By Glenn Curtis – Montreal, QC


Though properties come in all shapes and sizes, most landscape investors today share a common desire for low-maintenance spaces. It’s understandable: you want to spend your time enjoying your backyard paradise, not working on it.

Fortunately, effortless beauty is attainable – and it now comes with a variety of options. The thought of a simple, low-maintenance space shouldn’t conjure up visions of a massive stone patio surrounding a concrete-framed pool in a virtually plant-free yard. In fact, that approach will probably get you stuck between a rock and an expensive hard place. Most municipalities today promote cooler, greener cities through landscaping by-laws that govern hard-to-soft (stone to plant) ratio, as well as, surface standards for solar and heat reflectiveness. In addition to being unattractive and literally devoid of value, a backyard covered entirely in pavers or hardscapes would likely be prohibited.

Permacon Provence Slab with Satura

A lack of diversity or creativity is not a prerequisite for a simply elegant, low-maintenance landscape. Widely regarded as the greatest colorist of the twentieth century, Henri Matisse once said that he did not paint things; he only painted the difference between things. In landscapes, as in fine art, contrast is good. That’s not to say it can’t be overdone. Amateur landscapers have certainly delivered many a “landscape pizza”, adorned with a riot of diverse, disjointed toppings.  Creating different contrasts and textures is easy: doing it right is more challenging. Even with limited palettes that ensure repetition and simplicity, expert landscape designers can create veritable masterpiece spaces by playing with different materials, textures, colours, finishes and elevations.

In landscaping, diversity and contrasts are critical to synergy: the interaction of elements that produce a total effect greater than the sum of the parts. For example, deliberate contrasts are used to define spaces, create focal points and delineate intuitive transitions between functional areas. Different textures and colours complement each other and promote visual interest. Plants and carpentry offset masonry work, soften stone areas and add warmth. Accents of different stone products are integrated into popular paver patterns such as quilting or herringbone to break up visual bulk and the heaviness inherent in large stone areas. Products containing vibrant colours like Unilock EnduraColor can create bold patterns, while the use of contrasting solid colours can create an impressive result. For a natural look, try Permacon’s Provence Slab enhanced by Satura colour and texturing technology. Nobody will guess that it’s a paver!

Unilock EnduraColor

Contrasting elevations take landscapes to whole new levels while maximizing outdoor space, optimizing sight lines, and solving grading and other issues.

Decorative accent lighting can create stunning visual effects that are as dramatic as… well, night and day. And a tasteful repetition of contrasting themes within a landscape can tie diverse areas together into one cohesive, artfully balanced space.

Desirable contrast also influences plant selections. The small or narrow leaves of fine textured plants let you see what’s behind them, make gardens seem larger and help to create formal, elegant atmospheres. With larger dense leaves, coarse-textured plants are more visually dominant and are great for enclosing spaces, creating visual barriers and promoting a more informal feel. Even the flowering cycles and foliage colours of plants are considered to create ongoing contrasts throughout the seasons.

Possibly the best way to illustrate the true value of contrasts in landscaping is to view an award-winning project in black and white. Ultimately, the combination of diverse shapes, textures, colours and patterns will significantly define and enhance the character of your outdoor living space. You will feel, experience, value and enjoy it every time you use it. Accordingly, keep an open mind and don’t limit yourself in your pursuit of a “work of art that requires little work.” There is an abundance of highly resilient plants, quality stone products, creative carpentry solutions, robust water features and durable materials that a professional landscaper can use to create an inspired, low-maintenance landscape.

“Put light against light – you have nothing. Put dark against dark – you have nothing. It’s the contrast of light and dark that each gives the other one meaning”. -Bob Ross