By Erica Phillips

It can take a new subdivision several months to look inviting after it has been occupied. Most new homeowners are focused on getting oriented, arranging utilities, making sure children are settled in school and ensuring their interiors feel like home. As such, landscaping can take a back seat to the other list of priorities, leaving the neighbourhood looking incomplete for a while. In addition, homeowners often don’t know where to start.

Some home builders see this concern as an opportunity to offer outdoor landscaping packages—packages that offer short-term and long-term benefits for the homeowners, neighbours and builders alike.

James Bazely, president of Gregor Homes in Barrie, is one such company distinguishing itself from some of its competition. “We started offering basic front entrances with planter beds about 20 years ago—really basic stuff with plain Holland Stone and 6” x 6” timbers,” says Bazely, whose packages can can range from a simple $3,000 front entrance to a $100,000 complete yard with soft and hard landscaping.

Gregor Homes tries to customize each project to suit the budget and wants of the homeowner. “Subdivision houses tend to look the same and we can individualize them with unique landscaping projects,” Bazely admits. “My background and education was landscaping, so it made good sense to me to offer it as part of the house deal to make the home turnkey.”

Whereas there are traditionally few opportunities for a builder to showcase their community once a homeowner has taken possession, landscaping packages present added marketing benefits, notes Amanda Ponce, operations manager with Devonleigh Homes, an Orangeville-based builder that has been offering the upgrade since the company’s inception in 1996. “We include a landscaping package because not only do we pride ourselves on building quality homes, but also on creating beautiful communities,” says Ponce, who offers the package with every level of home that Devonleigh builds. “It is not an upsell for us, however—it is an included feature that sets us apart from other new home builders.”

The timing of such projects, of course, is critical. Adrian Bartels advises waiting about a year from the date of backfill of the foundation for the soil to settle before moving forward. His company, Cedar Springs Landscape Group in Oakville, which claimed 13 awards at the 2015 Landscape Ontario Awards of Excellence ceremony, has dealt with a handful of builders during its 20 years in business.

Fernando Marques, a project manager with Toronto-based Parkscape, which has been working with builders since it opened in 2010, says, “It’s best to get the ball rolling on permits, designs and details during the early stages of construction or pre-construction, so that the house design and lot grading can be planned in advance. That will allow for seamless coordination between the house structure and the landscape.”

Gregor Homes, meanwhile, does the landscaping to coincide with homeowners’ occupancy. People enjoy the fact that they can start entertaining their friends and family soon after they move in. The landscaping packages “allow people to move in on Friday and host a BBQ party for their friends on their poolside patio on Saturday,” Bazely says.

While builders can bank on the fact that new-home buyers will focus on aesthetics for the front of their home, and entertaining in the back, trends have continued to change, says Bazely, whose early clients chose square, plain walkways, then moved to funky curved paths, and now have even included wheelchair ramps that don’t look like accessible walkways.

There has also been a ‘ramping up’ of backyards as an extension of family rooms and even kitchens, with such details as patterned stone, multi-tiered seating areas, custom lighting fixtures, barbecues built into stone walls, pillars, fountains and statues, in addition to elaborate plantings with boulders, pebbles and a mix of materials. And while the traditional BBQ used to suffice for backyard cooking, “outdoor kitchens are becoming increasingly all-inclusive, with grills, side burners, refrigerators, trash drawers, warming drawers, etc.,” says Bartels. “Over the past 10 years, there has been an increasing trend towards extending the home out into the yard. This idea is seen in furniture choices and accessories, but also in attitude. During the spring, summer and fall, consumers are unwilling to stay inside on account of rain, cold, heat, etc.; rather, they are looking for ways to remedy these things with cabanas and pavilions, fireplaces and outdoor heaters, pools, hot tubs, etc.”

“Health-conscious young couples seem to be the ones setting the trend,” says Marques of Parkscape. “We have become more educated about what gives us a healthier lifestyle, and younger people are interested in having this reflected in their outdoor spaces.”

“In our crazy, fast-paced lifestyles, we work hard and then when we get home we want to relax and play hard,” adds Bartels. “When the weather is nice, this is best accomplished outside.”

While many have foregone cottage life in favour of their new homes, they still yearn for that cottage-like feel, suggests James Zink, a project manager and senior landscape designer at Parkscape. And new materials are making it easier to replicate life in the near north. “Natural stone and plants are a staple in all landscape designs,” says Zink. “A new product we are frequently using is Kebony (a highly durable, sustainable wood with the aesthetics and performance of the best tropical hardwood). Similar to IPE, it provides a dock-like feeling for the homeowner. However, it is less expensive, durable, easier to work with and is readily available to builders.”

With more products and materials becoming available, the range of options is opening up for homebuyers, who are increasing opting for low-maintenance products. “For that reason composite wood products often take over from real wood, as they require little upkeep,” says Bartels. “Natural stone remains popular if budgets can afford, it as it requires no more maintenance than precast stone but has a timeless feel to it.”

Just as each family is different, so is each project. Homebuyers can choose from retaining walls, pools, fences, gazebos, ponds, trees and shrubs, among many other options. Included with every Devonleigh purchase is the front walkway, a decorative rock, and a flowerbed of perennials and shrubs with a layer of mulch and a small tree. “It is a finishing detail of every Devonleigh home,” Ponce notes.

Devonleigh uses Whispering Pines Landscaping out of Orangeville to prepare the design, supply and install all of its landscaping. That expertise helps avoid a common mistake many homeowners make with their initial lawn and garden work. “Our packages are designed in such a way that different plants are flowering at different times throughout the season, therefore preventing them from looking overgrown and overcrowded,” Ponce explains.

For many clients, especially in city environments, privacy can be a factor, notes Bartels, whose company has been designing and building more outdoor rooms, enabling homeowners to enjoy the space in inclement weather. “This allows them the convenience of leaving their cushions outdoors in the event of rain,” he says. “These structures are often complete with firepits or fireplaces, TVs, audio systems, lights, fans and so on.”

People shouldn’t just focus on how the space looks during the day, Parkscape’s Zink likes to stress to new home purchasers. Backyard landscaping packages can engage many senses to induce that special, calming experience. “People should consider including water features for sound ambience and proper landscape lighting to continue enjoying their space after dark.”

Getting such work completed by or through a builder at the time of construction makes sense for homebuyers from multiple perspectives.

“They love the option of having it included in their mortgage, and once they move in, all construction and related mess is over,” notes Gregor Homes’ Bazely, whose company includes the landscaping in its warranty. “Even though it is presented as a side offer, we like to include it in the APS so we can prep the area to be landscaped when we backfill the house.”

Scheduling is also easier than having homebuyers contract out the job since Gregor Homes Ltd. has its own fully staffed division to handle the project—Outdoor Living Landscapes, which was established in 1997. “We try to advise as to plantings so the plants grow into the landscape as opposed to the plants outgrowing the landscape,” Bazely adds.

Attractive streetscapes are also alluring for new and potential homeowners. Well-maintained streets bathed in greenery are welcoming and add to a sense of pride while enhancing the neighbourhood’s character. “Tree-lined streets are a great start, but the addition of flowers, shrubs, small trees, evergreens and perennials creates the real beauty,” Devonleigh notes on its website, “and that’s why Devonleigh Homes gives each new home its own distinctive landscape appeal. Combined with our colourful home exteriors, our landscaping expertise results in neighbourhoods which are instantly recognizable for their warmth, beauty and charm.”

Fully-landscaped homes don’t just benefit the individual homeowner in terms of entertainment, enjoyment and relaxation; they help protect and increase the value of the homes in the neighbourhood, says Bartels. “Professional landscaping positively affects values on any street. If a builder includes landscaping with the house, the home will have curb appeal immediately, thus raising the bar in the subdivision and increasing home values as well. If a majority of the street gets landscaping done, this trend continues.”

Having made the largest investment of their lives, new home owners are eagerly anticipating the gleaming new finishing touches on their prized possession. Adding an immaculate landscaping job to the mix not only makes their transition much more seamless, but helps them show off to friends, family and even passers-by that their new home is indeed something special.

And that’s a seed worth planting in the minds of prospective buyers.