Smart Multifamily Landscaping The Key is in the Planning

When the sun seems to shine a bit brighter, warmer, and longer, and the first buds of spring start to appear on trees and bushes, many multifamily property managers, boards, and residents start to think about the landscaping at their building or HOA. After months of being cooped up indoors and unable to make full use of their outdoor spaces, the arrival of spring reminds them that these areas are there—and that they need some serious TLC — or maybe even overhaul — after a long, cold winter.

But where should multifamily decision-makers even begin when making landscaping choices? How does the process for reseeding a vegetable garden differ from redesigning a courtyard? It turns out that a proper plan — and adequate time to finalize, procure, and implement it — is crucial to get the most out of a property’s outdoor space on any budget. We spoke to several landscaping professionals and organizations to find out what boards, managers, and gardening committees should keep in mind when developing a landscaping plan for their communities. Different pros had their own recommendations, but all agreed that the time to start thinking about them is now.

How Will the Space Be Used?

As opposed to individual homeowners who have only their own households to consider when making landscaping decisions, multifamily buildings and associations have to consider multiple, diverse households; what might be an appealing use of space to one segment of the community might be completely unsuitable to another. Community leaders may have a lot of different backgrounds, ages, interests, and abilities to consider when weighing how their shared outdoor spaces will be used, what they will look like, and how they’ll be designed.

David Mendelson and Anna Maria Morales are principals with QG Landscape in New York, and are well-versed in collaborating with boards and committees to make use of outdoor areas. Where possible, they suggest trying to carve out sections of space for different purposes: shaded nooks for passive activities like reading or meditating; paved areas for high-impact games or groups; planters and shrubs to separate areas and provide visual interest. Even small spaces can be designed in a way to maximize usage and accommodate different populations; unsurprisingly, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated some of this thinking. While private outdoor space has always been a highly sought-after amenity in a dense urban environment like New York, a whole year-plus of staying home and keeping socially distant has put an even higher premium on convenient access to fresh air and greenery.

“I have a client building on the East Side [of Manhattan] that had this dead space in the back of the building,” says Morales. “All of a sudden, they’re like, ‘This is dead space, we’re doing nothing to it. Let’s put up a nice fence around it; let’s put some pavers down. Let’s put a couple of benches.’ And now the kids have somewhere to run and play; the parents have an area to be able to get some fresh air. We’re also incorporating some planters with some greenery to kind of separate little seating areas.” 

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