Douglas Hoerr: Planting Ideas

Douglas Hoerr, landscape architect and chair of Chicago’s Green Roof Committee, reveals how outdoor spaces enhance a home’s value and bring joy to people’s lives.

February 1, 2007

What should great landscape design try to accomplish?

HOERR: It should combine the owner’s practical considerations, such as being low maintenance, with functional objectives: Is it a space for entertaining or a quiet spot for meditating? It should also be married to the architectural style of the property and reflect its location regionally. You probably don’t want to pair a Japanese garden with a Chicago-style bungalow.

If it does these things, sellers will get tremendous value out of it—both personally and economically. That’s a successful landscape. A great landscape can actually change the habits of the people who own it—enabling them to spend more time outside, for instance. People want happiness in their lives, and a great landscape can deliver that.

What landscape design advice would you offer REALTORS® to pass along to sellers?

HOERR: Encourage sellers to get the perspective of someone seeing the house for the first time. That person might notice the unattractive shed in the neighbors’ yard, for example. Although it’s not part of the seller’s property lines, the observer sees it as part of the view. Sellers could cover that view with taller plantings. The idea is to take away bad things first, then play up the positives.

Then ask the owners to think of the yard in terms of art, with a foreground, middle ground, and background. Put in stuff that creates dimension and depth.

Dollar for dollar, sellers will get more bang for their buck by putting in trees, shrubs, and perennials than they would with expensive hardscape.

If sellers do curb appeal right, they’ll get more people to at least come to the front door.

Do you approach residential landscapes differently than you do commercial landscapes or public spaces?

HOERR: Not really. It goes back to reading the client and the site. You have to ask: Why are you spending money to landscape? What are you trying to accomplish? For example, the beautifully landscaped median strips on Chicago’s main streets are the city’s welcoming bouquets to visitors. But the medians are about more than just aesthetics; they’re also about adding function.

What landscape design trends are you seeing?

HOERR: People are afraid of maintenance. Their lives are so busy that they want to hire someone to garden and have the whole thing done for them. And people are asking for a lot more outdoor spaces (“rooms,” garden nooks)—something sellers might want to consider before they list their home. The idea that the landscape should be designed to meet specific purposes is a notion that’s starting to stick.

What’s your favorite kind of project?

HOERR: There are two. I love doing people’s homes because they’re a puzzle. The other thing I love to do is a college campus or a public place. Working on public places allows me to touch a lot of people.

For more about Hoerr (pronounced “hare”), visit

Chuck Paustian is a former REALTOR® Magazine senior editor.