Let’s Tour and Critique the 2012 HGTV Green Home

On its website, HGTV is showcasing the 2012 “Green Home”, the eco-friendly, LEED-certified hippie sibling of their regular “Dream House.”  This year’s Green Home is located in the “sustainable community” of Serenbe, outside of Atlanta, Georgia. 

Like all of HGTV’s giveaway homes, this one is beautifully and thoughtfully appointed on the inside, but the landscaping is pretty much a snooze-fest.   Here’s a shot of the front.

I guess they didn’t have much space to work with in the front, so I really don’t get why they filled the whole area up with evergreens.  I mean, it looks like they’ve used the evergreens (gardenias, mahonia, abelia, holly) as a standard foundation planting, when what they’re covering up is actually a very attractive stone facade.

It’s puzzling.

Now, instead of a conventional backyard, the Green Home boasts a central barbecue courtyard:

I know you're wondering what kind of canned beans are sitting by the grill. They're Bush's. Cha-ching!

The website explained that a traditional backyard “would have required excess soil displacement and construction of retaining walls.”  Well…..you wouldn’t HAVE to make retaining walls, there is such a thing as a planted slope, but okay. 

Actually, I was ready to criticize this courtyard for its lack of greenery but then I stumbled upon some additional photos of it that make it look pretty sweet:

Love the folding glass doors!  I do think a courtyard could be more useful to many people than a backyard and certainly more useful than a front yard, especially in warm climates.  The composite decking is beautiful.  With a few potted plants, this courtyard would be gorgeous, so thumbs up on this outdoor feature.

Next, here is the “living room courtyard” which looks to be adjacent to the back of the house, presumably the living room.  (Up the slope is a detached garage, so I guess you would enter the house from the back?  Not much fun to tote your groceries or your sleeping two-year old down those steps, but maybe part of the design is to make you more fit.)

Anyway, this little courtyard/terrace is boring as hell, don’t you think?

I admire that they used a porous surface, but what else is there to love?  Certainly not those weird table-cubes made from shredded tires.  Those are gardenias behind the little sofa, which I know smell nice, but given there are so many other evergreens all around, they just seem kinda dull to me.  Click here to see a 360 degree tour of this courtyard, which really reveals its mundanity.

Here is a shot of the stairs leading up to the garage:

Let’s see what we’ve got.  Sweetbay Magnolias, which I LOVE, and something called “black myrtle” which I’ve never heard of.  Not a fan of the striped effect running parallel to the stairs.  But at least the website actually identifies particular species, which means they’re directing some of our attention to the landscape and not just to the Sherwin Williams paint or the Sub Zero appliances or the GMC parked in the drive.

Here’s another shot — a “bioswale” that runs along the side of the house:

The website does say that Pink Muhly Grass, purple coneflower, and Black-Eyed Susan’s are planted in this area, but right now it is certainly more “swale” than “bio”. 

The swale terminates in this “rain pond” out front:

Would have been nice if they’d actually planted this out as a rain garden.  I kinda like that folly-like stone archway, though.

Soooooo….some missed opportunities here for sure, a less-than imaginative planting plan, but at least HGTV pays at least some attention to the landscape of the Green Home.  They’ve thought beyond the traditional lawn, no doubt.  No mention of the new SITES guidelines or anything, but maybe those are too new and aren’t on HGTV’s radar yet.

Next I am going to post about Serenbe, this so-called “sustainable community” in which the Green Home resides.  Even as I’m typing this, I’ve got some thoughts brewing about it.  Or maybe fermenting.

Comments

  1. *nods* Yes, I concur with your review. Some missed opportunities. And ugh, do not like that stripey/little soldiers-all-in-a-row type arrangement of the plants next to the stairs. An architect’s attempt at arranging plants, yuh think?

    The biggest missed opportunity, I think, is the “bioswale.” It’s not very bio, in my opinion, unless there are plants planted within it. That’s, um, a big point of a bioswale, right?–to slow down the flow of water and increase infiltration? It looks like an engineer (no offense to engineers, married to one) designed it.

  2. Most of your points jibe with mine. I don’t find the living room courtyard as offensive as you. I much prefer spareness to the overly “accessorized” spaces TV gardens usually have. But what really bothers me is that we see so much mulch and it’s not a pretty sight. Where’s the budget for
    appropriate plant quantities and spacing? They can build stone walls all over the place and then skimp on the plants?

    • Agreed, Carolyn. I mean, I get that it’s a new landscape and not necessarily filled in. But there are very few plants here regardless. Especially for a “green” home, the landscape should be beautiful and a selling point.

  3. I think the issue with the sparce landscape maybe that many of these show houses are done for free by a company as advertising. A national company donating their decking material, glass doors, or GMC can afford a larger budget and is vying for a national audience of buyers. A local Atlanta landscape company can’t put an appropriate budget into planting a show house like this for what amounts to MAYBE a few local client calls. If there was an appropriate budget for the neighborhood and price of house offered to the landscape company then I think we could expect a lot more.

    • Interesting point, Heather. Don’t you think a grower or nursery would be willing to donate some plants to get some exposure, though? Or do you think that wouldn’t be worth it for them, either?

      Thanks for your insight!

      • I am really not sure and not trying to say I know but I could only see that paying off if the grower had a patent on the plant like knock out roses or some of the cone flowers. Even a huge grower like Monrovia could donate plants but If you liked the plants you would just pick them up at your local nursery who may not buy from Monrovia. On the other hand f you liked the SubZero fridge and you bought one near your home, SubZero still benifits from their product placement.

        When I worked for a design/build company we would get several of these show house requests a year. I think the only landscape companies who agree are startups who haven’t been soured on the idea yet or the very biggest local firms who are donating as charity more than advertising (many show house tours include a charity in the admission price).

  4. huckfinn47 says:

    Mary G, I continue to love the sense of voice and use of detail in these posts. How you teach, take care of Charley and manage a household and write this blog is beyond me. Keep up the excellent work!

  5. James golden says:

    Loved your comments on the “sustainable” landscaping. I want to barf every time I hear that word now.

  6. Ideally need to review survey, topo, landscape plan. Need micro and macro. Big question: How will water move across and through the site? Significant elevation change from back to front. Where is the understory to hold the soil? The pine needle much is but a temporary cover for compacted soil (resulting from heavy machinery during construction.) Initially, from the outdoor courtyard/livingroom, I see lots of small rocks being tracked inside to the carpet or scratching the hardwood floors. In the long run, erosion issues. Funds will ultimately be spent in future by new owners mitigating issues associated with poor design (i.e. erosion.) Retrofitting, always expensive.

  7. Is that a limbed-up holly stuck in right next to the garage porch? It’s going to swallow the building. I like that stone archway too, but instead of making it the beginning of a path to the woodland area, they seem to have planted a bush across about a third of the front of it and then it put a really big shrub on the other side.

    But I have to stick up for the pine needle mulch, which is commonly used in the south, including Tidewater Virginia, where I grew up. I like it, and they can probably take it right from the white pines at the back of the house. It will break down or be put in the compost (I’m hoping there is one) as the perennials (I’m hoping they are really there) come up.

  8. Jonathan says:

    I do think that seeing a landscape plan (assuming there is one) and the topo map would be useful. For all we know from when these shots were taken (i.e. no coneflower foliage or black-eyed Susans showing through the mulch yet) the whole woodland slope could be a riot of woodland wildflowers and ferns in another month. Given Atlanta area the soil could be right, if not too compacted by machinery, for wonderous displays of native deciduous azaleas and a wide variety of other goodies, but apparently nothing is up yet. As for landscaping companies being willing to advertise through a donated job, think of the thousands that many put into one or more “lawn and garden” shows every year, putting up an entire garden area of one themed sort or another. Granted they will have literally thousands of folks walking through and seeing it during the week or two (?) that it’s there, but still – especially some of the native plant landscapers could have a hayday with a sloped woodland setting like this one. Maybe they too are waiting to see what might yet be coming up???

    • Jonathan, I had the same thought about that slope in the photo. I would just be itching to plant that out and make it a showstopper. It’s hard to tell if it’s part of the Green Home’s lot, though.

  9. This is near Atlanta? Those tire tables are gonna be BURNING RUBBER come summer! Much of it seems a caricature of sustainability, not the real thing.

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