A Home for Your Gnome

Gardening Advice from a Fan of Fun!

6 Simple Steps to Turn Your Landscape into a Garden

Break away from the status quo to create your special oasis.

Most homes have a “landscape”. Read on to see how to turn yours into a “garden”.

I’m not a big fan of the term “landscaping” on a residential scale. To me, it brings images of minimal foundation plantings using the same 10 plants that every Home Depot carries. If you’ve been following my writings or have heard me speak, you’ll also know that I have a big problem with the concept of treating mulch as purely an aesthetic (“changing the shade of the brown”). I gave a talk a while back with this title and I thought it’s time I share some things to consider. Before I do, I also need to get one more thing out there. “Real” gardening is an investment and it is work. A beautiful outdoor surrounding takes effort and some willingness to open the wallet and support your local garden center. If you’re looking for low maintenance, go back to the big box store and fill your cart with those 10 plants.

1. Claim your boundaries

Most “landscaping” I’ve seen consists of some token foundation plantings (all evergreen because nobody likes change). If the owner is a little more adventurous (and isn’t suffering from leaf-phobia), there may also be a couple of trees in the front yard possibly planted within an island. I shouldn’t be too quick to be critical of this approach as it is indeed better than nothing but grass but there could be so much more!

If you really want a “garden”, begin at the property lines, plant for privacy and screening where you need it, and then begin to layer inward toward your home. By using this approach not only will you decrease the amount of mowing but you’ll also give yourself something nice to look at as you glance out of your own windows.

Planted islands are nice but most of the time they’re too small and they also visually give the property away that lies between these and the street. You don’t have to surround yourself with a fortress of planting and you’ll want to leave gaps to travel to your neighbors occasionally. Consider having some plantings in the front that help to frame your home’s view from the street. This can help to focus one’s view on your front door as such plantings act as welcoming arms to hug your property. (Alright, I’m getting a little too weird here.)

Going to the edges and subdividing spaces is the key to creating an inviting garden.

2. Zone your maintenance

This may not work as I’ll describe on all properties but if you have some acreage and you currently do nothing with it but mow from property line to property line, consider “zoning” your maintenance. Think of this as a dart board with your home being the bullseye. The first zone (that which surrounds the bullseye) is the area where you spend the most time. This is the zone of traditional maintenance. Here you plant, piddle, mulch, add seasonal color, etc.

The next zone is one where you may spend a little less time and doesn’t need to be as manicured as the area surrounding the home. If you have the space, here is where you might want to consider the idea of “no-mow” areas (rough lawn, as they’re called in England) or even meadows. If this area you may want to keep woody plants such as volunteer trees cut so it remains a bit pastoral.

The outer zone is where you let nature be your partner. Except for patrolling for unwanted species and especially invasive exotic plants, you leave this zone to act as wildlife habitat and corridors. If you think beyond your property, imagine the benefit if other adjacent properties did the same. Together you could theoretically create unbroken passageways for wildlife to travel, helping with the ever-growing challenge of habitat fragmentation.

If you have a larger property, consider letting the edges go wild.

3. Make connections

Just as there are doors and hallways in your home, your garden is a succession of rooms that need connections. I like to call these portals. To save you time and save my four fingers from typing, I encourage you to check out my post https://ahomeforyourgnome.com/garden-design/ .The experience of how you encounter each of your garden rooms is critically important to its success. Also, think about how your garden connects to adjacent properties. We have the very good fortune of living in an amazing community with wonderful neighbors whom we love. There are four different paths (mostly stepping stones) that connect our property to each. If you have a traditional “landscape” there may be a chance that you don’t have enough plantings to warrant these passageways but if you follow step number one above, chances are it won’t be long until you find a need for some neighborly connections.

On the left, “landscape”. On the right, “garden”.

4. Fill the gaps

To transform a landscape into a garden, you should also be prepared to fill as many of those brown voids (aka – empty mulched patches) with more plants. I also  recently wrote about this in my post https://ahomeforyourgnome.com/filling-in-the-gaps/ Look how efficient I’m being! The point here is not to be afraid of filling those empty holes with some rugged, tried and true groundcovers. If re-mulching has always been part of your routine maintenance, this should lessen as you pay heed to this suggestion.

5. Add seating and lighting

I love options and today we have many (look at your grocery store’s cereal aisle). You should also have options on where you want to spend time to relax in your garden. Some of this depends on mood, season, weather, etc. Having plentiful but cozy seating makes the garden experience memorable. We spend so much time running around it only makes sense that you find a quiet nook now and then in which to sit still and be mindful (you may even want to leave that phone in your pocket). Benches, chairs, Adirondack seats, gliders, and more are all fair game in a well-planned garden. ( I will have an upcoming post just dedicated to seating.)

Lighting is also a feature that is missing in many gardens. I will add a note here thanks to an attendee at my last talk, that you should also be a little conservative with regard to just throwing light up into the heavens. Check out the Dark Skies Initiative for more: https://darksky.org/ Low-voltage landscape lighting is a great way to enjoy your hard work after the sun goes down. It may not be as important during the long days of summer but when winter rolls around it’s a great way to visually expand your living area and enjoy those watching your otherwise dormant plants take on a new life with a nice coating of snow. As I write this, I am realizing that this is a bit of a compilation of several topics I’ve tagged in the past. For more on lighting your garden please check out: https://garrymenendez.com/get-out-of-the-dark/

6. Personalize

Lastly, to transform your ordinary landscape into a glorious garden, you need to add your personal touches. Some visitors to our place may think that I’ve overdone it a bit here (we have LOTS of personalization in our garden). But the fact remains that life is short. Surround yourself with things (and people) that make you happy. In a garden, it may be a special sculpture or piece of décor you found on an unforgettable trip. Or it may be a silly, whimsical rescue from the roadside that screams “Take me home!” Again, I can speak from experience. Just as you personalize the interior of your home, a garden also needs a few of these special touches to help you stand apart from the crowd and give your guests something at which to raise their eyebrows as they return home.

YOU decide what goes in your garden. Have some fun!

Till next time,


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