Interested in taming your wild, low-maintenance landscape into a manicured English garden, or vice versa? Here's how to do just that.

By Lauren Wellbank
April 02, 2021
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colorful backyard garden
Credit: L Feddes / Getty Images

Tackling a major garden overhaul can be overwhelming, especially when it involves transforming your landscape, style-wise. If you're contemplating a garden makeover—for example, perhaps you want to groom your wildflower beds into something more manicured or English-inspired—bookmark this expert-approved step-by-step guide.

First things first: Establish a budget.

Before you make a single decision, create a budget. "Gardening is one of those activities where the sky's the limit when it comes to excitement and potential, so having a predetermined budget will help," explains Chia-Ming Ro, the founder of Coastal Homestead. Another important aspect of finance management? Deciding upfront who will do the work. Will you be taking a weekend warrior approach or hiring a professional? If you're bringing on a gardener, landscaper, or garden designer, it's more cost effective to do so all at once, since your experts will already be on-site, says Ro. "Also, this allows for the project to be truly seamless in plan," she adds.

Create a master plan—and sketch it out.

If you're looking to switch up your garden style, Blythe Yost, the CEO and co-founder of Tilly, says to nail down your master plan—on paper—before getting started. "This way, you can see the big picture and it doesn't matter how many phases it takes to implement. It will all make sense in the end," she says.

Determine your new style.

In order to sketch out the master plan that speaks to your vision, you first need to understand what that dream looks like. To do this, Ro suggests asking yourself three questions: What is the aesthetic style of your home, what is the maintenance level you're looking to take on, and what is the goal for your outside space? Answering honestly will lead you to the best garden style for you, personally—and if a low maintenance space is the goal, you may ultimately decide against a project that would result in more upkeep. "It's very easy to get lost in the details, but if there is a focus on the goal, you can always ask if the changes you're considering will help achieve your original purpose," says Ro. Dreams aside, do not overlook the importance of the garden maintenance factor—especially if you're going from a wilder, lusher, self-sustaining garden to something manicured. "Plants have a life cycle even if they're perennials and there will be upkeep to keep things fresh," says Ro.

Tackle larger projects first.

Take on the bigger, more disruptive tasks first, shares Yost. "Construct hardscape elements to build the garden structure and then try to add in larger focal point plants, like specimen trees and shrubs," she says. A key part of this task is establishing and lining beds if you're shaping up free-range gardens—or removing them, if your goal is to create a more low-maintenance garden. Then, focus on the live stuff, adding in hardy grasses and wispy wildflowers for that relaxed space or grouping prim annuals and stately shrubs for your English landscape: "Small plants like perennials and annuals should go in last," Yost affirms. If your budget doesn't allow for tackling the entire landscape at once, Yost says you can break your project into sections and complete them one at a time.

Don't overlook small, but impactful stylistic changes.

Since garden styles are ultimately defined by a sliding scale of organization, Yost says you have four choices. "Eclectic is the most random, cottage has a little more rhythm, classic is composed of strong bones and balance, and modern is the most organized," she says. "The number of different species in a landscape design can be a way to create (or improve) organization." If you have a very eclectic garden and want to bring more structure, Yost says to switch up your style by paring down the number of plant varieties and adding more repetition. At the end of the day, this is an easy way to change your style without having to overhaul your landscape entirely.

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