Modern Landscape Design for a Minneapolis Urban Lot

Landscape Design Minneapolis Minnesota

As one of landscape architects in Minneapolis Minnesota with NEC, one of the largest landscaping companies in Minneapolis MN, the profession of Landscape Architecture often gets hung up on whether our designed landscapers are with nature or not nature or mimicking nature or contextual nature or whatever… This debate is a disservice as it trivializes the landscaping topic, nature is not a sound-bite and it should not be a marketing platform; we must find a way to move on and accept that nature “is” and our landscape design work “is” simply part of it. I believe the root of this comes from our profession’s anxiety-ridden relationship with scale and perception, young landscape designers are so often led to believe that big landscaping ideas are the crux to legibility and thus the key to un-tapping the holy grail of nature. Nevertheless the dilemma with this notion is two-fold, first-off the large landscaping projects are so few and far-between that their impact is questionable as trends shift and neighborhoods are turned over. Secondly, even the grandest gestures are obscured with time; neglected, unmanaged, or simply unused; this is not nature’s insidious trick, rather it is the gift we most often ignore. Our obsession with outcomes only serves to obfuscate the real opportunity to create platforms for our participation with nature and moreover the importance for education when working with clients and collaborators. Usually looking out ones’ own front door provides a diverse palette of precedents for this quandary and a much more scalable opportunity. Why do our neighborhoods look the way they do? We live in a world of half-baked landscapes that are more about obscuring architecture than highlighting it and usually relegated to circulation corridors decorated by the current trends at Home Depot. Vegetation is selected on the merits of its constraints, not its ability to proliferate or contribute; while everyone has an innate and personal relationship with their cultural landscapes, it seldom feels that way when walking down the street. Why are we fighting over the next great urban park when, in a city such as Minneapolis, over half of our land area is consumed by residential properties? Is this not an opportunity for small ideas that cumulatively become massive? This critique does not imply a solution, rather it seeks to own the subjectification of nature and highlight our deference to the residential, it hopes to foreground the necessity for scrutiny provocation, and discourse regarding all of our landscapes. In this blog, we are focusing on one of our Minneapolis landscaping projects, how I as a landscape architect renovated my Minneapolis home’s landscape.

Landscape Design Minneapolis MN
Landscaping Minneapolis MN – Modern Landscape Design Minneapolis MN
Landscaping Minneapolis Minnesota – Landscape Design Minneapolis MN

I recall sitting on my front porch in Minneapolis – before there were kids involved – almost reveling in the messiness of our front yards (front and back). We didn’t really have a lawn, unless a mat of creeping Jenny counts, and I was oddly proud to not be able to identify the collection of ornamental shrubs that separated us from the sidewalk. At least we had a tall fence to shield the derelict status of our backyard where our decaying deck was providing excellent habitat for wasps and rabbits. I learned on an adaptation of the old saying “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all” and thus my excuse to enjoy the intermittent hostas and daylilies; indeed, I did nothing at all. I could share some blame with my wife, a fellow landscape architect in Minneapolis. We filled out the stereotype of landscape designers who live in un-designed landscape spaces. That is not to say we did not discuss at length the potential for our landscape, just how great we could make it, if only we could settle on a landscaping plan. Of course, this is ripe with irony, since creating a “landscaping plan” is what I preach most to my landscaping clients in Minneapolis – St. Paul, the Twin Cities of Minnesota; how a landscaping plan shields you from falling into the trap of picking up the blue hydrangea at Menards,

Landscape Design Minneapolis – Modern Landscape Architects Minneapolis MN
Landscaping Minneapolis MN – Modern Landscape Design Minneapolis Minnesota

When our first child was born, it was such a relief. I thought that now I could kickback and really let things fall apart, because I didn’t need sham excuses to not make a “landscaping plan” anymore. I had a real landscape plan, a branch of landscape architecture including landscape design and layout. Who’s going to fault the new parents? And so, we learned to avoid the holes in the deck and enjoy our dogs’ incessant search for our rascally rabbits. Nonetheless as the wasp stings mounted and time went on I realized that my children were the reason to make a landscaping plan, not an excuse to avoid one.

Landscape Design Minneapolis – Modern Landscape Architects in Minneapolis Minnesota
Landscaping Minneapolis – MOdern Landscape Design Minneapolis Minnesota

We didn’t need much simplicity and function with a well-crafted landscape frame would do the trick. For the back I proposed to my family a landscape concept of five rectangles: wood, concrete, copper, turf, and meadow. The children countered with a pirate ship treehouse connected to a princess-tower via a rollercoaster; in retrospect this made a lot of sense, but I was worried about costs and hence we stuck with dad’s landscape concept. As with most landscaping projects in Minneapolis, Minnesota, our budget was tight, but I like to think that this constraint fit in perfectly with our goals: 1. Simple material palette 2. Highlight landscaping space with recycled elements and 3. Watch the landscaping space grows.

Landscape Design Minneapolis – Modern Landscape Architects in Minneapolis Minnesota
Minneapolis Landscaping – Modern Landscape Design Minneapolis Minnesota

Our landscaping project started with demolition, we removed everything so that we might have a clean slate. We needed to be efficient and thus built the cedar deck, followed by the concrete, turf, and meadow successively. The project was accented via the insertion of three recycled elements. The first was a collection of perforated copper screens, reclaimed from downtown Minneapolis’s Westminster Church. The screens has been designed by my former landscape architecture firm and has been procured during a recent renovation that would have required their disposal. Next was the utilization of two precast benches, placed on the concrete patio as an invitation for informal gathering. Lastly, leftover pieces of wood from the deck construction were repurposed to build a dinning table.

Minneapolis Landscaping – Modern Landscape Design Minneapolis MN
Minneapolis Landscape Design – Modern Landscape Architects in Minneapolis Minnesota

My wife, a fellow landscape architect in Minneapolis, Minnesota, thought I was ridiculous the day I showed up and started jabbing sticks into the “meadow” rectangle. I had harvested the tree whips from my cousin’s property in Frontenac. I replayed the absurdity to my children, and they revealed in the quick growth all the more because of how crazy their father was. The beautiful scrim of sumac quickly established and replaced our tall fence, with the addition of grandpa’s bird feeders the trees were soon filled with wildlife. In the understory we sowed a variety of Minnesota native seeds and each new summer has brought a surprise of color and texture.





Our landscaping services in Minneapolis St. Paul – Twin Cities include landscape design, retaining walls, boulder retaining walls, stone walls, rip rap, shoreline erosion control, patios, driveways, helical piers and more.


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