3 Retro Landscaping Trends That Are Making a Big Comeback

published May 16, 2022
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1950's green house with white trim with green lawn, pink azaleas. Mother and child outside with a large orange bucket
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It’s easy to pinpoint the most iconic mid-century architectural and decor elements (think: wide-low, mass-produced homes, thanks to an economic boom and housing shortage post-WWII), but what about landscaping trends from the ’50s through the ’70s?

Turns out, in this time period, architecture and landscape started to overlap more, landscaping historian Therese O’Malley says. “Indoor-outdoor space … really is underlying design at this point,” she says.

Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring” “had an enormous impact on not only scientific but popular and political thinking about the environment,” O’Malley says, and there was an overall sense of increased botanical awareness.

A piqued interest in gardening and botanicals led to its incorporation into home design and neighborhood design. For instance, Landscape architect Ian McHarg’s 1969 book “Designing with Nature” described exactly that — using nature as a guiding design force.

This era also saw an emphasis on not only “the forces of nature in a place, but the forces of culture in the place,” O’Malley says. The work of architect Lawrence Halprin, for instance, was community-centric, and landscape architect Dan Kiley started the concept of the rooftop garden in the 1960s, which is “very, very common” in cities today, O’Malley says.

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From rooftop gardens to brick ovens to a gravel-plus-succulent combo, several current landscaping requests are reminiscent of those from the mid-century, with place- and people-oriented design at the forefront. Below pro landscapers Keith Lince (of Miller Landscape in Orion, Michigan) and Emma Doman (of BLOOM Landscape Architecture in Brisbane, Australia) talk through three retro landscaping trends that are making a comeback.

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The “Palm Springs” Look

In Brisbane, Doman designs with the climate in mind. “It’s very intense summers, and everything outdoors needs to be pretty bulletproof, ” she says. She often use a combo of gravel, breezeblocks, and succulents that can survive the heat in her designs, which is perfect for the retro “Palm Springs” look Doman says many of her clients are after these days. “To me, that’s back at that mid-century kind of design where, you know, there’s lots of white … There’s lots of succulents, cacti, there’s lots of gravel texturing.”

Lince agrees that more neutral palettes are the norm right now. “Over the years, color in landscaping seems to have reflected the spirit of the times,” he says. “Very bright tones in the ’70s and ’80s, more neutral in modern times.”

Credit: Getty Images/H. Armstrong Roberts

Outdoor Ovens

In terms of indoor-outdoor fluidity, Doman says that outdoor dining setups are making a comeback. Doman says when she was growing up, bricked-in fire pits, ovens, and grills were fairly popular, and then “for many, many years, barbecues were on trolleys on our deck.”

Now, she says, people are prioritizing a backyard “suitable for entertaining, socializing, and gathering,” complete with bricks or stone pavers and outdoor dining setups.

“I really feel that large stone elements in a landscape capture that timeless feel and can be a great complement to any composition,” Lince adds.

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Round Pools

And lastly, Doman has noticed retro-inspired round and circular pools making their way back into the limelight — one of her personal favorites because she likes playing with variety in shape.

“Pools used to always be round, and then they were rectangular for a very long time, and sometimes even L-shaped … but the round pool is making a huge comeback,” she says.

And as for what hasn’t stood the test of time? “For me, the most obviously out-of-date trend was the mix of red mulch, yews, and mugo pines that everyone loved using in the ’70s and ’80s,” Lince says. Now, he says, black mulch is getting to be more popular. “But that could be something that is also only trending for our time period,” he says.

After all, if taking a look at retro fads from the past proves anything, it’s that design trends are cyclical.

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: 3 Retro Landscaping Trends That Are Making a Comeback Today