How to Edit Your Garden to Reflect Your Sense of Style
Is your landscape looking tired or overgrown? Did you inherit a flowery, all-pink garden that doesn't fit your minimalist aesthetic? It may be time for a garden edit. Ryan McEnaney, author of Field Guide to Outside Style, shares tips to transform your landscape to better reflect your personal style. He's also a fifth-generation family member and owner at Minneapolis-based Bailey Nurseries, one of the country's largest growers of trees and shrubs including Endless Summer hydrangeas.
"Gardens are living, breathing things and change over time," says Ryan. "Taking a moment to review what's going on really helps you personalize it and make it your own." Here are his tips for making a garden edit.
1. Consider Timing
Garden editing can be an ongoing process or a one-time effort. Ryan advises starting in the season when you are available to spend the most time in the garden. "Maybe it's spring because that's what revitalizes you; or summer because that's when you're hosting a lot of friends and family; or fall when you finally get through the kids' sports season and have time to relax. Take that time to figure out what works for you."
2. Outline Your Goals
Ryan says the first step is to dream about how you want to use the space. Do you want to increase curb appeal to boost the home's resale value? Do you want a pretty backdrop for hosting dinner parties? Do you need privacy to create a peaceful backyard escape? Do you want to grow your own food? Or do you want to support pollinators?
3. Take Inventory
Once you've defined functional goals, it's time to examine what you have. Ryan suggests recruiting a gardening friend, hiring a designer, or using a phone app to identify your plants. "Look at the size, flower or function of each plant to help evaluate what to keep and what to divide, move, trim or even toss."
4. Give Away Misfit Plants
If plants have multiplied and become overcrowded, or they simply don't function well in your space, it's OK to say goodbye. Ryan says he often has to give new homeowners permission to dig up plants (yes, we know there's a guilt complex), and recommends giving them to a neighbor wanting try something new.
5. Find Style Inspiration
In Field Guide to Outside Style, Ryan encourages readers to look to fashion, architecture and even their own neighborhoods to see what they like and don't like when it comes to color, texture and scale. He also breaks down three styles—classic, modernist and naturalist—and offers planting recipes for each.
6. Start with Simple Enhancements
If you're just dipping your toes in the garden editing water, Ryan recommends adding new annuals, perennials and even bulbs. "They're lower-impact from a financial standpoint and time commitment when it comes to physically planting and caring for them," he says. "They allow you to try new colors and textures to see what you like."
7. Experiment in Containers
Another way to try out plants is to grow them in deco pots in the garden or on a patio for a season. "Plant a two-gallon shrub in a deco pot," says Ryan. "It raises it up, fills in a garden space, and gives you a chance to see if you like it." If so, transplant the shrub from the pot into the garden in the fall.
8. Tackle Trees and Shrubs
While adding trees and shrubs is a larger investment, it's also more impactful, longer-lasting and adds multi-season interest. Complete a foundational tree and shrub layer with an accent layer of annuals, perennials and bulbs that can be planted over time.
Related: 20 Tough Trees for Midwest Lawns
9. Manage Expectations
It's important to understand timing when heading into a project. "Your newly planted landscape won't look like what you see in the magazines in its first year," says Ryan. "It's going to take a little time to fill in." Plus, in the first year, you'll need to set aside time to regularly water new plants until they're established.
10. Have Fun
"Go out and edit the garden. Try new things. Play around a little bit," Ryan encourages. "Have fun with it, so you can bring joy and beauty to your space for years to come."