2012 HGTV Dreamhouse Features “Bio-Native” Grasses!

The 2012 HGTV Dreamhouse has been revealed!  It’s in Park City, Utah, and it looks to be set up as a skiier’s retreat.  Take a look:

What do you think?  I think the main part of the house is nice, but I wonder why they decided to stick that garage on at an angle like that.  And I’m not sure what that other little “wing” is off the back — or maybe it’s an outbuilding of some sort — but that’s kind of awkward, too.  Where the three structures’ rooflines converge looks crowded and random.  So the house doesn’t wow me.

But more importantly, what about the landscaping?  As far as I can remember (and I usually check out all the HGTV Dreamhouses; I even entered to win the one in Lake Lure, NC, back in 2006) HGTV has never shown off the landscaping of the house the way they are this year.

Here’s a closer look at the front:

HGTV says: “Natural meadow grasses, ornamental grasses and evergreens comprise the thoughtful landscape design.”

What do you think?  Don’t you think the Kentucky Bluegrass is unnecessary?  The lawn is so insignificant I wonder why they even bothered putting it in, but my guess is that they figure everybody wants some sort of lawn, even in a dry state like Utah.  Grrrr.  I think they did a nice job of setting the house off in its grassland environs, and if you look at the first picture, you’ll see the landscaping moves from bluegrass, to mown grassland, to natural grassland, which is nice…I just think they could’ve cut out the bluegrass altogether, don’t you?

I do like the formal beds at the front of the house filled with Karl Foerster grass.  Here’s a view from the porch, looking out over the beds:

And here’s another view of the beds:

I think they’re pretty snazzy. 

One thing that gave me a chuckle was this line from the website:

Bio-native grasses, planted beyond Kentucky bluegrass, created a natural transition from ornamental beds to native meadow.”

That’s right, these grasses are not just native, they’re BIO-native.  They really had me there.  I had to do a quick internet search just to confirm that there’s no such thing as “bio-native” grasses. 

There’s not.

My other issue with the landscape design is the use of the fir trees at the corners of the house.  Using spire-like evergreens on the property is in keeping with larger landscape, but those suckers are going to going to swallow the house in a few years:


I’m sure that staging a house forces the designers to make choices that aren’t going to work long term, I just hope somebody tells the winner that they’d better keep an eye on those things.

All in all, I think the design is not bad.  Just the fact that the folks over at HGTV are paying attention to the landscape, and even featuring it, is encouraging. 

I’d love to hear what you all think about this design!

37 thoughts on “2012 HGTV Dreamhouse Features “Bio-Native” Grasses!

  1. I love the phrase ‘swallow the house’ I usually use eat the house. One of my favorites is a cute ‘n’ spiky Blue Atlas Cedar planted 5′ from the corner. Uhhhh?
    ….I thought Buffalo grass was the in thing for lawns out there? Didn’t get the message? Awww.

  2. I’m not a landscape designer, but I do wish that they could have used different grasses: buffalo grass for the lawn (instead of Kentucky blue grass) and a native clumping grass such as Indian grass instead of Karl Foerster. Our love affair with non-natives is sad to me – so much decent habitat sterilized by using plants that belong in other parts of the world.

    I’m also not a big “green meatball” fan.

    On the other hand, I do like the mowed transition between lawn and native grasses. And I like the look of the spire-like evergreens…which might last longer if they’d been located a bit further out from the house. It’s a peaceful landscape that sets the house off nicely, without competing for dominance with either the structure or the surrounding countryside.

    • Gaia, Lol on the green meatballs. Perhaps the folks at HGTV don’t want to create TOO impressive a landscape so that it won’t upstage the house…that seems sort of dumb to me, though, since I think most people are drawn to gardens as much as architecture. Or perhaps there aren’t as many opportunities for sponsorship with the garden elements….I think they use the “Dream House” as an opportunity to promote all the furniture, fixtures, decor, inside.


  3. Meh. Another Park City mcmansion. I hope the house is more coherent on the inside.

    The landscaping, too, is meh. I lived in Utah for over 12 years and there’s an astonishing array of incredible, beautiful native plants to use . . . and they used Karl Foerster?!? Ugh. BTW, I think those are subalpine firs planted in the front. They stay pretty skinny and I don’t remember them growing all that fast, even with irrigation. Oh, and that’s def an irrigated landscape. I’d be more impressed if they employed some sort of bioswales (yes, that’s a word) or water harvesting.

    • Yes, you’re right about the subalpine firs. I’m not familiar with them so I just assumed they’d grow to be a massive evergreen. And yes, the info said that there was in irrigation system…I assume mostly for that bluegrass. It does seem like a missed opportunity for more creative landscaping with a wider array of native plants. Thanks for commenting!

  4. I thought the same as several above posters…they tout using natives and still used ‘Karl Foerster’ as the main grass….Sorghastrum would be the definitely be the logical native substitute. Although it blooms later in the season (being a warm-season grass) than ‘Foerster’, the habit is very similar once it blooms. Also, it has the benefit of great fall color. I’m not dissing ‘Karl Foerster’, it’s a great plant, but if they were going to go on about being native…they might as well walk the walk 😉

  5. Another example of capitalism eating up (relatively new) ideas and turning them into commodities. I’d like to think it’s the start of a trend toward more naturalistic gardens, less lawn, (even if they do use Karl Foerester, which I love, rather than native grasses), but I doubt it.

    • James, you never know….10 years ago I’ll bet they would’ve created a giant lawn around the house instead of just the little swath that’s there now. It takes awhile for these ideas to seep into the mainstream…

  6. fascinating analysis and commentary, Mary. As to my reactions, it’s, “Uh…what she said.” I am ‘way over my head with landscape design. The bluegrass patch does look weird and those two needles of trees are gonna get real big some day. So I agree with you! Aren’t you glad?

  7. Relevant post! Agreed with most everyone commenting, too. (I grew up in Denver, and spent time hiking in Rockies…) I would add:

    House – same “rustic, ski lodge, but ‘not too pretentious’ ” stuff all over Aspen, even Denver’s mountain burbs, like Evergreen. Yawn.

    Landscaping – lame, schlock, few redeeming qualities, etc. *Typical* Rocky Mtn Hort (aspen-potentilla, no matter the elevation-aspect-soils; mod-high water-use; 1-of-everything planting “design”, …) But where it meets Utah. So, bluegrass is no longer just necessary, but a human right. I do not see much tying into the surrounding context.

    Buffalograss – Park City is montane, true Rocky Mountain, with cool summers. Buffalograss is a warm season, great plains native, likes hot summers, some humidity, >85-90F daily, clay soils to grow well – think Wichita, Austin, Pierre, Denver, etc. as it’s domain!

    Don’t laugh, but the landscape industry where I live (desert SW) uses some of the same plants *here* and catch phrases as bio-native, to cover their desert denial, lack of thinking about why and what they do, or the end result. They = lack work due to weak economy and too-high of fees, clawing for city gravy-train projects. Me – have more work than I can handle, but I design for the ecoregion I am in, for those who get it (often middle class), and don’t rip people off (and ecoregion is a real word, too). What HGTV, etc. often claims (determines) that the “public wants”, as in their “Generica” landscaping, might not be the case. Refreshing…..

    • Interesting comment, Desert Dweller. Sounds like you know an awful lot about the growing conditions out there…It’s a bit hard for me to judge the plant selection since I’m an easterner and don’t know much about what grows well out West. Thanks for your detailed analysis and expertise!


      • Sorry about my verbose blog post as a comment! Seriously, I work on projects outside the desert, so I learn the ecology and key in on what makes a place special. Growing up in Denver helped…in ’09, I designed a nice landscape on a tight dime for a “modest” 12 million house outside Aspen (cheaper* land)…builder ruined the design he could have had.

  8. Once the Karl is mature, it will block the view from the deck. There are definitely some nicer alternatives to this design, but it seems “safe” and didn’t require much thought. Seems a some landscape designers, especially those who do a lot of commercial designs, don’t think outside the box and churn out designs using a lot of the same plant material.

  9. I agree with many of you that there were quite a few missed opportunities. My concern is that HGTV is a large producer of information for home owners and viewers are going to think they are learning about natives when actually they are being “green washed” by this design. “Bio natives” is a new one to me…Was the green grass lawn necessary? Or could they have designed it out to the road and incorporated walking paths through the space? I like the effect they were trying to convey but they just completely missed the mark on this one.

  10. Call me the lone dissenter, on the “green meatballs” at least. I can’t tell what the heck they are but they are cool looking! But I’m right in step with the rest of you on the bluegrass moat around the house and the cheesy pseudo-landscape jargon (bio-native). I like a nice Karl Foerster grass, but as many have pointed out, it’s a less-than-stellar choice in that situation. Get real, HGTV!

  11. Bio-native appears to be a trademark for native western grasses grown as lawn sod. The term in stupid as in meaningless, but bio-native grass exists. Who knew? And wish I had a dollar for everytime I’ve had to tell people “trees grow; plant them accordingly”. However they don’t do it because “they look out of proportion”, so lanscapers plant them to look good now even though the aesthetic is soon lost. Oh, but then they buy more trees! Overall, uninspired.

  12. ‘Instant landscaping’ is such a common mistake. Plant intelligently with the thought of what this landscape will look like in 5 years, 10 years……..

  13. Trees planted too close to the home is a real pet peeve of mine. Bad for the structure, and always fatal for the tree. I see it over and over everywhere. Doesn’t anyone know better?

  14. I think that Mary C has a great point! I’ve just begun designing using grasses in ernest, and one of the things I did need to think carefully about was the ‘shelf life’ of the plant. Some hit their stride in three years, like helictotrichon and look quite stunning through the winter here on Vancouver Island,
    but a blue fescue within three years can often look like it’s dying off in the center despite the gardeners best efforts…. and it’s colour is muddy and insipid. However if that grass is regularly lifted and the vibrant outside tufts are replanted, they do well in this climate….
    In our garden renovation jobs we run into dozens of home owners with overly mature conifer shrubs. Especially foundation plantings. In the 70’s they were the plantings-of-choice.. Unfortunately with the coastal moisture and lack of sharp temperature drops, juniper and some thujas as well as cryptomeria are really bad for looking like they’ve rusted out from the inside. It’s really tough to grow a Colorado Blue spruce here unless it’s been specially bred for these conditions.
    Now I must say in defence of those “trees” in the show home. I have a fondness for a particular conifer variety called picea omerika or Serbian Spruce., they look like that high alpine pencil sillouette one finds in the Rockies. These picea perform well on the coast, and are terriffic to use when the design space is tight. They ‘ll go to 25 ft and stay 4 feet wide at the base. just perfect at Christmas. A tidy tree in 20 years too. I use them away from the foundation.
    In my book foundation plantings MUST adhere to the “first 2 feet from the building envelope being sacred ground.” It belongs to the God of Drain Tile…. Trust me if the God becomes crossed with invaders…it becomes a wrathful God …. the cost for fixing the invaded tile can run a few thousand $ and believe me you do NOT see the difference that money was spent on ( There was much moaning and gnashing of teeth at MY house)
    That domain is not planted with anything stronger than a dicentras’ rooting system. I often lay a landscape fabric down and then use rock as a “mulch” .
    I wonder what the Model Home will look like in 5 years.
    Anne T

    • Thanks for the reply, Anne. Sounds like you’re having fun with grasses. I know a lot of people like it, but I am really not a fan of blue fescue unless it’s paired with something that complements it. I like pretty much all the other grasses and carexes, though. I am familiar with the serbian spruce, too, but a couple of commenters who are from out west think the evergreens in the picture are subalpine firs.

      • I’m excited to see pop culture focused on landscapes. The work in these photos may arguably be disjointed in a theme, they are however embracing the use of a simplified herbaceous palette in what appears to be an attempt in connecting the grater landscape. I hope to see more designers explore this embrace of cultural landscapes and the use of appropriate plant materials native or not. I also hope we consider changing the way we refer to plants as ‘Ornamental’. It does seem to perpetuate the idea that the Landscape Designer role is to decorate. I know many of us are more concerned with ideas of Place Making, the ecological opportunities of landscapes, the idea of Harmony etc. Cool and warm season grasses, cultivated grasses even ruderal species are to me a more positive way to articulate the plant materials I work with.
        PS. while Bio native may or may not be a term that is developing in some circles the Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ in the front planter is definitely not native.

        • Thanks, Donald. I do agree that they made at least some effort with that landscaping. As you said, at least it ties in with its surroundings relatively well. It never occurred to me that “ornamental” could be interpreted that way, but you are right; designers do much more important work than merely “decorate”. Thanks for the insight.

  15. In the United Sates we often want things bigger, better, faster, now. As designers and garden contractors we need to educate each of our clients as to the WHY we do the designs and installations the way we do instead of giving the clients what they ask for such as a large evergreen 4′ OC from the house. We walk away from projects where clients do not allow us to provide the PROFESSIONAL services they hired us for. That would be like a cardio thoracic surgeon operating on your toe because you want your feet to look good in sandals and yet your heart is clogged.

    Our name is still on the project 10 years down the road and we want that to be a good name not just, hey they paid me and now I’ve got cash in the bank 🙂

  16. Personally, I think that HGTV has done a total disservice to professional designers (both the interior and garden variety) by telling viewers how to “do it for less” and pretending that a job can be completed in a 30 minute show. Also, didn’t we all get enough of Karl Foerster back in the 90’s? Why do people continue to use this plant?

    • Craig, I didn’t realize Karl Foerster was so passe. But then again, I’ve only been gardening for 5 years so it’s still new to me. Regarding HGTV, I’m no fan of those 3 day makeover shows, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with showing homeowners how to fix up their gardens for less. Not everybody can afford a designer, after all!

  17. Please do not think that I am some sort of design snob – on the contrary, our firm works very hard to work within customer’s budgets and design desires. My issue with HGTV is that they have professional designers who produce full landscape plans over night, provide professional installation help and accomplish the entire project in a 30 minute show. All of this while showing budgets that only include a few of the actual costs of the job. They do not include transportation costs, hard material costs, the additional labor costs, the cost of the professional design nor do they set realistic expectations for how long a project can take to complete. This leads consumers to believe that both designers and contractors are gouging them when they are provided with the real costs associated with the job. It is possible that HGTV has changed this model as I stopped watching several years ago.

    As far as poor old Karl – it is entirely possible that I have been jaded by the mind numbing over use of this ornamental grass in EVERY “prairie” planting and municipal landscaping project in Chicago since Mayor Daley started greening our fair city in the mid 90’s.

    • I hear you, Craig. You’re absolutely right about the fact that HGTV misrepresents the true cost of its landscaping projects. I totally see your point. It’s a shame that HGTV offers so little in the way of good gardening programming….it’s hard to believe there isn’t a market for it, but maybe with the public’s fixation on “makeover” shows, that’s all they can sell. sigh….

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