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Q&A: Chris Lambton, Host of HGTV’s Yard Crashers

What you should do now to prep for spring, what it's really like behind the scenes of Yard Crashers, and more.

It doesn’t feel like it, but spring truly (hopefully?) is finally approaching—and we’ve got some wisdom on how to get your outdoor spaces ready. Chris Lambton, host of HGTV’s Yard Crashers, is in town this weekend for the Capital Remodel & Garden Show at the Dulles Expo Center, where he’ll make appearances today and tomorrow. But luckily for us, he took some time to share a little expert advice right here.

Washington is currently freezing—is there anything we should be doing to protect our yards from the elements?

I’m from Cape Cod. I think my house is under four feet of snow. The good news is Mother Nature is smarter than us. When it comes to protecting our plants, snow is the best thing. Snow acts as an insulation layer from the cold. It protects the plants, and protects the roots. And snow is the poor man’s fertilizer because there’s nitrogen in rain, like there is in fertilizer. All this snow will actually be beneficial for our plants.

The one thing that the cold and wind and snow do hurt are branches, but you should take care of that in the fall. Get your plants pruned properly and cut back the ornamental grasses, so they aren’t damaged by wind.

Looking ahead to warmer weather—what are your favorite trends for outdoor spaces for 2015?

One of my favorite ones is edible gardens. This is one that works whether you’re in a small condo or have a large backyard, whether you do it with potted plants or with a nice raised garden. A lot of my clients are even tearing up chunks of grass [to make room for edible gardens]. They’d rather use their water on rows of basil and lettuce, instead of wasting resources on just having a yard that looks green. You can still have some lawn, and then use the rest of the yard to basically become an urban farmer.

Another one is outdoor entertaining. You can use the backyard and double or even triple the size of your house. They make couches, rugs, pillows that you can leave outside. You can literally have everything from the indoors, outdoors. You can sit outside on the weekend on a couch in your backyard and really take advantage of the warm weather.

Where do you go for inspiration when you’re dreaming up a design for a client’s outdoor space?

That’s a tough question. What I like to do is talk to the client. It’s gotta be personal. It’s your space. I’d ask what you like to do outside. You’re big into cooking? Okay, let’s do a big dining room table, lots of seating, and an outdoor kitchen. Whatever your style is inside—if you’re very modern—we can pull from that and have it flow from inside to outside. I take my inspiration from the people I’m working for. At the end of the day, they’re the ones living back there.

Since we can’t all hire you, what are some quick and inexpensive ways that people can easily update their own yards?

One of the cheapest things that makes your yard look beautiful is mulch. If you do a nice edge between your lawn and planting beds, and put down a four-inch layer of mulch, it looks beautiful, it smells nice, and it acts as compost for your plants. I like to spread it before the perennials and flowers start popping up, so when you’re walking through and spreading, you’re not stepping on tulips. The plants will fight right through it, and pop up. The mulch keeps down weeds and helps keep your plants moist, so you won’t have to water as much.

Are there any landscape trends that you really dislike or think have been overdone?

I don’t like going into a backyard and having it closed in. When people renovate their houses now, they tend to go for open concept. They like to knock down walls and open things up. I don’t like to then go into a backyard and have, like, a deck with railings all the way around it, or a patio with walls around it, so you feel enclosed in the space. I like walking into a yard that flows just like your house would flow. Think about that when you design your yard. If you need railings on your deck, maybe just put them on a couple sides, and maybe have deep steps on one side that can double as seating. There are tricks to keeping your area open.

Finally, for those of us who watch Yard Crashers and can’t believe how quickly those transformations happen, what’s it really like when you’re doing a yard crash? How do you possibly get it all done in time?

Yard Crashers is two days of just craziness. I have a crew of 10 to 15 people. The homeowners have 10 to 15 people. If you can think about organized chaos in a backyard, that’s what’s happening. You have 25, 30 people dancing around each other, working on a multitude of projects all at once. Talk about a rush for two days. You start at 7 a.m., and that first night we go to 10 or 11. The next day, you’re back at it at 6 a.m. working until 4 or 5. It does happen in two days, but it’s insane.

There’s a ton of planning that goes into it. When you only have two days, you gotta make sure the deliveries are right on time—when the demo dumpster leaves at 10:15, we need base rock delivery. At 1:15, concrete comes. Everything has to be planned out and orchestrated perfectly. If something is delayed, it’s a domino affect. What goes along with that is the building permits. Wherever you go, there are different building permits and laws, so you have to do your research and make sure everyone knows that’s going on. You don’t want the building inspector to come by and say, “hey, wait, you can’t build a pergola in this neighborhood.” Some smooth talking goes into it as well—you definitely have to take some pictures with some people and invite them back for the party when it’s all done!

Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 and was a senior editor until 2022.