Q&A: How Can I Make a Naturalistic Garden Look Intentional?

blue sedge
Blue sedge. Photo: Ellen Nibali

Q: I would like to plant a more natural garden but am worried about irritating the neighbors who might think it is sloppy or not a garden at all! Any advice?

A: Make a natural garden look intentional. Here are three major design tips to make a garden’s intent obvious:

1) Give it obvious edges. Edges can be botanical, such as a row of blue sedges (pictured) or can be hardscapes such as pavers, bricks, a path, low wall, or low fencing.

2) Give it an obvious shape. This can be geometrical lines and angles (circle, triangle, parallelogram, etc.) but also can be flowing lines made obvious with big or repeated curves.

3) Within the beds, make plant choices obvious. Use blocks or ribbons of plants, repetition of key species, or a predominant plant family (e.g. grasses) with a few other species mixed in. Of course, banish all invasive plants. Use at least 70 percent native plants.

By Ellen Nibali, Horticulturist, University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center. Ellen writes the Garden Q&A for The Baltimore Sun.

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3 thoughts on “Q&A: How Can I Make a Naturalistic Garden Look Intentional?

  1. Janet Glaspie April 10, 2019 / 9:40 pm

    One could also apply for certification through the National Wildlife Federation and qualify to purchase their sign which indicates your yard is a “Certified Wildlife Habitat.”

    • Maryland Grows April 24, 2019 / 10:07 am

      Yes, that is a great suggestion. Putting up a sign indicating the garden is for wildlife — birds, pollinators, etc.– is a way to communicate that a naturalistic garden is intentional.

  2. tonytomeo April 10, 2019 / 11:51 pm

    That is something that is missing in landscapes composed of California native plants. I know that some natives are not very adaptable to formality, or such cultivation, but there are enough that are. I will never understand why ALL of such landscapes look so sloppy. It just is not necessary.

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