Think Vertical

Think Vertical

According to, the word “landscaping” (as a verb) is: to improve the appearance of (an area of land, a highway, etc.), as by planting trees, shrubs, or grass, or altering the contours of the ground.

We all get the “planting trees, shrubs, or grass” portion of this description. What about the last bit? “Altering the contours of the ground” can mean quite a lot of things. Most property owners will only think of changing the topography of their landscape when they feel it will serve a purpose such as reclaiming usable space due to a slope (i.e. retaining walls). Though soil retention is extremely important, there are other reasons that often get ignored.
If one were to take a drive around and observe individual yards, it would soon be evident that not every property has a hill or even a mild slope. Aside from the standard minimum 2% grade, a lot of lawns are essentially flat. Too many times property owners (and landscape companies alike) just take the easy road and insert edging, plant, rock, and mulch material in the ground before calling it good. What never occurs to them is that landscaping should be viewed as a multi-dimensional undertaking. There are colors, textures, seasonal interest, size, and vertical elements that need to be addressed. Ignoring even one of these can result in a poor or, at best, a down-right boring landscape.

In nature (or at least the “nature” I try to emulate as a designer), the native terrain is rarely flat. Oh yes, there are exceptions, but in general, there are very few places we find pleasing out in the environment that are as level as a baseball field. Berms are magic. Easy to install, they add instant height and interest to any landscape. Trees, shrubs, and perennials of all types thrive in them. When outcrop boulders are inserted, a little Karl Foerster grass, rudbeckia, Echinacea, and some conifers thrown in – look out! You just transformed your yard into a scene reminiscent of something north of Duluth. Well, it may take more than one berm to do that, but you get the point.


A little undulation of soil goes a long way in improving the aesthetics of a property. When properly incorporated, this simple technique can make a world of difference.

By Chad Bischoff, Landscape Designer at Barrett Lawn Care

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