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Making your landscape even better: Tips for enhancing your garden.

By James Edwards,


MUNCIE, Ind. – Having a beautifully landscaped home is ideal for most people. It adds value to your property and neighborhood, brings you joy and beauty, allows you a brief escape from the world around you, gives you a way to express your creativity, and improves your health and wellness.

I mean, with all that good why doesn’t everyone have flawless garden beds? Well, like most things, it is easier said than done. As you read, I hope to help guide you in your thought process for improving your gardens.

Gardening and landscaping are distinct concepts that can meld into a harmonious whole. It's a partnership, not a rivalry. As a horticulturist, my viewpoint deviates slightly from the norm of a midwestern garden. While tomatoes ripening on vines and sweet corn ready to be harvested are emblematic of gardens, I propose a broader interpretation. Every inch of your property can be regarded as part of your garden.

As you read this article, welcome that idea and think about all the plant material you have at your home. Ultimately, you're aiming to strike a balance between functionality, beauty, and your own personal aesthetic.

Start by conducting an audit of your garden beds. What thrives and what struggles? Consider the plants that make you happy. Are there persistent pest or disease issues? On the other hand, are there some low-maintenance gems that are thriving? Have there been any changes in usage or significant tree or plant losses?

Have the growing conditions shifted? Numerous factors can impact the changing scenery, like a new puppy keen for digging, or your children becoming part of a soccer team, resulting in their balls consistently finding their way into the garden beds. These shifts serve as turning points in how you enjoy your garden.

Whatever the case may be for the need to change it up in the garden, it's important to think about all the factors rather than going to the nearest garden center and impulsively filling a cart with an assortment of beautiful flowering plants. We have all made this mistake. Ultimately, I think it ends up taking you more time and money than finding solutions to your garden needs.

The Garden Bones

Essential to your garden's plan is its infrastructure, its hardscape elements, which serve as the garden's backbone. Examples:

  • Pathways and walkways
  • Decks and patios
  • Retaining walls and edging
  • Arbors, pergolas, and gazebos
  • Fences and walls
  • Irrigation systems and hose reels

Each of these functional yet decorative components contributes to the garden's strengths. They create the framework around which your favorite plants can flourish. Be sure these are in good condition.

Thematic approach

As you explore the realm of garden design, there are many thematic avenues that await your consideration, each having distinctive pros and cons for your outdoor spaces:

Formal Garden: Precision and symmetry reign supreme, with geometric patterns and immaculately groomed plants setting the tone. Hedges, topiaries, and neatly ordered flowerbeds evoke an atmosphere of sophistication.

Informal or Cottage Garden: Embracing nature's whims, this style blends a relaxed, unstructured vibe. Flourishing flowering plants, herbs, and perhaps even edible crops intermingle. Pathways meander, and a sense of gentle chaos prevails.

Wildlife-Friendly Garden: Crafted to beckon local fauna, native plants, bird feeders, and water sources invite birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects. A bond with nature blossoms.

Rose Garden: Classic charm emanates from various rose varieties showcased in dedicated beds or trellises. A haven for the romantics and the nostalgic.

Herb Garden: Aromatic, culinary, and medicinal herbs intertwine, providing both practicality and visual delight.

Color-Themed Garden: Gardens brimming with shades of a specific color craft an impactful visual experience.

Contemporary Garden: Melding architectural elements with nature, these gardens merge modernity with outdoor living spaces.

Tropical Garden: Lush foliage, vibrant colors, and water features transport you to a tropical paradise.

These themes serve as templates for shaping your garden's identity, guiding the design process, and harmonizing additions or removals.

Color theory

Sure thing! When you're working on your design, the way colors mix and the feelings they bring out become really important. You're looking at how colors work together, the ideas they give off, and how people see them. By understanding things like color combinations that go well together, like opposites or side-by-side colors, and the feelings different colors can make people have, you create a design that looks balanced and tells a story.


The design's potency in shaping your garden's essence and allure is undeniable. Diverse designs generate distinct outcomes, shaped by layout, plant choices, hardscape features, and overarching themes:

Formal Garden Design Outcomes:

∎ Emanates elegance through symmetry

∎ Create geometric lines

∎ Structured flowers

Informal Cottage Garden Design Outcomes:

∎ Bestow charm and relaxation

∎ Create a blend of diverse plant life

∎ Utilize organic and curvilinear pathways

Wildlife-Friendly Garden Design Outcomes:

∎ Nurture biodiversity with native plants

∎ Offer habitats for local animals

∎ Create foraging opportunities

∎ Facilitate connections with nature

Rose Garden Outcomes:

∎ Create a sense of romance and classic beauty

∎ Curate a focus on the rose

∎ Select cultivars to demonstrate the possibilities of roses

Herb Garden Outcomes:

∎ Tap into the sense of smell and taste

∎ Achieve practicality by growing herbs you can use

∎ Think about purpose functionality

∎ Focus on your family’s culinary, medicinal, and aromatic needs

Color-Themed Garden Outcomes:

∎ Simplicity and focus

∎ Visual harmony

∎ Structure your urges when plant buying

Modern Contemporary Garden Design Outcomes:

∎ Create clean lines

∎ Utilize innovative materials

∎ Indoor-outdoor fusion

∎ Focus on a sleek appearance

Tropical Garden Design Outcomes:

∎ Embraces lush foliage and vibrant blooms

∎ Conjure a paradise-like sanctuary

Customizing these outcomes to suit your unique context and preferences is imperative. Local climate, soil composition, sunlight exposure, and lifestyle considerations wield influence as you design your garden.

Beyond theories and concepts lies the exploration phase. Take a neighborhood walk for inspiration. Neighborhoods often share growing conditions, offering insights into plants that should thrive in your designs. Garden centers become places of exploration, not acquisition.

A beautifully landscaped home offers value, beauty, joy, and a space for creativity and wellness. Achieving this, however, requires understanding your garden's needs, considering hardscape elements, and selecting themes that align with your preferences.

The interplay of colors and plants shapes your garden's identity. Remember, the journey to a stunning garden is a path of self-discovery and connection with nature, creating a harmonious sanctuary that reflects both your personality and the natural world.

James Edwards is the horticulture manager at Minnetrista Museum & Gardens and an IAH-accredited horticulturalist, overseeing the 40-acre campus which includes 21 acres of ornamental and natural areas. He can be reached at 765-287-3563 or at

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