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6 Tips for Designing a Garden from a Landscape Pro

By: Marisa Reyes
Check out these smart design tips from landscape designer, Rochelle Greayer of Pith + Vigor, so you can start designing a garden like a pro!

Rochelle Greayer work center out: Pathways, hedges and other beds all radiate from the central beds to create a cohesive garden design.

6 Design Secrets from a landscape designer

Starting a garden can feel overwhelming. And sometimes it’s hard to know if you’ll like something until you’ve seen it. By then, you’ve spent enough hours, hard work and money that it’s tough to make a change. That’s where these 6 smart design tips from landscape designer and educator Rochelle Greayer can help. Follow her simple strategies and you can skip ahead to enjoying your garden instead of agonizing over it!

Rochelle Greayer portrait: Rochelle Greayer of Pith + Vigor.

Rochelle Greayer | Pith + Vigor

Learn more: pithandvigor.com
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1. Work from the center out, not the edges in.

It might be tempting to start a design by working off of what’s already there. For example, many gardeners’ first beds are the borders around the property line. Instead, decide what’s most important to you, then build the design from that. Maybe you really want a vegetable garden. Or maybe a shady getaway is most important to you. If that’s the case, start there, wherever it works best in your garden, and design traffic patterns, hardscaping and views to create a thoughtful, cohesive layout.

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Rochelle Greayer 2 Create privacy:A tree placed near the corner of the patio in photo provides an additional layer of privacy

2. Change the way you think about creating privacy.

Most gardeners want and need privacy in their yard, and they immediately go to a tall property line hedge, wall or fence. While these are good options, they won’t be as effective if the area you want to conceal is far from the property line. Rochelle says, “Bringing things closer to obscure the view and layering plants is the best option for achieving the privacy you want.”

For instance, a tree placed near the corner of the patio like in the photo above provides an additional layer of privacy because it’s planted close by. Plus, an overhead canopy like this shields the view from second-story neighbors. You can also create privacy with tall plants in containers or screens close to the spot you want to obscure.

Rochelle Greayer plant installation: Add plants after hardscaping to save yourself the time and hassle.

3. Install plants last.

You’ll create more work if you plant before you plan. Instead, choose the location, put in the hardscaping, amend the soil and get trees and shrubs in the ground first. Then add perennials and annuals.

Sure, the gardener could have started planting the hillside in the photo above before she installed the patio and steps. But the plants would have just been trampled (or worse). And trying to improve soil after plants are in place is a lot more difficult than doing so with a blank slate.

Rochelle Greayer signature plant: Purple Fountain grass makes a great signature plant in a container or garden bed.

4. Find a signature plant.

Instead of feeling discouraged by dead or struggling plants, lean into what you know best to cultivate a successful garden you can enjoy. Find a plant that speaks to you and that you know how to grow well, and repeat it throughout your garden. Rochelle loves to grow different types of ornamental grasses, such as fountain grass (Pennisetum spp. and hybrids), sedges (Carex spp. and hybrids) and maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis), because they are so easy to grow. And not all grasses are green: The purple fountain grass (Pennisetum advena ‘Rubrum’) above adds color, texture and movement wherever you place it.

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Rochelle Greayer add evergreens: Evergreens are a great way to get structure and provide interest when other plants aren't in season.

5. Add more evergreens.

Rochelle finds that the smaller your garden is, the more you need hardworking, four-season plants. In summer the clipped boxwoods (Buxus spp. and hybrids) above might recede into the background, but they’ll take center stage in winter, when deciduous plants have lost their foliage. Plus, there are tons of fantastic dwarf varieties that will fit into a small space. They’re great for hiding fences or other structures and parts of the foundation that might not be so nice to look at.

Rochelle Greayer plant spacing 6: Plants like siberian squill, coneflower and cosmos can be planted densely for a fuller look like you see above.

6. Cut spacing recommendations in half.

A densely planted garden gets a full look faster and fills the garden with an array of interesting foliage and blooms, even while you’re waiting for the plants to reach maturity. When you plant bulbs, annuals and perennials closer together, you spend less time doing those not-so-fun but necessary tasks, such as weeding and watering. That’s because foliage will cast shade over the soil, preventing weed seed germination and minimizing moisture evaporation.

So if you want a quick way to get a sweep of color, plant bulbs, such as Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) above, daffodils (Narcissus spp. and hybrids), and hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis), close together. Mixing fast-growing annuals like the cosmos (Cosmos spp. and hybrids) above with perennials is another way to get a full look while younger perennials fill out. On the other hand, you’ll want to avoid closely planting perennials that have quick spreading habits, such as bearded irises (Iris hybrids) or bee balm (Monarda spp. and hybrids), because you’ll end up needing to divide the plants sooner.

Published: March 15, 2024
Updated: March 18, 2024

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Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work in the garden. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.


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