Atlanta Landscape Architect Eric King gives families a more creative—and sustainable—way to play
For many homeowners, green grass is what makes the picture-perfect American lawn. But for his clients, Eric King is trying to change the needle just slightly.
“This is America, and we will never get rid of our lawns,” he says. “But we need to have less—lawns are completely unsustainable. Green grass means chemicals and mowing, things that aren’t good for the environment.”
King Landscaping has been introducing its clients to more natural spaces, from butterfly gardens and stone patios with firepits to play areas for children. King integrates the natural components of his clients’ backyards into a place to play and learn. His spaces take advantage of physical components such as plants, trees, varying terrain and water to encourage climbing, balancing and building while using creativity and imagination.
“You can buy a play fort anywhere, but we can get them something truly unique,” says King. “When there’s a slope we can install an in-ground slide. If we find downed trees, we create balance beams or use stumps as stepping stones. We’ve installed a lot of horizontal climbing walls with ninja lines or we may take a spot under a shady tree and create a secret hideout.”
Not only are the spaces creative, more eco-friendly and require less maintenance, they cost about half the price of a formal landscape and are much faster to install. According to King, renovating a natural woodland area can cost $10,000 to $20,000 in a suburban area like Atlanta while some of his formal landscapes cost from $25,000 to $50,000. His natural play areas have ranged from 5,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet.
As a child King loved playing with blocks, and he gets the same thrill today when he builds something new. He not only designs landscapes, but he plays an active role in the entire project installation.
“I have really talented people who can make my design even better than what was in my head,” he says.
King Landscaping employs around 15 people. They had a banner year in 2020 as more clients requested green spaces for their families during the quarantine.
“They think they want more green grass with a prefabricated play set, because that’s all they know,” he says. “When we start discussing options and unlocking the potential of their backyard, they get excited and are open to new ideas.”
King says it’s a been a great way to get kids back to nature.
“We’ve designed woodland paths that lead through a forest or little rain gardens where kids can search under rocks for salamanders,” he says. “When we’re done, we step back and let nature do the rest.”
King Landscaping tries using materials that are as close in nature as possible.
“We’ll bring in big natural boulders, ideal for small animals and insects,” he says. “We like using pieces of flagstone that we lay on a sand bed, with crushed slate to form the joints. Worms can move in and around it. Over time, moss forms between the stones so it looks great. It’s less expensive than concrete pavers, mortared flagstone or bluestone. And it’s more permeable for water to go through to the ground.”
King typically likes to design more formal areas close to the house and then get more organic from there.
“The farther you get from the house, plants can get a bit more loose and you can incorporate more native plants,” he says. “I love native plants, but they don’t do well in a sterile landscape which is typically what you have close to a home.”
King says he likes using Oakleaf Hydrangeas, Christmas ferns, azaleas, wild ginger, Camellia sasanquas and sweet shrubs—a diverse mix that allows for varying textures and pops of color year-round.
He points out that natural areas don’t need a lot of pruning or hedging, and you don’t have to run your mower as long.
“The lower the maintenance, the less the carbon footprint and the more sustainable it is,” he says.
And not only is a low-maintenance lawn better for the environment, it means spending more time enjoying life with the family.