A few weekends ago, I attended the Association of Professional Landscape Designers’ annual international conference in Toronto, Canada.  It had been several years since my last conference and I was extremely happy I attended.  It is great to spend time with my peers from around the country and world.  There were designers from England and Saudi Arabia in attendance.   This conference is packed with great speakers and amazing gardens from the area.  The annual conference has been held in various locations including Detroit in 2013, Boston in 2017 and next year in Seattle. 

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One of the great talks was by Susan Cohan, APLD of Susan Cohan Gardens in New Jersey.    She is an award winning, nationally certified landscape designer and is well-known in the landscape and design communities for her design work and for her writing about design. Her residential landscapes for private clients and concept gardens are frequently published and have won numerous awards. Susan has been a contributing editor to Garden Design, an American voice on the British Thinkingardens, as well writing about gardens and design since 2007 on her own blog Miss Rumphius’ Rules.

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Susan’s talk was about three overarching styles of gardens: traditional, contemporary and rustic.  Most designers try to be specific when describing a design’s style, but in reality, all landscape design can be easily divided into one of these categories.  Each of the styles has elements that can crossover into another to create a unique hybrid that will ultimately tilt one way or the other. 

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Traditional landscapes tend to be the most common type of landscape, especially here in Michigan.  These type of landscapes would incorporate brick, stone, pavers and wood and look alike material that fits in regionally.  Vintage and antiques could also be possible but not necessary.  The overarching goals of a traditional garden design are to create a well-defined and beautiful outdoor space.  This type of style is very broad and would include many sub categories of gardens (i.e. English Gardens, Mediterranean Gardens, Oriental Gardens, etc.)

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The hardscape manufacturers we use offer products that would fit in each of these styles.  Most of their products could fit in the traditional style.  Some of the great products we enjoy using include Unilock’s Rivercrest Wall for walls, Unilock’s Enduracolor and Enduracolor Plus pavers, Oaks Ortana and Ortana Plus for walls, and Rosetta Dimensional Flagstone for floors & Rosetta Kodah Walls.

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Although different designers have different opinions on what is or isn’t a contemporary design, I believe Susan’s definition is more towards modern design.  Her definition is a simple design.  Simple does not mean easier, but there is a lot of orderly repetition, limited amount of plants used, sleek and lacking ornamental and geometric.  This style is known for its streamlined aesthetic and sleek sophisticated style. Overall the garden will feel controlled and organized. Typically, the focus is heavier on hardscape and structures than it is on plants. Plants used have very little color, mostly green with maybe a little white.  Materials used on a typical contemporary design would include steel, glass and concrete.  You will see unexpected details in the design while incorporating technology to its fullest.  One of the main goals of contemporary design is to create contrast. For example a large massing of ornamental grasses pops out against a grey concrete wall, orange cushions draw your eye when placed on otherwise simple patio furniture and a fire pit filled with colored glass demands attention when set amongst a bed of bluestone. It is important to be selective when creating contrast, too much can be overwhelming and make the space seem disjointed. Pick two or three spots in your yard and focus on one contrasting element for each.

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Hardscape materials would include material such as Unilock’s Artline paver & Porcelain tile; Unilock’s Lineo Dimensional Stone wall; Oaks Eterna, Presidio, & Molina pavers; and, Rosetta’s Miros Patio Slab

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Rustic landscapes are similar to traditional landscape but are not as neat more natural.  Whether you’re in a woodland setting or out on the prairie, rustic landscape design is all about reflecting the natural surroundings. This type of style uses handmade and aged look products.  Relics, shards and artifacts help define this landscape. The rustic style is very eclectic.  Using natural material such as flagstone and boulders is essential for this style.  Natural-looking man-made products could be used such as Rosetta’s  Grand Flagstone and/or Outcropping.

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By Steven D. Thoms, CGIP, APLD, CLP