forced to entertain at home more, due to Covid-19, privacy is a big driver behind most garden designs,” she says.
Marc Minne, CEO and co-founder of building materials company Eva-Last, says this is consistent with what suppliers have seen in the market.
“This is a very exciting time to be providing composite building materials that are pushing technical boundaries. Traditional materials like timber have remained fairly stagnant in their application and required maintenance, where the incorporation of composite materials has really broadened the uses for building materials. Advancements in finishes, structural performance and reduced weight of composite materials has seen landscaping designs explode with possibilities,” says Minne.
“Where landscapers used to be restrained by the capabilities of materials, it is now possible to be genuinely creative in establishing a flow and aesthetic from indoors to outdoors to create the ultimate continuous living space for home entertainment comfort. The homeowner also benefits from the low maintenance requirements of composite materials, and therefore can spend more time enjoying their outdoor living spaces rather than maintaining them,” he adds.
Dewald van Zyl, project administrator for Living Green Landscapes, says a few years ago most landscaping requests were for themed gardens, such as English, Balinese or Japanese.
“This has changed significantly and quickly to requests for water-wise, low-maintenance gardens with plants that are easier to come by. The underlying change behind this trend is the Covid-19 effect. Where customers would arrange for landscaping but seldom even be at the premises while we were busy, they are now taking much closer interest in their gardens,” he says.
“About 90% of the time we are asked to install bomas and entertainment areas now, while we used to get asked for decorative landscaping. It shows a trend toward functional and constructive landscaping – we're asked to integrate the garden into the entertainment features rather than the other way around. No more lawns and flower gardens.”
In terms of sustainability, Van Zyl says most garden designs are cost-driven. “Though the water-wise and indigenous trend is clear, this is often because of the shift toward eco-estate living, where residents need to align with estate landscaping policies. This comes with the benefits of low maintenance and costs.”
Although he is often asked to incorporate herb gardens, raised beds or container gardens into designs, this does not mean customers are suddenly farming at home, Van Zyl adds. “It may be an upcoming trend, but generally these gardens are being designed with entertainment in mind, rather than the hard work it takes to maintain a productive permaculture garden.”