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Alternative Landscapes
By Kathleen Ostrander

Interesting alternatives to that large green expanse of lawn are limited only by the supplies at area greenhouses. From grasses to containers, landscaping adds color, texture and interest even in the dreary winter months.

While sustainable landscape or landscaping that is eco-friendly and requires little maintenance has been the craze, we are now on our next generation of vegetation. Mike McWilliams of CopperTree, 3111 Cockrell Lane, says when putting in landscaping people are considering color and how things look year-round.

"People are discovering a large expanse of 'prairie' landscaping is, well, boring. So we have hybrids now. You are still using something from the prairie, but it has more interest," McWilliams said.

For example, Little Bluestem is a prairie plant that blooms late and although it's pretty, it's not spectacular. Carousel Bluestem is a deeper blue and a little shorter so it gives a mass of color, he explained.

"You are going to have to remember if you are trying to mimic the prairie, instead of using three or four plants, you are going to have to use 20 or 30. So you need a large area, and you have to sweep into the next texture," McWilliams said.

Both he and Denise Buscher of Pleasant Nursery, 4234 W. Wabash Ave., said homeowners and business owners are picking plants with an eye toward something that blooms for an entire summer, like black-eyed Susans.

The different types of ornamental grasses are getting more use, McWilliams said. "The charm of them is you take them all down in the spring so there's a big clean-up, but that's all you have to do."

"Grasses give high interest in the winter," Buscher said. "They hold the snow and they hold their color and they are low maintenance."  She said you can "spice up" a landscaped area that has grasses by adding shorter color plants in the front or plants in urns for different types and textures.

Variations of purple fountain grass, called Prince or Princess, are popular, she said. Some of the variations are either taller than regular fountain grass or have a broader leaf.

Javita Martin, a plant specialist at Pleasant Nursery, said Cannas - large tropical plants with broad leaves and bright flowers, as well as Mandevilla are popular. Mandevilla is a tropical plant with showy blooms that is well suited to trellis planting.

A different style of container landscaping is growing in popularity, according to Wade Velten of Buckley's Prairie Landscaping Garden Center, 3735 Chatham Road.

"We are getting away from one container on each side of something. We are seeing groups of three, larger and smaller and groupings that are more artful," he said.

There is also a growing trend away from earth tones and more gravitation toward blues and burgundy.

"People aren't going to be replacing grass with landscape or containers," Velten said. "They are using those things to supplement areas that might be too shady to grow nice turf."

"With a movement to outdoor living spaces people are using container groupings to create a little oasis outside. Tiny areas of green grass don't have much atmosphere, and you can get atmosphere with container groupings."

Velten said people are looking at landscaping as an extension of their homes.

"People aren't traveling as much and they want something to enjoy," he said. "Containers outside can have blooms and some interesting greens, and then in the winter you can use evergreens and other decorative items to keep the interest outside."

Story published Friday, September 5, 2008 ( Volume 3, Number 5 )

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