4 Trends Reflecting Changes in Apartment Landscape Designs


Apartment landscape designs are going through changes. And it’s getting ‘cool’ again to be the straight-and-narrow and a little square kid at school—or, at least, when it comes to multifamily landscaping.

Changing apartment architecture is transforming some community landscapes that harken back to days when designs were more linear and perfect. Sleek, modern interior and exterior designs coupled with smaller green spaces are driving landscapes away from those curvy, undulating bed designs and group plantings. Instead, symmetrical definition is in, much as it was in 30-plus years ago when long, straight hedgerows and squared patios and beds were a common sight.

While we’re probably not going to see a return of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, landscapes reminiscent of the 1980s are making more sense. Space, or lack of it, in urban settings is a big driver. It used to be that 300-unit apartment communities sprawled over 30 acres, affording the landscape to flow with twists and turns. Today, as those same 300 units are being built an only a couple of acres, green space is at a premium.

Thus, landscape designs, thus, have to maximize what little space is available, which means simple, contemporary schemes—and even garden art—are in. A neat, well-organized landscape hints of the culture of the property and suggests order.

In the last three or four years, linear landscape design has become increasingly prevalent, especially in more urban areas and confined spaces. Designs are going against the grain of what has been traditional landscaping in the last 15 years or so that pressed for an unorganized, natural look.

It’s now all about structure. Plant rows are straight and defined in perfectly square or circular beds. Black, white and gray glazed pots and statues or sculptures are being used to accent gardens or add a dimension where plant life may not grow or be a good fit.

A few years ago, the mere thought of paying $300 for a garden sculpture drew strange looks. But today, some are spending thousands to achieve as contemporary look as possible.

Here are four trends that are showing up in today’s new, straight-line landscapes:

1. Beds becoming more linear

Bed shapes are becoming square, and in some cases smaller. They are simple to design and plotted to accommodate linear plantings.

2. Plantings in straight lines and grouping

Plantings are being done in straight lines and groupings that are organized, not cluttered. Bushes and shrubs are planted in rows, contradicting previous styles to place them randomly to achieve a more natural look. Grass areas are being similarly designed.

3. Walkways becoming straighter, more uniform

Curvy, meandering and imperfect walkways and sidewalks are being replaced by straight, textbook paths either using pavement or natural materials. It’s human nature to take the most direct route, and in confined areas it only makes sense to go the straight and narrow.

4. Yard art, sculptures populate the landscape

More sculptures are being introduced into the landscape, including glazed pots and decorative rocks. Colors are out and blacks, whites and grays are in. Statues are also making a comeback.

Landscape changes are showing up on some rehabilitation projects, but it’s not for every apartment community. A straight-lined, contemporary landscape won’t always update a 30-year-old property with 30-year-old buildings. But new construction is an opportunity to get the landscape with the times. Even if it means being a little square.

(Image source: Tim Blackwell)


President, Earthworks

author photo two

Chris Lee is President of Dallas, Texas-based Earthworks, which specializes in multifamily housing landscaping. He is a contributing author to Landscape Management magazine, licensed irrigation specialist and a Toro Intellisense certified technician. Chris studied business at the University of Arkansas from 1990-94 and horticulture and landscape design at Tarrant County College from 1999-01. He has been employed at Earthworks since 1998.

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