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Transforming Yards, Transforming Lives

Profiling an Earthshot Prize Nominee for Sustainable Landscape Design

In the face of escalating climate challenges — from intensifying tropical storms to unprecedented wildfires — the call for innovative solutions has never been more urgent. Amidst the growing discourse on global warming and its disproportionate effects on vulnerable populations, action-oriented entrepreneurs are stepping up to create impactful climate solutions. Julie Moir Messervy, a visionary in the landscape design industry, has responded to this call with remarkable innovation.

Julie Moir Messervy in garden

Julie Moir Messervy; Photo by Ken Burris

Messervy, the founder of Earthshot Prize nominee Home Outside, Inc., has introduced a transformative tool for residential landscape design: the Home Outside® 3D Landscape & Garden Designer app. This groundbreaking application utilizes the latest in 3D, Augmented Reality (AR), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to make professional landscape design accessible to the 45 million US homeowners who, until now, could not afford professional design services. The app not only democratizes landscape design but does so with a focus on sustainability that challenges the conventional norms of residential yard care.

The Home Outside app provides homeowners with 3D collections of plants, trees, hedges, and garden layouts that they can visualize directly in their yards through AR. This tool empowers users with AI-driven design processes, allowing them to select from expertly curated plantings that promise a beautiful, sustainable landscape. More than just a design tool, it is an educational platform that informs homeowners about the environmental and aesthetic impact of their choices, offering informed, nature-based decisions that contribute positively to the environment.

By leveraging her extensive background in landscape design and her passion for ecological stewardship, Messervy’s Home Outside seeks to transform how individuals engage with their environment, fostering a deeper connection to the natural world through accessible and innovative technology.

Technology at work: AI and AR in landscape design

At the heart of Home Outside’s transformative approach to landscape design is the integration of advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies. These tools are not just about visualizing new plantings but are integral to creating a dynamic, interactive design experience that tailors solutions to individual needs and environments.

Home Outside App Planner

Home Outside App Planner; Image courtesy of Home Outside

The AI component of the app serves as a design consultant, guiding users through a selection process that considers aesthetic appeal and ecological functionality. Using local environmental data, the current AI suggests plant collections for particular design conditions, including shade trees, hedges, corner and border plantings, edible gardens, and containers, which are most likely to thrive in a given location, enhancing both the beauty and the sustainability of the landscape.

Augmented Reality takes this a step further by allowing homeowners to see potential design changes in real time, superimposed onto their existing outdoor spaces. This AR capability enables users to visualize different layouts, plant placements, and garden features directly within their yards, offering a realistic preview of the landscape’s transformation. This immediate, tangible connection between digital design and physical space helps bridge the gap between conceptualization and realization, making the design process more intuitive and engaging.

A mixture of native and non-native plants at a residential property. Photo by Susan Teare. Design by JMMDS

A mixture of native and non-native plants at a residential property. Photo by Susan Teare. Design by JMMDS

Together, AI and AR technologies not only simplify the landscape design process but also enhance it by making it more accessible, precise, and environmentally conscious. This technological empowerment enables homeowners, regardless of their prior knowledge in gardening or design, to take charge of transforming their outdoor spaces into more sustainable and aesthetically pleasing environments.

Ecological and social benefits

Ecological Impacts of Diverse Plantings

Home Outside’s design philosophy is deeply rooted in ecological sustainability, promoting the replacement of monoculture turf lawns with diverse plantings that have profound environmental benefits. Native plant species play a crucial role in enhancing biodiversity, supporting local wildlife, and improving soil health. Many of these plantings are specifically chosen to increase carbon sequestration, which helps mitigate the impact of carbon emissions on the planet.

Home with landscaped garden

A mix of plantings in a Colorado garden. From: Outside the Not So Big House. Photo: Grey Crawford. Design: Richard Shaw.

Moreover, the app will eventually introduce drought-tolerant and flood-resistant plants to address the increasing challenges of extreme weather patterns, making landscapes more resilient to climate change. By transitioning away from high-maintenance turfgrass, which requires significant water, pesticide, and energy inputs, homeowners can drastically reduce their ecological footprint. Over time, the app will focus on sustainable landscaping that not only enriches the local ecosystem but also educates users about the role they can play in fostering an environmentally responsible community.

Social and Economic Advantages

The benefits of adopting Home Outside’s landscape designs will extend beyond ecological impacts, offering substantial social and economic advantages as well. Strategically planted trees and shrubs provide natural cooling, reducing reliance on air conditioning and lowering energy costs. This not only enhances the comfort and quality of life for residents but also contributes to broader climate resilience.

Native plantings in soften a patio. Photo: Jana Bryan. Design: JMMDS

Engaging with nature through personalized garden and landscape design has been shown to reduce stress and improve mental health, fostering a sense of well-being among users. Additionally, the aesthetic improvements brought by diverse plantings can increase property values and make neighborhoods more attractive, thereby enhancing community pride and social cohesion.

In economically underserved areas, converting barren landscapes into vibrant ecosystems can help mitigate the disproportionate impacts of climate change on marginalized communities. These transformations often lead to increased access to green spaces, providing essential recreational areas and promoting overall community health.

Market impact and expansion plans

Home Outside is strategically positioned to make a significant impact on the $70 billion U.S. residential landscape market. By offering an innovative solution that merges aesthetic appeal with ecological sustainability, the app appeals to a broad audience of homeowners interested in transforming their outdoor spaces into both beautiful and environmentally sound landscapes. Messervy’s intention, with the introduction of the Home Outside app, is to start to shift how homeowners approach landscape design, by placing a greater emphasis on sustainability. The app’s unique capabilities will allow users to visualize and implement designs that not only enhance their property’s appeal but also contribute positively to the environment. This shift is expected to drive a substantial reduction in water usage, carbon emissions, and energy consumption on a residential scale, promoting a broader adoption of sustainable practices.

As Home Outside continues to grow, it remains committed to its core values of democratizing landscape design and promoting environmental stewardship.

Looking ahead, Home Outside has ambitious plans to expand its reach and deepen its market impact. Moreover, the potential for scaling the AI/AR technology used in the app is substantial. Home Outside aims to increase its user base significantly, targeting millions of homeowners across the United States who can benefit from accessible, sustainable landscape design. The app’s scalability is key to reaching a wider audience, including those in marginalized communities who traditionally have less access to landscape design resources.

As Home Outside continues to grow, it remains committed to its core values of democratizing landscape design and promoting environmental stewardship. The company’s expansion plans are not just about reaching more users but about fostering a culture of sustainability that can transform residential yards into thriving ecosystems, thereby supporting healthier communities and a more resilient global environment.

A vision for the future

As we witness the relentless impact of climate change on our natural and built environments, the importance of innovative solutions like those offered by Home Outside cannot be overstated. Julie Moir Messervy’s vision of democratizing landscape design has materialized into a powerful tool that not only will transform yards but also empower homeowners to become stewards of their environments.

A 3D native plant collection by Home Outside.

Susan Chaffin,an Impact Entrepreneur correspondent, has 30 years of experience in emerging markets, private sector partnerships, and gender-inclusive solutions. Having founded in 2002, SBC Global Advisors, Inc., a research, strategy, and advisory firm, she designs, implements, and evaluates programs on digital innovation, financial inclusion, climate adaptation, clean energy, healthcare, water, ... Read more
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