We live in a somewhat sheltered environment, on 180 acres of woods and wildflower meadows in rural Appalachia, so our home landscape needs are somewhat different from suburbanites. Being surrounded by beauty, peace and quiet, and darkness at night are a big priority for us so we’re willing to travel when we want fancy shopping and entertainment. Privacy, windbreaks, shade and color are already built into our surroundings, so there’s little need to add them as we do with our landscape clients who live in suburbia.
Our Christmas shopping trip took us on a whirlwind tour of the Cincinnati metro area, and on our way home we detoured through the lovely neighborhoods of Indian Hill and Mariemont. Their tree-lined streets and professionally landscaped yards are a refreshing sight at any time of year. During the holiday season, many homes in these towns are showcased with Christmas lights, and many have professionally designed landscape lighting systems to flatter them year-round.
What is it that makes these “high-end” neighborhoods so distinctively different? As a designer I’m always looking at the details that make up this overall upscale ambience, and wondering how they could be adapted closer to home. Of course the average home value is higher, and some of the homes fancier, but that’s not the whole story.
If we had to sum up what distinguishes the “nicer” neighborhoods in any community, it is that a higher percentage of homeowners and local officials “budget for beauty”. The overall “look” of the streets, parks, homes and businesses are important to enough to the local residents that they routinely include the cost of landscaping in their building and maintenance budgets. Some municipalities even mandate landscape budgets as a percentage of the total construction cost, in their permitting process. Five percent for landscaping is typical.
I’m not advocating for government-imposed codes and requirements. I’m just making the point that, if beauty is important to you, it makes sense to budget for it as you would any other aspect of your home lifestyle.
Street trees are a good example. Planning for and installing street and park trees is a costly extra step that’s not strictly necessary for basic shelter, and trees add maintenance cost even as they save on energy cost. There’s the inconvenience of leaves, seeds, bird droppings and a host of other nuisances. Like everything else in life these are tradeoffs, balanced by the pleasing appearance, shade in summer, and an overall increase in property values.
Imagine driving through Mariemont if there were no trees whatsoever. The overall atmosphere would be dramatically different. Take away the thoughtfully laid out landscapes, privacy hedges, hardscape walls, landscape lighting and all the other little components that together make these neighborhoods special, and Mariemont would be a very average suburban community. Instead it’s a landmark that most people recognize for its pride of place.
It all starts with a deliberate plan to add beauty; to make beauty a NECESSITY and budget for it. We’d like to thank all the many people who made beauty a priority in some of our towns and villages, and worked for it over decades or even hundreds of years. Thanks to their foresight, and their ongoing commitment to maintainance year after year, we all can drive through and enjoy the tree-lined beauty of their communities. We can also be inspired to follow their example. New year’s resolutions are upon us.
Happy New Year!
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.