As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a majority of Americans into spending more time at home than ever before, many of those folks are venturing outside. Back and front yards have become places to more safely socialize with others, Zen getaways, and sources of fresh fruit and vegetables. Folks are even escaping their partners' annoying Zoom calls by stepping out the door.
Not surprisingly, the top landscaping trends of 2021 are expected to be pandemic-inspired as the health crisis drags on. These trends include turning outdoor spaces into year-round amenities, more vegetable gardens cropping up, and turning backyards into activity zones for the whole family, according to a recent report from Tilly. The online design company creates landscaping plans for clients across the country.
"Our world has changed dramatically, and a lot of people are spending a lot more time in their homes, their gardens, their yards," says Tilly CEO Blythe Yost. "Outdoor spaces that haven’t been high on people's lists of improvements are suddenly front and center."
Indeed, the trend of the outdoors as an extension of indoor living has been popular for the past few years. But many cooped-up Americans jumped on the bandwagon for the first time in 2020. And that trend is expected to continue into the next year as the vaccines are rolled out.
“There was always this perception that the outdoors wasn’t safe. There’s bugs, there’s Lyme disease, there’s thorns on the roses, it’s too hot, it’s too cold," says landscape architect Janice Parker, whose eponymously named firm has locations in New York and Greenwich, CT. "Socially distanced gathering really drove people outside. ... It’s opened people's lives and minds to nature.”
Outdoor oases will become year-round necessities
People don't want to go inside just because the temperatures plunge. Heating lamps and outside fireplaces allow homeowners to turn their spaces into more year-round retreats, particularly in colder parts of the country. Couches and lounge chairs make these areas more desirable places to be.
"Outdoor heating, from fire pits to infrared heaters installed in pergolas and three-season porches, has become a must," Craig Jenkins-Sutton, president of Chicago-based landscaping design firm Topiarius. "Retractable vinyl screens are also in high demand to help retain the heat and keep out the wind."
There will also likely be an increased emphasis on privacy in backyards. This could be a row of evergreens or even a trellis wall with hanging vines to shield the view.
Vegetable gardens will continue to be all the rage
Growing one's own food made a comeback in a big way last year when mundane trips to the grocery store suddenly became anxiety-inducing experiences. Is that person wearing a mask? Is he standing a minimum of 6 feet away from you in the checkout line?
Victory gardens became an affordable, and even enjoyable, way for cooped-up folks to pass the time and grow their own fruits and vegetables. And when done right, they produced quite the bounty!
This trend is expected to continue into next year with better thought-out gardens, more raised beds, and an uptick in potted herbs.
"It's fun and you can get results," says Parker. "Watching it grow and you can eat it is the ultimate process and connection. That's incredibly satisfying."
Backyards will becoming playgrounds
Enterprising homeowners are expected to continue turning their backyards into playgrounds on steroids. There is likely to be an increase in homemade zip lines, climbing walls, ninja warrior courses, and fancy monkey bars.
“You don’t have to travel, you don’t have to see anyone else to get your kids outside," says Tilly's Yost. She's seen a lot of folks going the DIY route with inflatable pools for the kids, rope swings, and other inexpensive improvements. "You don’t need a whole, big jungle gym or playground.”
Pools, just about the hottest commodity of 2020, could remain in high demand.
"Kids drive the need for a pool," says landscape designer Parker. "Grown-ups will go to a pool if we feel like we look good in a bathing suit. Kids will just be in it all the time."
Front yards will get more social
Front yards are likely to remain social spaces. In cities, stoops have been the spot where neighbors can catch up while remaining socially distant. In the suburbs, driveways have been places where neighbors can share community news whether through an organized gathering or when they're out walking the dog.
"We've been designing more seating options in the front yard," says Yost. She likes to create spaces for a pair of Adirondack chairs out front. “You can get a little piece of social interaction when the neighbors walk by.”
Eclectic and native designs will reign supreme
Next year's outdoor spaces may not be impeccable—we've all got a lot on our plates. However, homeowners will aim to make them beautiful without putting too much work into it.
"We find a lot of people are looking for low-maintenance designs," says Yost. "We don't want people to feel like it's too perfect or too clipped or too finished. Not every plant you plant is going to be a winner."
Native plants, which are suited to thrive in their environment and thus take less work, will remain popular. So will pollinator-friendly flowers, which attract bees and birds.
Landscaping will become more visual
People have also become more concerned about the views of their yard from inside their homes. They're expected to seek out "framed" landscaping that looks good from certain windows. That means folks will likely plant a mix of flowers, shrubs, grasses, and other vegetation in those areas, so that something is always green or in bloom.
"The first thing I do when I take on any project is look at the view outside from the master bedroom window, the master bathroom window," says Parker. "That's always been important. You need to be able to look out and have your eye rest on something you enjoy."
Vertical gardens will take center stage
Vertical gardens will remain eye-catching, focal points—particularly for small spaces. These vertical structures covered in vegetation can be placed indoors or outdoors, where they become a sort of artistic statement wall.
"Not everybody has a big, vertical space," says Yost. "Even just hanging a plant or hanging a basket from a window can bring green and life to a vertical space. It could be growing English ivy up the side of a wall. If you're in a more tropical climate, we do a lot more sedum walls."
Working outdoors will be the new hobby
When the pandemic first forced folks to stay home, some folks took to binge-watching Netflix or riding their Peloton bikes into oblivion (or both). Others developed hobbies, like finally writing the Great American Novel, learning to bake sourdough bread—and gardening. Suddenly, weeding the vegetable plot or raking the leaves served as a mental health break that also provided some much-needed exercise.
Going into the new year, homeowners are expected to take on more of their yard maintenance than ever before.
"It's really nice to see all these people becoming so invested in their gardens and their spaces," says Yost. "It's a really easy way to get involved with your environment, to step outside your front door."