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Is good landscape design timeless?


In this Sunday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the front page of the home and garden section was dedicated to “updating your landscape.” The premise of the article was that it is good to update your landscape. In fact the article compared having an “outdated” landscape to having harvest gold appliances.
And all this got me thinking. Does a truly good landscape design ever become outdated? I’m not talking about overgrown bushes that threaten to eat houses. I consider that to be a maintenance issue. And I’m not talking about replacing plants that have either gone onto a better place or that you’ve just gotten sick of. That’s just human nature to want something different after awhile (which I think is a perfectly good reason to redo a landscape, but that’s not the same as redoing it because it is outdated).
To me, one of the signs of a great landscape is that it is timeless. Certainly there must be a reason why a formal parterre garden still looks beautiful and appropriate in the right landscape and why so many of us strive to have free-form, lovely cottage-style gardens like our grandmothers had.
Would anyone call this landscape outdated? Fine Gardening photo

The article also offers a list of things that are “out” in landscape design:

  • Lava rock
  • Mulch in unnatural colors
  • Plastic swans and pink flamingos
  • Whiskey barrels
  • Old gazing balls
  • Old birdbaths
  • Wagon wheels
  • Railroad ties
  • Plastic flowerpots and flowers
  • Garden gnomes
  • One kind of flower in a pot
  • Spikes surrounded by geraniums
  • Honeysuckle
  • Privet hedges
  • Some types of junipers
  • Ash trees (because of emerald ash borers)

But I ask: were any of these things ever “in” in good landscape design? Some of the items on the list fall under the category of “whimsy” and therefore I think they can belong in the garden without forcing the rest of it to be declared “outdated.”
To me this is the beauty of landscapes: you’re not at the whim of whatever is in at the time. You don’t have to ask yourself, “Is this (landscape equivalent of the all-white kitchen) going to be dated in 10 years?” Mother nature is a confident lady and she’s been around a lot longer than any landscape designer. Choose well for what will work in the space, take care of it, and you’re good to go.
At least that’s what I think. What say you?

4 Responses

  1. I think that a good landscape design is definitely timeless. A few of my mates may disagree with me, but it’s the truth. You can ask anyone working at a landscaping company, and they’ll agree with this.

  2. I think most of the things on their list are personal touches related to the gardener's taste. And those are also items that can easily be added or subtracted at will by the next homeowner. A few years ago I bought a very boring and old fashioned shrub because my grandmother had one. I wanted to look at it and remember her. In style? Out? Or just my style!

  3. I think that good design never goes out of style….and by good design, I mean layout and plant placement. Those design principles will always hold up. However, I do think some plant combos or choices are "dated" and some trends in gardening can become old. The spikes/geraniums come to mind.

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