M.E. Contracting is a Toronto landscaping company providing high quality outdoor solutions, specializing in design and construction of all outdoor projects such as Landscaping, Pools, Interlocking, Decking, Railings and Fences. In this Guide, we explain all important aspects of Landscaping Design from Choosing a contractor to Trending Design for your Backyard and Front yard.
Table Of Contents
- Why we need Landscape Design Guide
- Categorizing Landscaping Elements
- Various Types of Landscaping Design
- Types of Landscape Contractors
- Landscaping Construction and Design Ideas for the Front and Back Yards
- Fire Features
- Swimming pools
- Outdoor Kitchens
- Backyard Patios
Why we need Landscaping Design Guide?
When it comes to landscaping times and materials have changed. Tastes have changed. Styles have changed. And in some ways people have changed. What haven’t changed are the fundamentals underpinning a quality landscaping design beginning with line, colour, form, texture and (visual) weight and encompassing proportion, repetition, order and unity. All of these elements are employed by the landscaping company in the service of creating a design that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional. In this guide we’re going to explore landscaping design, the various landscape elements, the different types of landscaping contractor as well as some different styles and common features popular in landscaping design and construction today.
Categorizing Landscaping Elements
The vast majority of landscaping components can be divided into one of two categories: hardscape and softscape. But what exactly do these terms mean?
Toronto Hardscape elements are those inorganic, essentially unmoving parts of the landscape design, particularly any type of masonry or woodwork. Common hardscape materials include:
A project undertaken by a Toronto landscaping contractor to install a new interlocking driveway would be considered a hardscape project. Other hardscape projects would include:
- Patios of brick, tile, concrete or natural stone
- Pathways of brick, natural stone, gravel or concrete
- Stone retaining walls either with mortar or without
- Wood, masonry or wrought iron fences
- Other wooden constructs such as decks, arbors, gazebos and pergolas
While other items such as garden gnomes and ceramic pots are also inanimate they are not physical structures per se and so don’t count as ‘hardscape’ elements. On the other hand water features are very much considered hardscape since they are permanent artificial structures. This would include:
- All types of stone or masonry fountains
- Bronze or steel fountains
- Waterfalls of natural stone or brick
- Natural stone embankments for artificial streams
Softscape elements are those elements of the landscape that are alive. It’s not much more complicated than that. This category could for all intents and purposes be called “plants” but where’s the glamour in that? So softscape it is. Softscape elements are expected to work off of and complement hardscape elements. Though some designers will swear it’s the other way around with hardscape elements expected to complement softscape elements. In any event the argument is academic because at the end of the day the two elements need to work together harmoniously for the landscaping design to have the desired effect.
Examples of softscape elements include:
- Bushes and shrubs
- Vining plants
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As you can imagine these categories encompass myriad types of vegetation and so attempting to list them here would be a study in futility. Suffice to say softscape=plants; even weedy plants since some homeowners are known to have an affinity for this type of plant life. Softscape however does not encompass trees and if you’d like to know why imagine running at full speed into a tree. Ouch.
Various Types of Landscaping Design
Landscaping design is often referred to as “garden design” and there are dozens of different styles that are popular with contemporary homeowners including:
Mediterranean Landscaping Design
Mediterranean style gardens have been a fixture of Western landscaping design for centuries. While some components of Mediterranean design can certainly trace their roots to the days of the Roman Empire other components arose organically from local experience and tastes. Typical components of Mediterranean design include:
- Masonry walls
- Modest water features
- Mediterranean edibles (olives, figs, grapes, citrus etc)
- Textured plants
Japanese Garden Style
Japanese gardens are essentially formal constructs that endeavour to mimic nature is a stylised manner. Japanese garden design is by nature ambitious and so creating a successful Japanese design on a small lot can be a considerable design challenge. Some of the most common elements of Japanese garden styles include:
- Sand, gravel and small stones
- Islands and bridges
- Waterfalls, streams and ponds
- Buildings (either functional or decorative)
- Cherry trees, plum trees and bamboo
- Integrated backgrounds
Japanese gardens often make use of the natural background and look for ways to integrate it into the overall design scheme of the garden.
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Modern Landscaping Design
Modern style landscape design embraces a minimalist ethos with an emphasis on eliminating clutter. The geometry that underlies so many more traditional landscape designs is here brought to the fore and becomes a key component in the overall look and feel. If your modern landscaping design is well constructed it will suffer from the removal of any one component. Some of those components include:
- Neutral colours
- Geometric shapes/visible lines
- Plants with strong and distinctive natural forms
- Emphasis on a single type of plant to hold down the design
Tropical Landscaping Design
Tropical landscaping design aims to enliven the landscape by embracing the lush and the exotic. Tropical gardens however will not necessarily go with every style of house or work very well in colder climes so be careful before deciding to turn your yard into Margaritaville. Common elements of tropical landscaping include:
- Abundant sunlight
- Broad leave vegetation
- Natural colour wood chips
- Smooth stones
- Brightly coloured exotic flora
- Water lilies
- A patio
Tuscan Landscaping Design
The Tuscans predated the Romans by centuries and were renowned for their civilized approach to domesticity. Their landscaping philosophy has remained virtually intact through the ages and today is one of the most popular of the European approaches to landscaping. Common components of the typical Tuscan garden include:
- Boxed hedges
- Mediterranean flora
- Large pots and urns
- Stonework paths and walls
- Citrus trees and herbs
Where space allows Tuscan gardens will often be surrounded by olive trees or even vineyards.
Xeriscape Landscaping Design
With a name derived from the Greek word for dry (“xeros”) Xeriscape design has come to the fore in recent years in places like the American Southwest. These areas, devastated by punishing drought, have been forced to adopt water rationing that includes a ban on watering the lawn in many areas. The goal of xeriscape is to create a landscape that requires minimal help from Mother Nature. One that is both resilient and beautiful. Common features of xeriscape design include:
- Grouping flora by water requirements
- Extensive use of drought resistant plants
- Gravel, small stones and lots of mulch
- Tough, low maintenance grasses like Bermuda grass and Bahia grass
English Landscaping Design
English landscaping design is rooted in the formality of Roman antiquity. As such when it first became something of a design movement in the mid-18th century it was heavy on the geometrical symmetry and classical sculpture elements. As time passed however English gardens began to loosen up around the edges and today occupy a kind of grey area between formal and feral. Typical components of English landscaping design include:
- Clearly defined edges and borders
- A riot of different flowers and other flora
- Contrast of formal and informal
- Vining plants
Traditional Landscaping Design
While “traditional” can be interpreted in myriad ways when it comes to landscaping design it most often refers to the type of garden popular among European aristocracy some 200+ years ago. These gardens were typically geometric in nature and contained elaborate fountains, carefully manicured shrubbery and lots of statuary. Today, ‘traditional’ essentially means any garden style that evokes the spirit of the European gardens of old without necessarily aping them detail for detail. Common components of tradition landscaping design include:
- Gravel paths
- Boxed hedges
- Sitting areas
- Urns and planters
Types of Landscape Contractors
Many people believe that a contractor is a contractor is a contractor but such is not the case. There are several types of landscape contractors each with their own niche to fill in the market. They are:
General contractors (often referred to as GCs) may not be landscapers at all but instead oversee the execution of the landscaping project, arrange for the subcontractors, obtain all necessary permits and are the ones who interact with the client on all important matters. The landscape designer hired by the GC will typically have a history with them.
Specialty contractors are typically sub-contractors hired by the GC to perform specific landscaping jobs such as building a pergola, installing pavers in the driveway or building natural stone retaining walls. The specialty contractors answer to the GC and also typically have a history with them.
Whereas a general contractor frequently subcontracts out landscaping design work a so-called design/build contractor will have landscape architects on the payroll. As such they both design and then build out the landscape design. This setup can make for more effective communication between architect and builder which is always a good thing.
The Landscaping Contractor
Contractors dedicated to landscaping work are called landscaping contractors. They are often fully self-contained entities with landscape designers on staff as well as carpenters, stone masons, arborists and the other specialists needed to execute a landscaping project. The landscape contractor also procures all materials and supplies necessary machinery. M.E. Contracting is premier outdoors contractor in the Greater Toronto Area and we’ve been honored to serve new and repeat customers for more than 10 years.
Landscaping Construction and Design Ideas for the Front and Back Yards
The right landscaping design can transform your property from a lot with a house on it into a unified domestic experience that blurs the lines between interior and exterior while adding significant long term market value. Regardless of whether you’ll be focusing your attention on the back or front yard or both there are myriad options to choose from. Below we’re going to take a closer look at those options and hopefully provide you with enough information so you can get moving in the right direction on your upcoming landscape design project.
Common Landscaping Elements
Fire features typically call for close coordination between several trades including stone masons, gas fitters and plumbers. A landscaping company typically must subcontract this work to those specifically licensed to carry it out. That said the most popular fire features being built today are:
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- Fire pits: They can be small or fairly imposing in size and wood burning or gas driven. Fire pits have steadily gained in popularity over the past decade because they make a compelling centerpiece for night time socializing.
- Fire bowls: Sometimes called fire pots they’re a smaller version of the fire pit and tend to serve a more purely decorative function than their larger cousins.
- Fireplace: The outdoor fireplace is a statement accessory for many modern homes. They can be the focal point of a patio or an element of a larger outdoor kitchen complex that compels guests to move from the dinner table to the comfy furniture around the fireplace as the evening cools off. A real status symbol that provides tremendous visual appeal.
- Tiki torch: The tiki torch has been around for some time and continues to be a backyard favourite for a very simple reason; they look great and are relatively inexpensive.
- Fire and water: A fire and water element will need to be custom designed and built but when in place it will elicit more OMGs from your guests than just about any other component of your landscape design.
Not to be snooty but when we say swimming pools we mean fiberglass inground pools. That said there are so many design choices today that listing them all here would be pointless. Suffice to say that whatever the style of your house and whatever the makeup of your household there is a beautiful, inground fiberglass pool that’s perfect for you. Here are a few of the most popular pool styles.
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- The Family Pool: The Family Pool typically is not so deep, of a fairly standard design and sports plenty of family friendly amenities like slides and low impact diving boards.
- The Infinity Pool: The infinity pool is a more adult oriented swimming pool where the surface of the water is even with at least one edge of the pool creating the illusion that the pool extends to the horizon.
- The Lap Pool: Typically a long and narrow rectangle the lap pool is not for pool parties it’s strictly for swimming back and forth to stay in shape. If you have kids you’ll want to pass on the lap pool.
- Natural Pools: The concept of the natural pool originated in Europe some 30 years ago and represented a drive by landscape designers to bring the backyard pool more into line with the way swimming holes might actually appear in nature. They’re often self-cleaning which can be a big plus.
- Plunge Pool: The plunge pool is typically a smallish pool filled with cold water that is used to provide rejuvenation. Often homes with saunas will have a plunge pool for people to use when they emerge hot and sweaty. Plunge pools are sometimes attached to larger inground swimming pools
Outdoor kitchens have taken the world by storm and for good reason. In fact here are 5 good reasons:
- They ramp up your social life: Nothing beats having friends and family over for a holiday, birthday or anniversary celebration in your outdoor kitchen. It’s like a barbeque times 10 on the enjoyment scale. Add a big flat screen TV and have the crew over for the championship game. And when things get chilly throw another log in the outdoor fireplace and fire up the gas space heaters.
- They increase your home’s value: Because outdoor kitchens are such a hot item adding one to your home will add bottom line market value as well. Should you decide to move after installing your outdoor kitchen chances are your home will sell faster and for a far better price than it otherwise would have.
- They extend your home’s usable area: A generously sized outdoor kitchen can add 25 percent or more useable floor space to your home. When they’re done right they eliminate the hard line between indoors and outdoors as walls melt away, the ceiling transitions to the retractable roof and that gives way to open air and the floor goes from carpeting to natural stone to grass.
- They help keep the family together: As kids mature they naturally begin to gravitate to places they consider more interesting than their same old bedroom. Install an outdoor kitchen and more often than not when you look out the back door you’ll see them out there with their friends instead of hanging with those friends somewhere else.
- Save on restaurants: Chances are once you get into the groove of cooking in your outdoor kitchen you’ll be heading out to restaurants less often. Invite a few friends over to join you and it’s like going out while staying in.
There’s nothing like having a place to retreat when the house is starting to seem claustrophobic. A backyard patio can be an oasis of peace and quiet, an inviting place that beckons us to grab a good book and stretch out. There’s no measuring the degree to which a patio will transform your experience of your home. In fact, many homeowners who add patios claim it’s as though they moved into an entirely different house because the emotional and social centre either shifts entirely to the yard or is now divided between the yard and the kitchen.
A pergola is a (typically) backyard structure that consists of columns supporting a grid of roofing beams. Typically those beams do not support a solid roof but create spaces that are open to the sky. As such they have to be considered more a decorative than functional addition. Nonetheless they can be a wonderful backyard enhancement, one that puts the finishing touch on a landscape redesign. The pergola can be created to match any home style so in that sense they become an architectural appendage that serves to extend the home’s design cues into the yard creating the effect of an addition without the hassle or expense. They can also play host to vining plants and thereby, in time, provide more effective shade and protection from the elements.
Commonly confused with pergolas garden arbors are typically smaller and less imposing structures. Often an arbor will define the beginning of a pathway or signal the transition from one area of the yard to another – say the outdoor kitchen to the pool area or the front yard to the back yard. All manner of climbing flora can be trained to work their magic on an arbor and there are few things as beautiful as an arbor on a warm summer morning covered with morning glories in bloom.
Interlocking pavers are a step up the design ladder from concrete walkways and driveways. Interlocking pavers provide a home with a sense of strength and permanence and that’s no coincidence since the life expectancy of properly laid pavers can extend into the centuries. Yes, centuries. There are myriad instances of paying stones laid down during colonial times that are still in daily service throughout North America. And in Europe pavers installed by the Romans can still be found in many countries. Today’s interlocking pavers come in a variety of colours and textures which allows for the creation of thoroughly unique patterns. Pavers are also proven to provide one of the highest ROI of any home improvement project.
Landscaping design is an exciting field that can help transform your home from ordinary to extraordinary. When you partake of the services of a proven, professional landscaping company you’ll be astonished at the difference the above outlined features can make. You’ll have a better looking, more enjoyable and more valuable property because you bothered to invest in the whole lot and not just the house occupying a small section of it.
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