Designing Nature: An Interview with a Landscape Architect

Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your role?

I’m Nate Robinson, a Lead Designer and licensed Landscape Architect at Chalet Landscape. My role involves helping clients envision their outdoor spaces and guiding them through the process of designing and constructing their new landscapes.

What landscaping trends are taking hold of the North Shore right now?

We are seeing a significant trend where clients are increasingly interested in blending traditional formal plantings with native plants. For instance, it’s becoming popular to mix Boxwood groupings with Prairie Dropseed or other native grasses. This combination provides contrasting color and texture while creating a low-maintenance landscape.

Additionally, there has been a noticeable rise in requests for ‘old-fashioned’ plants such as Common Lilac, Magnolia, and Peonies. These plants often evoke fond memories of relatives and add a nostalgic touch to gardens.

Fire features continue to be a favorite for outdoor spaces. We are encouraging clients to opt for portable fire tables or fire pits instead of traditional mortared stone or brick installations. These portable options offer flexibility, allowing families to adapt their outdoor spaces as their needs evolve over time.

What trends will be popular in the near future?

With the increase in rainfall in our area, we anticipate a growing need for creative drainage solutions and plants that can thrive in wet soils. Switchgrass is an excellent choice for these conditions, as it can tolerate both dry and wet soils and grow well in full sun to part shade. It’s a versatile and aesthetically pleasing plant.

Pergolas have always been a popular landscape feature, but we are seeing a shift towards cast aluminum pergolas. These new pergolas often come with louvered tops to control sunlight and rain, as well as options for drop-down privacy screens and heaters, making them a more versatile addition to outdoor spaces.

How are today’s popular design trends affecting landscaping?

The integration of home technology into outdoor landscapes is becoming increasingly popular. Features like landscape lighting, irrigation systems, outdoor audio systems, and even grills can now be operated via apps on smartphones, adding convenience and control to outdoor living.

However, amidst all this tech, plants remain wonderfully tech-free. They provide a natural balance and tranquility, countering the technological noise around us. This juxtaposition of technology and nature creates harmonious and functional outdoor spaces.

How do you approach sustainable and environmentally-friendly design practices?

We strive to balance aesthetics with environmentally friendly practices. Our planting designs incorporate native plants when appropriate, and we always design with the principle of ‘right plant, right place’ in mind. Our landscape maintenance team has switched to mostly electric-powered mowers, blowers, and trimmers, and we’ve been introducing auto mowers on clients’ properties to reduce gas emissions.

What are some common challenges you face working on the North Shore and how do you/Chalet overcome them?

One of the challenges we face is permitting in different villages. Each village has their own set of rules for constructing a landscape project and we need to be up to date on the ever changing rules.  We also manage the permit process on behalf of our clients as part of our design build service to take that complicated load off of them.

Another challenge is the increasing amount of rainfall on the North Shore. Recent years have seen wetter springs and summers, requiring us to adjust our planting palette to include plants that thrive in wet soils. We also educate clients on the effects of over-watering and help manage their irrigation systems. Nearly every new project we design now includes some aspect of water management.

How do you balance aesthetics with functionality in your designs?

We select and install plants that are durable, low maintenance, and offer multiple seasons of interest, whether through flower color, leaf texture, fall color, or winter structure. By combining the right plants, we create landscapes that are both beautiful and resilient. For patios, walkways, and driveways, we use materials known for their durability and ability to withstand our local weather conditions.

Written by @properties
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