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The Contemporary Garden

Educated consumers and high technology contribute to the trend

 Russ Cletta designed a contemporary oasis for a family in Pacific Palisades, Calif., incorporating a pool, spa, barbecue, fire pit, outdoor movie screen and modern garden accessories. The pool and rear deck are elevated above the garden, providing a colorful backdrop.


 Russ Cletta designed a contemporary oasis for a family in Pacific Palisades, Calif., incorporating a pool, spa, barbecue, fire pit, outdoor movie screen and modern garden accessories. The pool and rear deck are elevated above the garden, providing a colorful backdrop.

 Russ Cletta designed a contemporary oasis for a family in Pacific Palisades, Calif., incorporating a pool, spa, barbecue, fire pit, outdoor movie screen and modern garden accessories. The pool and rear deck are elevated above the garden, providing a colorful backdrop.

As homeowners continue to simplify their lives, their back yards are becoming their retreats.Money is being spent to create up-to-date gardens, complete with technological advancements, like solar-powered lighting and even flat-panel televisions that can disappear into the ground. At the same time, sleek and contemporary garden accessories and casual furniture are completing a more modern look outdoors.

“People are more receptive to what we’re calling ‘contemporary,’” said Russ Cletta, a senior landscape architect for Los Angeles-based Estate Garden by ValleyCrest, a residential landscape design, construction and maintenance practice. “People are creating other worlds they can escape to, including all of the amenities.”

Advances in technology have helped escalate the popularity of a more functional garden over the last decade, especially the last five years. The living room has extended into the back yard, the dining room is now located under a pergola and entertaining outside no longer just means a picnic meal.

“Technology is allowing people to spend more time outside with the comfort and familiarity of what used to be inside,” said Brian Helgoe, general manager of Estate Gardens by ValleyCrest. “From a pure horticultural advantage, people are creating rooms as extensions of the house.”

“It’s not so much that we’re just building modern gardens everywhere, we’ve just got a lot of contemporary concepts,” added Bruce Meeks, senior landscape architect at the practice.

As consumers become more educated about the garden and casual industries, they are more willing to spend the money to create an outdoor oasis. “The owner is more educated then they have been previously,” Helgoe said. “They watch their garden shows, they read their garden magazines, and they know what their style is.”

Creating a balance between the house and the yard has become imperative to homeowners willing to spend the money on the outdoors. According to Helgoe, consumers are focusing on the fluidity of ideas — making a seamless transition from the indoors — and they are doing so with plantings, outdoor lighting, garden accessories and furniture.

“The landscape is an extension of the architecture of the house,” he said. “A lot of the contemporary gardens are more mass plantings of things like grasses, for example, or big, long hedges.”

Home accent and garden accessories manufacturer Napa Home & Garden has evolved from selling more traditional and conservative products to simple, contemporary styles. “I think we are a company that is seen as more cutting edge in terms of design,” said Jerry Cunningham, who owns the company along with his wife, K.C.

The Cunninghams do a lot of business with interior designers and landscape architects. Larger pieces with dark finishes are best-selling for the company right now, specifically bowls and pots finished to look like wood, stone, terra cotta or lead, but are lightweight. “You can pick them up, and in many cases, they are less expensive,” Cunningham said.

“The biggest trend we have seen is toward lightweight synthetic products. They are getting so much more realistic every year.” Eco-friendly or organic products are hitting a high note as well. More consumers are buying into the green movement, purchasing organic fertilizer, foods, accessories and more.

According to a recent report from the National Gardening Association and the Freedonia Group, a Cleveland-based market research firm, the natural and organic segment of the lawn and garden industry is expected to grow at about 15% per year, which is three times the overall lawn and garden industry growth rate.

Arthur Wang, design director for home accent and garden accessories manufacturer Emissary, said contemporary is more popular among those living in major metropolitan areas, and in general, the trend is toward simple, more nostalgic and natural-looking pieces.

“People have a contemporary sensitivity,” he said, “It’s more earthy, more organic.”

Wang added people will try more contemporary pieces, be it with pottery that has a cleaner look, perhaps Zen or pure Oriental, or with garden accessories that have a more modern shape, color or proportion.

“When you peel the onion, you realize people’s concepts and people’s tastes change,” Wang said. “My theory is that people are looking for what’s new, and the new could be anything.”

Sheri McAdams, national sales manager for gift and home accents company Pacific Rim, echoed Wang and said there is a noticeable trend toward a cleaner, simpler look. Pacific Rim has added “quite a few” contemporary items the last two seasons in the lighting, art glass and tabletop categories.

Within the last decade, the Seattlebased company also has expanded its line to include a full range of products for the home furnishings industry, including casual furniture and garden accessories. Particularly successful are the company’s contemporary fountains. Pacific Rim debuted the line with

Raku, a black, self-contained fountain that looks as it is carved from rock. Raku inspired the rest, now totaling more than 50 in the category.

“It’s just a huge growth area,” McAdams said. “Part if it is because they have simple, straight lines. Our fountains sound more like a bubbling brook than a waterfall.” “The contemporary garden is something that shows there are a lot of things that are changing in garden design right now,” Helgoe added. “We are at a time where gardening is at one of its apexes. We’re creating this word ‘contemporary garden,’ but I don’t think that’s the word. Someone will coin a word about what’s happened over the last five years and that will be part of the vernacular when, 100 years from now, we go back and talk about garden design. I think we are creating a new language right now in terms of garden design.”

 From Napa Home & Garden, large zinc containers are popular because of the pairing of color and size.  From Napa Home & Garden, large zinc containers are popular because of the pairing of color and size.
   Millie considers herself thoroughly modern.
 Pacific Rim’s square and taper ball fountains feature sleek columns of water that evoke a serene appeal.  Pacific Rim’s square and taper ball fountains feature sleek columns of water that evoke a serene appeal. Pacific Rim’s square and taper ball fountains feature sleek columns of water that evoke a serene appeal. 
 Opus' Zen bird feeder, top, has a rugged metal construction with slight curves for a feminine style ($128).  Opus

 Planter sets from Napa Home & Garden have the appearance of wood and stone but are lightweight.

 Planter sets from Napa Home & Garden have the appearance of wood and stone but are lightweight.

Additional planter sets fromNapa Home & Gardenhave the appearance of wood and stone but are lightweight.

From the Winter 2006 issue of Garden Decor.

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