Steal These Genius Landscaping Ideas
High-end Chicago landscape designers Hoerr Schaudt share their design secrets.
I have stolen countless times from the upscale shopping district across the street from my office.
Stolen ideas, I mean from Buckhead Atlanta, a posh, walkable outdoor mall with high-end shops like Hermès and Dior and some of the best landscaping I have ever seen. This pedestrian-friendly zone’s intoxicating planting scheme is undeniable: under its influence your mood lifts, your eye goes right for the gorgeous mix of plants and trees in the raised beds. The moment I saw the spikey neon saffron branches of yellow twig dogwood punctuating the grim winter landscape from their tall concrete containers, I knew I had to have them. Snapping a photo and heading to my local garden shop, I soon had those striking shrubs ornamenting my own front porch containers.
The plantings at Buckhead Atlanta are just one example of the notable work of Chicago-based landscape architects Doug Hoerr and Peter Schaudt, whose fantastic public streetscapes and private gardens are the subject of a new coffee table book Movement and Meaning: The Landscapes of Hoerr Schaudt.
Striving to create an “urban village” in Buckhead Atlanta, the designers instantly added warmth, character and the magic only plants can bring to what might have been a cold, concrete-centric space, giving it walkability and intimacy. It’s incredible what a difference plants make: they instantly imbue a space with the soulful, restful joys of nature. I was longing to know more about Hoerr Schaudt’s strategy based on their remarkable Buckhead Atlanta designs.
While Hoerr Schaudt’s gardens at Buckhead Atlanta, or as part of Mayor Daley’s beautification efforts on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue have the benefit of ample funds, constant maintenance and the talented eyes of their designers, this sort of public landscaping come with disadvantages too. Such public plantings are subjected to pollution, shade thrown by buildings, numerous microclimates, the rising heat of subways beneath and a host of other factors that make creating these gorgeous green spaces especially complicated.
Inspired by the daily beauty these Hoerr Schaudt hellstrips and containers and raised beds add to my life, I posed some questions to Hoerr Schaudt’s associate principal Steve Gierke. His tips on beautifying your home design will hopefully help home gardeners up their own landscaping game.
M+R: Can you share some general advice about designing home gardens based on your very vivid designs for Buckhead Atlanta and Michigan Avenue?
SG: Most importantly, know your garden's conditions and microclimates. Experiment with plants that work with your garden's microclimate and [that] excite you. If something doesn't work or look the way you envisioned you have the opportunity to try something new next year.
M+R: Your landscaping in well-trafficked, public/private spaces is instructive: it provides examples of durable and striking plants. Any favorites you recommend for home gardens?
SG: Sooooo many plants, it's very hard to pick just a few. I think a more important takeaway was these streetscapes are a study in how plants of differing heights, contrasting textures and foliage or flower color can be used in combination together. For example when selecting your palette think about shape and texture like spiky, blousy, bold leaf, etc. Include something with a colored foliage like purple, silver or variegated, then add in flower colors that you like.
M+R: Much of this design is geared toward visual enjoyment from a car or a pedestrian angle. What advice would you give home gardeners about making sure their garden is properly sited for enjoyment using the same ideas of perspective?
SG: Select a location you are likely to view and enjoy most often. Beyond a window, adjacent to your terrace or next to a path you walk everyday. Or take a more streetscape-type approach and place it with curb appeal in mind for the neighborhood to enjoy. If flower power is what you are most after, select the sunniest location on your property.
M+R: You seem to often throw in some pretty striking neon and other hot colors to attract the eye and provide balance with more sedate hues: should home gardeners try the same techniques of pops of color and mixing deep purples and limey greens or any other color tips?
SG: This is totally a personal preference. These landscapes are purposely dramatic and eye catching to draw people towards the commercial districts. Your home garden should feature plants that respond to your tastes and provide you maximum visual pleasure.
M+R: Give home gardeners your favorite go-to, can't fail plant they should think about incorporating into their own gardens this spring.
SG: Over the years we have experimented with countless species and varieties of annuals. While the variety changes each year a few species that made it into almost every design were different varieties of coleus, petunia, sweet potato vine, gomphrena, rudbeckia, and angelonia.
We've also had a lot of fun playing with different tropical like alocasia, canna, cordyline and papyrus.
M+R: Height and varied levels are a big part of the appeal of your plantings. How can people achieve this look at home?
SG: The streetscapes had the larger "structure" plants towards the center of the bed, "filler" or mid-level plants toward the middle and "trailers / spreaders" at the edges. If your garden backs up to a fence or architecture, place the structure in the back, mid-level towards the center and spreaders at the bed edge. If you can walk around all sides of your garden follow the layout of the streetscapes.
M+R: Just out of curiosity, how big of a problem is flower picking (or even stealing) in these settings?
SG: Minimal. They were in high profile, well trafficked areas. People are more excited to take their photos in front of them than pick them and take them home.
M+R: Your Buckhead Atlanta plan is a pretty persuasive case for planting mature trees to give instant warmth and solidity to a landscape plan. Sounds like it might be worth it for consumers to splurge on a larger tree or shrub sometimes when they want that effect?
SG: If you can afford it, there is definite value in it. Larger trees and shrubs create an instant feel that your garden is established and has age behind it.
M+R: You trim tree branches to a certain height so shop windows and signs are visible to drivers: sounds like this might yield similarly dramatic results in home gardens?
SG: The same approach can be used to highlight important architectural features like doors and windows. If adjacent to the public or private walks or your driveway limbing up the trees can allow for easier circulation.
M+R: Any ways home gardeners can save money in their own landscape design?
SG: Many annuals grow rapidly in the summer months often doubling or tripling in size. You don't have to start with large plants unless you want the impact of an instant garden. Many perennial plants multiply and like to be divided, after a couple years giving you more for the price of one!