Cutting-Edge Landscapes From America's Top Designers

Native grasses, industrial-chic gates, green roofs, modern pools and plenty of low-maintenance plants distinguish these award-winning projects.

Photo By: Cambria Harkey

Photo By: Cambria Harkey

Photo By: Leonid Furmansky

Photo By: Cambria Harkey

Photo By: Cambria Harkey

Photo By: Millicent Harvey

Photo By: Marianne Lee

Photo By: Stephen Miller

Photo By: Stephen Miller

Photo By: Stephen Miller

Textured Touch

The concrete home is situated on a rocky Texas hillside, and the front yard was wild and brushy. Word + Carr Design Group cleaned it up and paid homage to the wild character with low-maintenance plantings and native grasses that added depth and softness within the wandering stairway. Those elements contrast with the home's contemporary lines. The concrete edifice to the left of the home is actually a separate guest house that opens up to the pool in the backyard. The landscape became a "judicious choreography of movement between the buildings," as described by Word + Carr Design Group, which won an American Society of Landscape Architects 2018 Award of Excellence for their work.

Oblique Design

The steel and gravel stairway’s layout serves as a counterpoint to the home's contemporary concrete design. A more linear stair design could have felt crude, but this layout is more subtle and unexpected. Steel is versatile and more affordable than concrete, stone or even wood, says Sarah Carr, a principal with Word + Carr Design Group. Gravel is an elegant, versatile, functional and inexpensive material that can span design styles, from modern to European. "It looks as good in front of an aristocratic estate as it does in front of a mid-century modern home," she says.

Old Meets New

The pool is surrounded by a clean, open expanse of gravel, along with natural limestone and low-maintenance plants. The guest house is enveloped in concrete, like the bold and contemporary main home. Cutting edge doesn’t have to mean creating something new. They inherited a limestone shelf, but "it wasn’t glamorous," says Sarah Carr, a principal with Word + Carr Design Group. Instead, it was dirty and needed cleaning and care. They used an air spade tool to polish the limestone and remove some of the patina to reveal what she calls a lovely sinuous texture. A new Pennisetum hybrid called 'Kick Ass Grass' from McNeal Growers (wholesale only) is billowy and tall in the breeze on the hillside.

A Great Gate

Landscape designers are big believers that the gate and fence set the tone for the expression of your house. Layers of steel mesh panels forge a strong connection to the home’s design and its main material - board-form concrete with a resulting woodgrain design. The reclaimed wood fence provides a barrier but doesn’t overpower the delicate grasses.

Grilling Amid Beauty

A modern grilling space by Word + Carr Design Group, complemented by purple and green foliage, combines beauty and function. The placement of the smoker isn’t on a stainless steel pedestal or in an elaborate kitchen. Instead, it shows how grilling equipment can become part of the design, by placing it on a wood and steel bench that fits into the landscape plan. The wood retaining wall adds refinement to the native Texas vegetation.

Garden Reimagined

Houses are torn down for new homes, but how about to restore a garden? That’s what happened in Newport, Rhode Island. The Blue Garden was created out of exposed bedrock in 1991 and lavish parties were held in the garden known for its blue flowers. Then houses were built on the property. Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture worked with the new owner to merge the garden’s remnant with farmland that had been part of the original estate. They restored and reinterpreted the garden as a sustainable site, and it won an ASLA 2018 Honor Award.

Classic With a Twist

A channel of water connects a pool with water lilies to another pool with blue tiles leading to a pergola. The blue, purple, gray and white color scheme is made up of perennials, instead of labor-intensive annuals, and longer-flowering plants that are drought tolerant. A mix of evergreen trees frames the landscape and screen nearby development.

Garden in the City

Whether you live here or not, this cascading urban garden by Studio at Yard in Portland, Oregon, is something to appreciate. The designers transformed an industrial building into a leading example of landscape design, earning Studio an ASLA 2018 Honor Award. The greenery adds a refreshing pop of color to the cityscape. The garden's design is inspired by the sloped banks of the nearby Willamette River.

Rooftop Pop of Color

The angular building design serves as a border for a rooftop garden with pink and green perennials that capture the sunlight in Portland, Oregon. The landscape plan is a bold integration of nature and steel.

Pattern Play

Beds of flowering plants are interrupted by a channel, which creates patterns that could inspire the layout of your home garden. This very functional feature manages stormwater runoff on this rooftop garden.

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