Harmony in the Garden Blog

Garden Designers Roundtable- My ‘Don’t Do This’ Top Ten List

I’ve been wanting to write about this for a long, long time – my Top 10 things NOT to do in your garden!  Having designed gardens for over a decade, I’ve seen a lot of crazy things; some funny, some not so much.

Please join me today, along with the rest of the Garden Designers Roundtable, as we discuss the topic ‘Reality Check – don’t do this’!


1.  Neglecting to mulch (or…”pssst! Your tubing is showing”)

Many of you already know that adding a top dressing of mulch is a great idea, as it suppreses weeds, helps your soil retain moisture, and keeps the soil at a consistent temperature.  However, it’s not a ‘put it down and forget about it forever’ sort of thing!  You’ll need to add more to your garden every few years (more often if tend to go crazy with the blower, scattering it to kingdom come).  Yes, it can get expensive.  And yes, it can be labor-intensive.  But if you don’t, this is what you end up with.  And after going through all the effort of creating your garden, is this really what you want to end up with?

2.  Don’t strangle your trees

Guy wires like these definitely help support young trees as they grow strong enough to withstand strong winds.

But please remember to take them off after a few years. Otherwise, the tree will continue to grow around the wires and eventually begin strangling itself.

Definitely not a good thing for the health of your tree!

3.  Stairs that stab

After having a falling out of sorts with their ‘contractor’ (and I use that term loosely!) these homeowners called me for help.   This is just one example of this contractor’s handiwork.  Now who in the world would ever want to walk up stairs that are as dangerous as these?  I wonder how many times their poor kids impaled their ankles as they bounded up the stairs?

And the grout?  C’mon!  There was no effort put into matching the color with the stone, and it’s way too wide in sections. Sorta just globbed in there.

Needless to say, we gave the stairs a make-over.

4.  Beware of monster vines

I know those vines look beautiful sitting their 5-gallon containers at the nursery.  But please, please, read those tags!  When the tag uses words like ‘energetic’ and ‘vigorous’ it’s usually an understatement.  Those words are clues that the vine will quickly smother your home if given half a chance.  Wisteria and Trumpet Vine are classic examples of this, as I commonly see these vines scrambling up the tallest trees hoping to reach for the moon.

5.  Beware of monster agaves

I love agaves as much as the next person but, again, remember to read those tags!  There’s so many varieties of agaves out there, available in so many sizes, remember to match the size to the space.  Time and time again I see a giant Agave americana planted next to a pathway.  Remember. these plants are GIANTS with sharp points on the end, just waiting to spear the poor person who loses their balance.

And not only that, they send out tenacious runners like you can’t believe.  You’ll be forever ripping these runners out of your garden, which is fine with agave-lovers, but not fine when planted near hardscaping.  The runners have Herculean-like strength and can push through asphalt with ease.

6.  Speaking of asphalt….know when to stop

There’s no need to use asphalt like a blanket, tucking in each plant for eternity.

A plant’s roots need air to breathe, need water from the rain, need nutrients from decomposing mulch – not asphalt!

Besides, as the plant grows, it’ll expand and break apart the asphalt leaving you with a most unsightly mess.

7.  Butchering phormiums

Poor, poor phormiums, they’re forever being butchered and manhandled into a size they just don’t want to be.  This could also fall under the category of ‘read those plant tags‘ as there’s so many varieties of phormiums out there in so many different sizes.  From the giant p. atropurpureum (towering to 8 feet) to the diminutive p. ‘Jack Spratt’ (topping out at 1-2 feet) choose a phormium that’s right for the space.

Phoriums really don’t need to be pruned at all, except for a few old and tired leaves at the base of the plant.  So when the right variety is in the right space, you’ll never have to look at this.

8.  Redwood mayhem

Redwoods abound here in Northern California, but more often than not they’re planted waaaay too close to a home’s foundation.  Small, suburban properties are no place for this mighty tree.  Remember, the average size of our coastal redwood is 250 feet.  That’s 250 feet PLUS!

So, while you might think it’s a good idea to use a fast-growing redwood as screening from your neighbor, if you plant it near a fence, wall, foundation, driveway, etc. you’ll be sorry.

The Mighty Redwood will always win

9.  Use it or lose it

When looking at your garden, or considering a new design, give some thought to the lawn you want to include.  Are you really going to use it?  Or is its purpose to sit there like a prized patch of labor-intensive, water-chugging green that you’re only including because you don’t know what else to do.

Now I’m not one to rant against all lawns, as I have one myself that my family uses and enjoys just about every day.  But for the most part, a lot of the lawns I see out here are unused, way too big, and can usually be reduced or replaced with something much more enjoyable to the homeowner.

This sign just slays me.  What damage could possibly result from someone using this strip of lawn?  And I particularly like the happy face, to add that ‘I’m still friendly’ vibe.  Hmmmm.  Maybe the sign is actually a warning to people since the bench and chairs do look a little booby-trapped.

10.  And finally…..Know when to cut bait

It can be hard for any of us to know when to quit and start over.  I see this time and time again when called by a frustrated homeowner.  They’ve tried and tried and tried to get something to work, sometimes against all odds, sometimes after spending a fortune.  I’m all for experimenting in your garden and having fun.  But when you find yourself throwing good money after bad it’s time to rethink your strategy.

This tree is a great example.  I’m not sure at what point things went horribly wrong, but it’s okay to say ‘You know?  I think things could probably be a lot better if I just started over’.

Thanks for stopping by everyone!  For more ‘reality checks’ head on over to my fellow Roundtablers to see what they’re writing about.  And today we have a very special guest joining us, David Cristiani who blogs at The Desert Edge .  Enjoy!

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : Easy Bay, CA

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA

Shirley Bovshow : Eden Makers : Los Angeles, CA

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA

Rebecca Sweet

Rebecca Sweet

Leave a Replay

Sign up for our Newsletter

Click edit button to change this text. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit

Scroll to Top