A changing landscape

It’s terrible when you apply 2020 vision to last year. A year in which a tiny virus changed lifestyles around the world. Although, at the time of writing, Australia has fared well in comparison to many other nations, most of us have still travelled less, stayed home more, applied social distancing and avoided public places. And, while the number of cases and level of restrictions has been vastly different from state to state, business has taken a knock, with the impacts lasting well after the pandemic subsides.

So, maybe it’s time to sit down with a soothing drink and reassess – what’s changed and how do we adapt?

Greener Lifestyles vs Red Ledgers

One certainty from the pandemic is that gardening is back! Yet, will customers part with the cash in a post-Covid recession?

Being at home more, even having limitations placed upon our use of outdoor public spaces has meant we’ve used our gardens and parks as places to seek refuge and recharge. Our immediate landscapes have become even more essential for our wellbeing.

This phenomenon isn’t new, the term, “Biophilia” was popularised by biologist, Edward Wilson in his book of the same name written in 1984. The theory states that we all need to remain connected with nature “for our own physical and mental wellbeing”. Biophilia is going to drive a desire for healthier landscapes, more in touch with the natural world.

Although Covid-19 has seen a ‘green shift’ in the consumer mindset, valuefor- money has also become a driver in a recessionary environment. In some ways, recession is in itself a virus spreading uncertainty and fear through the community.

Wholesale nurseries that supply direct to landscapers are a good indicator of how the industry has fared in these uncertain times. Many residential clients, uncertain of what lockdown meant, brought jobs forward with landscapers working overtime to complete projects. Yet, while jobs in the immediate future were being sped up, medium term jobs were being delayed or cancelled and requests for quotes dipped. Anecdotally, some landscapers have reported a slowdown in new enquiries while others have increased work – currently there isn’t a consistent nation-wide trend. With uncertainty in the real estate market (particularly in the most Covid-impacted states and cities), we will have to wait and see whether proposed commercial developments are postponed.

Top-end residential clients are less likely to have been impacted in earning or job security than the lower-income demographic. The ‘top-end’ may even have more disposable income in a world where restaurant dining has been limited and overseas travel halted. Yet, while there is still money out there, customers may be reluctant to part with the cash or be looking for the best value-for-money solutions in these uncertain times.

With travel limited, people want to create homes that have more of a resort environment, that are productive and beautiful. Clients are embracing the concept of Biophilia even though they may never have heard of the term.

The busiest places during the pandemic (other than supermarkets and pharmacies) were hardware stores, landscape supplies and nurseries. People who were spending more time gazing at their homes and gardens directed their funds into improving their own patch. Bunnings sales rose by a record 19.2 per cent in just the first five months of last year. Yet, increased sales at Bunnings does not a boom in landscaping make!

At the height of the crisis, people concerned with food security returned to growing their own. While it may be only supplementary gardening, not selfsufficiency (not many can put in a few acres of wheat) it helped to avoid the stores a little. So, backyard ‘foodscaping’ is now trending!

With more people working from home, improvements to courtyards have also become priority – people don’t want to spend their working hours gazing out to a blank wall or fence!

Landscaping precedents for this pandemic can be found during the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century. Unhealthy, highlypolluted cities led to a campaign to improve the health of the populace through the creation of large public parks. NSW Planning Department figures have shown a 46 per cent rise in people’s use of outdoor spaces. This demand has led to firm project commitments from local and state governments – Greener Spaces Better Places conducted a ‘pulse check’ at the height of the pandemic in April 2020 with 60 per cent of respondents reporting that urban greening projects (tree planting, new parks) were considered essential and expenditure would remain the same or even be brought forward.

In multi-residential developments, people now want doorstep convenience – all the features that are currently desired in a backyard are being considered essential (private gardens, working from home, playable landscapes, outdoor kitchens, kitchen gardens, provision for exercising pets). The pandemic has also seen the need for a rapid response, turning available urban land into public space. Landscaping responses that have a high degree of reversibility and can be fast-tracked and swiftly implemented on a modest budget (everything from outdoor dining areas to pop-up parks).

Maintenance As the dust settles and people return to work, we should see an increase in demand for landscape maintenance.

Lockdowns have caused interruptions to programmed maintenance with Jim’s Mowing even threatening legal action against the Victorian government due to loss of business. If spending at the big box hardware stores is any indication, people have put money into their outdoor areas and will be seeking assistance for its ongoing care and maintenance.

Yet, with increasing awareness around caring for the environment, many will be seeking out contractors offering a greener alternative (electric rechargeable equipment, organic insecticides and herbicides).

Your brand will need to be increasingly effective in digital communication because it’s clear that lockdowns have elevated digital as an urgent priority.

Lockdowns led to a huge rise in online shopping and this trend has even extended to punters searching for a trade. There are now a growing number of customers so used to online shopping, they run with just one contractor after an intense search of the web – they simply like the vibe of their website!

But, there are so many landscapers’ websites out there that started with good intentions yet now contain old testimonials, old pictures, old posts – it looks like they’ve lost interest! So, it’s time to reassess your web presence. And, make sure you embrace the trends:

• A greater demand for the use of natural materials/environmentally responsible products
• Value-for-money
• Home offices that look to green space
• The home as a self-contained refuge (pools, outdoor entertaining, play areas, foodscaping)
• Commercial developments that have more of a self-contained resort feel
• Fast response conversion of urban areas to public space
• Further greening of urban environments (green roofs, green walls, indoor plantscapes, parks)

These are incredibly difficult times, so take the time to reach out so we can all get through this together. Keep up to date and get involved with at least one of the landscaping professional bodies.

Just as we have had to adapt to survive the pandemic, we will need to adapt in a new landscaping market, with the one certainty being that Covid-19 has affected and will continue to affect the world around us. Professionals will be pushed to create future-proof, health and wellness-focused spaces in response to what has been the greatest crisis of our times.

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