The first thing landscape designer Cathy Rosenhaus asks her clients is how they live outside their home.
“Do you grill and where? Is there a pool that you swim in or do you want one? Will you be planning for a swing set or play area? Do you entertain?” are among the questions she asks.
Clients also can plan for how they’ll live in the future. A swing set can eventually give way to maturing plants. “Or, if you have a sunny area,” Rosenhaus said, “maybe you eventually replace the play area with a vegetable garden.”
The designer, who has worked in gardens and on landscapes in Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Traverse City and elsewhere, says it’s all about how you blend your hardscape with gardens and green areas. Hardscape is defined as those areas that include patios, walkways, porches, etc.
“I help people organize their outdoor space,” she said, sounding not unlike an interior designer. “We adapt gardens for what people want and add quality to their lives.”
Rosenhaus’ design-build company, called Garden Designs, specializes in site enhancements.
“Don’t over do it with the beds,” if you’re planning a garden or landscape renovation or are starting a new layout, Rosenhaus said. She has seen too many people over the years work too hard in their gardens and not have time to enjoy the space.
“The goal is to make it pretty and enjoy it but not be a slave to it,” she said.
Passion stems from childhood
Rosenhaus’ love of gardening began when she was a child growing up in Maine.
“A little old lady who lived near us taught me a lot about plants,” she recalled fondly.
Eventually, Rosenhaus majored in art in college. Her artistic eye complements her career in gardening.
Besides outdoor lifestyle, Rosenhaus suggests homeowners think about a focal point (a particular plant, garden art or seating area, for example), maintenance and budget.
“It adds up,” she said. “Before embarking on an overhaul, come up with a budget and be honest with your designer on what that budget is.”
Naturally, sun availability and soil type also play into landscape plans.
Rosenhaus’ personal preference includes using a variety of textures and plants with lots of color. “I especially like that real chartreusey green and often mix it with deep purples and burgundies.”
If you can’t do flowers due to bee allergies, Rosenhaus has just the ticket: plants with lots of gorgeous leaves.
“Foliage can absolutely be as pretty as blooms,” she noted. “I just finished a job that had a lot of variegated Japanese forest grass, very nice.”
Your gardens should suit you and your lifestyle, she explained. “They should make you smile.”
Local landscape experts offer more tips
- Do you want an outdoor kitchen?, asks Ryan Youngblood, owner of Rochester-based Artistic Landscape Associates.
- “Think of the style you want and other landscapes or outdoor spaces that have really grabbed your interest,” Youngblood said. “What design style do you like and what makes you feel comfortable? Do you prefer natural, formal or semi-formal?”
- Planting a hedge? “I recommend that a hedge be installed so that it is a hedge now, as it can take a long time to get that hedge effect,” said Deborah Lee, owner of in Rochester Hills.
- Snap a photo. “From a distance, take a photo of the area you want to overhaul, print it on 8.5 by 11 paper and sketch some additional ideas on it,” Lee said. Then take it to a professional for review and input.
- Quench their thirst. “Be sure to hand water your new plantings,” Lee said. “Do not rely on an irrigation system.”
- Give them space. “Depending on mature size of plant, space new plants 12 to 48 inches apart,” Lee said.
- Don’t forget about utilities, said Jennifer Youngquest, marketing manager at . “Where will you install the unsightly air conditioning unit? Or how will you hide it?”
- “Books, magazines and photos taken in nearby neighborhoods are good places to get ideas,” Youngquest said.
- Play around with different-size beds and areas. “Use string and stakes or something as simple as a garden hose (to outline areas when planning),” Youngquest said. “This should always be done before you finalize the plan, so you’re happy with the size and layout of all elements of the plan before you begin the work.” Shades of Green’s Lee added: “I strongly suggest laying out/diagramming the area first. Use paper plates to represent plants so you can guesstimate how many plants you may need.”
- “Think about bloom time for the plants you select so that you have continuous color throughout the year,” said Colleen Carbott, a Lowe’s Companies spokeswoman.
- Improve your soil. “Improving your soil is probably the best investment you can make in your garden,” Carbott said. “It doesn’t have to be a chore. Do it one shovelful at time – every time you plant, add compost.”
- Grow natives. “Using native plants in your garden and landscape saves you money,” Carbott said. “These are the species that are indigenous to your area of the country. They have already adapted to your soil, temperature and rainfall; they are more likely to live longer with less care. For example, if you live in an area that used to be prairie, then prairie natives such as purple coneflower will thrive happily in your garden. (Purple coneflower is a native plant for Michigan). An excellent example of prairie plants and blooms can be seen by appointment at The Kresge Foundation building in Troy. More than 70 percent of the grounds that surround Washington Stanley’s 1852 farmhouse at the Kresge Foundation on Big Beaver Road is covered with plant life native to this area and requires little maintenance. The site is on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Think of Upper Midwest plants that will thrive in Michigan. They include purple coneflower, hydrangea, cherry tomato, moonbeam coreopsis, black-eyed Susan, parsley, goldenrod, sedum, lobelia and mums, according to Carbott. “Coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, coreopsis and goldenrod are terrific, drought-tolerant prairie natives,” Carbott said. “They bloom from early summer through fall, and they attract birds, butterflies and other pollinators and beneficial insects.”