Landscaping 101

by Jessica Carreras

From the time the snow melts to the time it starts to fall again, landscaping season is in full force. And as a community who takes pride in their homes, the gays and lesbians of metro Detroit should – and do – also care about the outside of their homes.

More than just green grass and shady trees, landscaping is just another form of art. Recently, Between The Lines chatted with landscaper Bob Porter, owner of Artisan Landscapes, to find out what's in, when to plant and why working with gay couples is a landscaper's dream come true.

Is fall a good time to plant?
Fall is a great time for landscaping. There's a cliche that fall is for planting. It is really true. Everything is going into dormancy or already dormant. The planting is a lot less stressful on them.

What's the "in" thing with landscaping now?
There are several trends. The biggest thing overall is outdoor rooms and outdoor kitchens. People are spending a lot more time at home. An outdoor room is just an extension of living space, so a patio, maybe – depending on the size of the lot – they could have a raised patio and a lower patio so you have two layers. You look at those as kind of different rooms so we could landscape around them to separate them.
Fountains are real big, and pondless waterfalls where there isn't standing water that the waterfall falls into. It's just a gravel basin, so you still have all the nice sound of the water moving, but you don't have the maintenance of the pond. People are trying to go low-maintenance or no maintenance as much as possible. There's nothing in this world that's no maintenance but you can reduce the maintenance of things. You still have to cut the grass, you still have weeds, but you can minimize some of those things.

How much of it is the client's ideas and how much do you come up with it?
In the initial meeting with the client, I meet with them, get their ideas about what they want to use the space for – especially for patios. If they entertain a lot, then we have to make provisions for that. I take their ideas and I ask questions like "Are there any colors you don't like or can't live without?" or "Are their any plants you like or don't like?" and then I take all their ideas and put them in a plan and present them. Ninety percent of the time, there's one revision.
The thing I tell people is that these are my interpretations of your ideas and what I see. But I'm not going to live here, so if you're not happy with it and can't live with it, then we shouldn't do it. It's your house. Make it for you. Every job has to reflect the homeowner's personality, whatever that is.
I just did a client where one of the partners wanted a stone bench put in and the other was indifferent to it. They finally ended up with a stone bench and it's a nice addition to the garden. Then there's something else they compromised on – that always is the case in all jobs. I look at it with my eye and then I give you my ideas, my suggestions. I'll tell you why I made my suggestions, but ultimately, you're going to live there and you have to like it. So if you don't like it, then it's a bad decision.

Gay couples are notorious for being very into decorating. How is this true in the landscaping business?
I was just working with a couple…they were great. They understood all the issues that came up and were very involved in decision-making. They liked gardening. It's very easy to design and build for someone who likes gardening. If they don't, they don't really care and they have no idea why this plant or that plant is better.
I try to use as many different plants as possible. I don't want it to be the same as your neighbor or the cookie-cutter landscaper down the street. I try to use more unique plants that work for our area but not everyone uses them because they're either expensive or they're rare or more temperamental. The gay couples seem to be more receptive to that.
The biggest thing is that usually they are more into art and appreciate it, and this is – I look at all that I do as another form of art. They appreciate these different plants and the way things look and that the quality is there.

What is the craziest landscaping request you ever had?
The most recent was last year. I had a client who gave me an acrylic ice bucket and they wanted me to make a rock that the ice bucket could stay in. I found a rock and had to make a hole in it so the ice bucket could sit in it. They have a patio that's out in the lawn and (her and her husband) like to go and sit there and have their evening glass of wine.
The other thing was when I had a client who wanted a bench – but not a traditional bench that has two legs and a top on it. Something different that no one else has. We ended up taking a rock that was basically pie shaped and standing it so that one of the points was at the ground. I adhered a stainless steel rod to it and sunk it in concrete, so it looks like this pie-shaped rock is just balancing on its point.
It's real rewarding to do those things. It just takes some thought and time. But the results are always really cool.

When most people think landscaping, they think of grass, trees and shrubs. Is it more than that?
It's evolving all the time. It's come a long way. Unfortunately, here in Michigan, especially in the Detroit area, you say 'landscaping' and people think of their grass cutter. We're far, far removed from cutting grass. I'm a third generation landscaper and from what my grandfather did 60 or 70 years ago to what I do today is a far cry. It's totally different. The methods are similar; we just use far more equipment now. But the sky's the limit on ideas.

We recommend these fine landscapers for your next project
Barker's Creations, 2207 Anita, Grosse Pointe Woods, MI 48236.313-332-0601, email: [email protected] web:

Custom Cedar Fences by John Roberts, 27486 Lathrup Blvd., Lathrup Village, MI 48076. 248-557-6338. email: [email protected]
Designs In Nature, 2011 Woodland Ave., Sylvan Lake, MI 48320. 248-738-8946. email: [email protected]

G.T. Concrete Decorative Work, 19355 Faulman, Clinton Twp., MI 48035. 586-709-6895. email: [email protected] web:

Gee Farms, 14928 Bunkerhill Rd., Stockbridge, MI 49285. 517-769-6772. email: [email protected] web:

Landscape Artisan, 4540 Hummer Lake Rd., Ortonville, MI 48462. 248-379-0809. email: [email protected] web:

Plants & Patios, 1775 Porter Rd., White Lake, MI 48383. 248-867-2164. email: [email protected] web:

Todd's Services, 7975 M-36, P.O. Box 608, Hamburg, MI 48139. 810-231-2778. email: [email protected] web: