As a beginner, landscaping your front or backyard can feel like an overwhelming task.
Even if your new to landscape gardening, you likely know that something is off… but you don’t know what. Or maybe even why. Or how to fix it. So, you just do nothing… or give excuses like…
Nothing grows in this awful soil…
It’s been a bad winter so everyone’s landscape is suffering.
The deer will eat anything I plant anyway.
The truth is that these common beginner landscaping problems are not what’s really stopping you from fixing your landscape. They are all the symptoms of a bigger problem. The actual problem.
These “problems” are magnified by one simple thing: no landscape exists in a vacuum.
As a beginner, before you can tackle all of the problems in your landscape, you have to look at your garden with fresh, new eyes.
But, how do you do this when you can’t “unsee” all of the existing stuff. The difficult challenge is to remove all the noise so you can pinpoint what’s not working in your landscape… i.e. the real culprit(s).
It’s definitely a frustrating problem to deal with. You probably need a hug and a glass of wine. Hit me up… I’ll be right over! Then, we’ll get to work!
The beginner landscaping “problem scenarios” that all gardeners face
Most beginner DIY landscape gardeners I talk to are dealing with one of two common scenarios. Both can be a huge bummer and are likely what’s stopping you from having the beautiful 4-season landscape you’ve been dreaming of. The good news is that these scenarios are handled pretty much the same.
Scenario 1: You bought a new home and have to deal with an existing, sucky landscape.
Even if you purchase a new home there are likely already trees, shrubs and hardscaping in place that you have to work around. Or maybe all of it is ugly landscaping that you wish you could change. Or you simply have a different style than the previous home owner.
Scenario 2: Your landscape used to be nice but over time, things went really south. Now you hate it.
If you’ve been living in your home for some time, maybe your landscape used to be beautiful and harmonious… but it certainly isn’t now. Perhaps over the years some plants changed in size or shape, trees grew up, or the harsh winters killed some of your plants and left you with lots of empty spaces to fill.
You’re left wondering what happened to your beautiful landscape. And, although you don’t want to start from scratch, you’re not sure how to tie the new plants into your landscape with what’s already there.
This scenario can be a bit more difficult to deal with than that of a new home owner simply because you’re attached to your home and the nostalgic moments you may have had in your garden throughout the years. But… no worries… it’s certainly fixable.
Scenario 3: You have a brand new house or no existing landscaping and you don’t know how to get started.
If you are starting with a blank slate, this post isn’t for you. Hop over to my article about landscaping from scratch to get help with starting from ground zero.
Beginner landscaping tips to improve your landscape
So how do you fix and/or expand upon your landscaping when you really don’t know… anything… about landscaping?
Well, you read blogs like this one — so you can get on the right track ? Then, follow all of my beginner landscaping steps below before you do anything else.
Before you buy a single plant.
Before you create any kind of plan.
Before you put a shovel into the ground.
Bare with me… I got your back.
Step 1: Edit the noise
My advice to all beginner landscapers as you tackle a new landscaping project that feels really daunting, is to EDIT. As E.E. Cummings said,
“To destroy is always the first step in any creation.”E.E. Cummings
So, editing is the very first thing you are going to do.
You have to destroy that familiarity blindness that makes us not actually “see” what’s going on. Only then can you see your landscape the way that other people see it. So, take a walk around your landscape and remove anything you possibly can.
This means all of the garden tchotchkes, wind spinners, gnomes, fountains, benches, planters. Remove anything distracting that you can pick up and move. Set them aside so you look at just the plants and the hardscaping (like walls, paths, fences, trellis, etc.).
Step 2: Remove the unnecessary plants
This can be a difficult step for a lot of gardeners, including myself. That’s because gardeners (like us) are nurturers… caretakers. I’m sure that with some extra TLC you can “save” your struggling plants and bring them back to life. But, trust me and save yourself the headaches.
It may be hard to “destroy” your landscape, but you will feel so much better when it’s done. It’s kind of like decluttering your closet or your dresser drawers. Once you get rid of all the crap you’ll be able to find the good stuff. You don’t want to be on the next episode of “Garden Hoarders” do you?
I’m just kidding, that’s not really a show… yet.
So, remove all of your unnecessary plants, including plants that are half dead, plants that are struggling and even the plants you don’t really like. I like to think that if you’re not killing plants, you’re not stretching yourself as a gardener.
Quick Tip: If you’re a beginner, you may want to check out my Flower Gardening 101 article… it answers all the questions that you don’t even know you should be asking, yet.
Step 3: Take pictures
Now that you’ve removed all of the garden accessories and the struggling and/or ugly plants, you need to take some pictures. This is a very fun and easy step.
From this day forward, your camera is your new best friend. It doesn’t matter what type of camera you have. Whether it’s your camera phone, an old digital camera collecting dust in your drawer or even a polaroid. Simply walk around your landscape and take photos of the parts in your garden that you feel could be improved.
If you’re trying to fix an existing landscape, the key is to break your landscape down into smaller pieces so its less overwhelming. Your camera will do this for you. So, don’t take pictures of your whole garden, or even an entire garden bed. Just take pictures of sections of your garden beds. Closeups… if you will.
The other cool thing about “freezing your garden in time” is that it will eliminate all of the distractions around you. You know… the barking dog down the street, your neighbor popping over to chat… those weeds here and there that you will unconsciously begin to pull.
All of these distractions are preventing you from really seeing your garden. But, once you take some pictures, you can really focus on your landscape and see it in a new way. You’ll be surprised how much easier it is to look at your garden through photos when you have a few peaceful moments to do so.
Step 4: Analyze your pictures
Next, you’ll need to print out the photos or pull them up on the computer so we you can take a good hard look at what you’re dealing with. When I’m doing this step, I turn the photo to black and white. This sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Removing the color removes even MORE distractions. It will improve your focus.
So, print (or photocopy) your photos so they are in black and white. Or, use a computer program or your phone to change them to black and white. Then, just “go to town” and circle/highlight all of the parts of the photo that could use improvement. Don’t overthink this. And, I’m aware that you’re a beginner landscaper… so please don’t be worried about how you’re going to fix the areas you’re circling. Just circle anything that looks empty, drab, blobby or unappealing to you.
The key to a beautiful landscape
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The key to a beautiful landscape is not actually plants. It’s not color, either. It’s not the hardscape. It’s “all the things.” It’s what we call “Harmony” in the design world!
It’s the bumpy, knotted, old oak tree standing tall and proud, even in the most cold and desolate days of winter. It’s the sound of ornamental grasses rustling in the breeze, stirring up the lovely scents of nearby sage and rosemary. It’s the pops of hot pink poppies in a sea of pale yellow dailies, inviting you to come over and join their party. It’s discovering a beautiful stone sculpture nestled deep into the forest green foliage around the bend.
Ah, harmony in the garden is like an absolute dream come true. Can you see it?
This is why turning your photos to black and white helps so much. If you have too many plants of the same color, texture or form it blurs together and you lose the magic. When you can’t distinguish shape and form in the garden, your eyes don’t have anything to focus on. It can be unsettling to look at a garden like this… and it’s likely why you don’t like your own landscape.
But, if you follow these steps you are on your way to planning your dream landscape. Once you pinpoint the problems it becomes a lot easier to fix them! And that’s the super fun part!
My last advice for beginner gardeners is that the “perfect plant” will not “cure” your landscape. There are so many things that make a landscape beautiful. You’ll have to gradually work on different areas of your landscape to make it just the way you want it.
And, that’s the beauty and magic of gardening… so don’t let it discourage you! Create a space that’s as unique as you are. One that makes you smile when you see it. One that changes with the seasons and brings you joy and peace.
Following the steps above, you’ll be able to uncover the “true” problem areas in your garden. And, you’ll be in a much better position to actually tackle your landscape design.
If you really enjoyed this article and you’re looking for the next steps, here are some posts that will help you in your next steps to creating your dream garden! I’d highly recommend starting with the free video training or my flower gardening 101 article.
Articles and Information:
- 3 Gardening Secrets Revealed – Free Video Training!
- Flower Gardening 101 – learn the things that no one else will tell you
- Landscape Layering: Create an Effective Landscape
- Arrange plants in your garden – 3 simple ways
- Landscaping from scratch – 7 steps to success
- Plant Combinations: How to create unforgettable plant pairings
- Monthly gardening calendar for busy gardeners (with PDF)
- Soil Improvement Tips for Flower Beds
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these essential beginner landscaping steps. Most new landscape gardeners I’ve met are struggling with one of two problems: (1) Either you bought a new home and are stuck with an existing landscape that you don’t like or (2) your own landscape has taken on a mind of its own and needs some serious help.
No matter which of these beginner landscaping problems you struggle with, the first steps to creating a beautiful landscape need to be done before you buy a single plant, create a serious design plan or even put your shovel into the ground. Having a plan of attack is very important.
First, remove all of the noise from your garden, including all of the garden accessories, benches and fountains. Then, say your peace with your dying and struggling plants. Get rid of them and you’ll start to see your garden with fresh, new eyes. Walk around your garden and take pictures of the different areas you think need improving. Look at the photos in black and white and begin circling the areas that need improvement.
Now, you know exactly where you need to focus your landscaping efforts and you’ll be well on your way to creating a garden that’s as unique as you are.
If you’re ready to go further on your beginner landscaping adventure, I’d recommend joining my email list where you can get some great tips and inspiration to help you along. Grab one of my free guides or watch the free video training and I’ll see you in your inbox!
I would love to see your pictures, so please send me an email . Or, if you’re on my email list you can just hit reply to any of my emails and I’ll do my best to help you along. Happy gardening!
More Gardening Posts You’ll Love
What Blooms with What?
Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!