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Less is More: How I Changed a Garden to Reflect a Changing Lifestyle


“Less is more.” 

The architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe may have underestimated just how spot-on his pearl of wisdom resonates with landscape architecture~garden design.

Why is it so much more work in order to get to less work?  

See, I’m referencing the Mies quote not just as the finished design but also, and particularly, with regard to the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into changing out and updating garden designs in order to get a beautiful but less maintenance and resources to support the gardens.   

In my professional garden design work, I have been honored to have worked for a clutch of clients for (gulp) more than 20 years! 

They privilege the design work by allowing me to update or change out their gardens (with their approval!) as the gardens naturally mature. After all, gardens are living art.  

It’s often said that gardens are the slowest of the performing arts. 

I encourage you to evaluate your garden designs as you stroll your yard and evaluate your various garden rooms. You can make notes, take photos, assess and dream. Get to the zen of things. 

Things to consider:

  • Are there too many plants crowding each other?

  • Alternatively, do you have too few plants, making your gardens look more like a gas station planting?

  • Do you have too many pots/containers with no real design composition

  • Did a recent tree removal (or growth) change out the space?

  • Do you utilize too many exotic plants rather than natives?  The natives will help sustain the ecosystem and feed the birds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. And your soul 🙂 

For me and Bill, I had been thinking over the winter about our changed lifestyle. 

I wanted to change and modify more than a few garden beds and “rooms” to:

  • streamline the look: I wanted a “cleaner” design ~ that “less is more” aesthetic

  • mitigate maintenance 

  • changing habits and uses for the gardens 

  • and in no small way, to reflect or acknowledge the change in weather or climate that now brings more aggressive storms, critters, invasives plants and weeds

I believe that the best time to make changes is in the spring or the autumn seasons. 

You should enjoy your summer in the garden!  

Plus, it’s too damn hot to be doing major renovations now. 


I often refer to Spring as the “Silly Season” because when one is a garden designer, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish so much in such a relatively short period of time.

Silly Season

Silliness aside, it’s no joke; there are oodles of “regular tasks” that should be completed in this most beautiful season.

While you bask in the spring ephemerals, the joy of tulips and peonies and lilacs and viburnum, to name just a few me and Bill ~ and my clients love ~ there is much to do. 

Besides planting annuals.

There is all the pruning of the spring shrubs and trees.  Folks often ask me when is the time to prune.  

A good way to remember is: 

“When it’s finished blooming, you can start pruning.”

Please don’t overlook this seasonal task. It’s healthier for the tree and shrub and will keep the plants in the size and look you want. How to prune is another subject we can address later. Or ask your horticulture team to make sure they prune.  Sadly, my observation is that in suburbia ~ almost no one is pruning anything. The mow, blow, and go crews do not know how to. By the time things are out of control, folks call in some kind of tree or shrub crews ~ often not certified arborists 🙁 to just cut.  This is not good for the health of the plant nor the beauty of your garden design, not to mention the safety and security of your home. 

It’s also better to weed in the spring. Catch those pesky buggers before they get menacing!

I hope these tips help you evaluate your garden design needs and dreams in order to change and maintain.

My Silly Season Garden Designs

I noted six-plus garden rooms I wanted/needed to change out. 

That’s in addition to all the pruning work.

This year we had the professional arborists come for a number of trees, not the least of which is our beloved Kwanzan Cherry Tree.  ahhhh. We have this work done biannually.

We also pruned back the cherry laurels ~ Prunus laurocerasus ~ that embrace and define the water garden. By three to four feet. Bill pruned them because they got so very tall! 

I cleaned up the cuttings. 

Bill pruned the Coral Bark tree ~ Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ ~ that is the arbor. 

I pruned the spring-blooming shrubs: viburnum, rhodies, and heavily pruned the abelia. Found a few great bird’s nests there! 

In terms of the six garden rooms/beds that needed reworking, I’ll review them with you one at a time and share lesson learned, tips, plants, and the delightful joy of the completed design and look. 

First up was the Shade Garden located just below the porch.

At one point we thought we’d put in a Japanese Soaking tub there.  

But tastes change with the times.  Before we could implement that design, we’d determined it wasn’t for us.

I’ll spare you all the details but essentially, I removed a nice oakleaf hydrangea that got too big for the space and took too much pruning. And oh, as it matured, it blocked Bill’s view of the bay.  I trained its limbs to fold down and trimmed/pruned its top for years. But that isn’t nice… (smile)

Here, you can see the blah garden behind a magazine photographer (who was there taking photos of our Independence Day tablescapes and gardens on the other side!) 

As you see, the rhodie and oak leaf were getting too big even then, and blocked the view from the porch. Plus, it was dark and well, just overlooked.  

It had potential. As quoted from Peanuts, “There is no greater burden than great potential.” 

I wanted to unlock that potential.

So removing the ornamental hydrangea and pruning the rhodie and taking out the pea gravel and ivy, and pulling out the planting area to create a a more natural, sinuous line of sight, I made a new bed.  

And less turf to mow.

It borders the lemon thread dwarf cypress evergreen and our adored outdoor shower.  

We look down on it from the terrace and porch above; look up to it from the Grillscape Garden Room.

Making the New Shade Garden

Here is the kinda before image. I had already taken out the hydrangea  and the bloody ivy. I usually neglect to take the “before” photos as I’m probably so focused on getting to work!

I had to build up a side wall to make the bed. I used rebars to brace the bricks and stones we had on property.

Bill putting in the rebars.

I sketched up the simple but rich plant design

I used a few plants I’d worked with previously that I knew and liked.  

I wanted an all-season interest: cool greens and reds; not a lot of blossoms or flowers. Yet, subtle color. I got that with the seasonal color changes in the plants I selected to drive the designed look. 

The hydrangeas will be the stars of the spring next year; the hydrangeas are the summer stars now; the hakonechloa in the autumn.

I aimed for texture and structure.

I got that in the grasses, the ferns, and ginger.

Picking up our newbies from the nursery: 

Here is the plant list ~ plants are in order from back to front planting:

  • Endless Summer® blue Bloomstruck hydrangea ~super lucious!

BloomStruck® Bigleaf Hydrangea | Endless Summer(photo:endlesssummerblooms pleasantrun)Hydrangea macrophylla Endless Summer® Bigleaf Hydrangea from Pleasant Run  Nursery

  • Lady in Red Ferns ~ Athyrium filix-femina. Love the delicate, light green, textured foliage and the red-violet stems

  • ‘Beni-kaze’ Hakonechloa macra ~ Japanese forest grasses ~ its green leaves turn red in late summer. I’m loving how, when I look down on the garden while doing my morning yoga, the forest grasses sway with the sea breezes.

    Overall, it’s a garden that appeals to all the senses.

 Beni Kaze Japanese Forest Grass | Gurney's Seed & Nursery Co. (photo: Gurneys)

  • Hellebores ~ Honeymoon Series’ ‘Rome in Red’~oooo la la.Helleborus 'Rome in Red' | Walters Gardens, Inc.(photo: Walters Gardens)

  • Native Ginger ~ Asarum canadense ~ rich looking front of border fav.

                   Asarum canadense (Canada wild ginger): Go Botany (photo: gobotany.nativeplants)

I added a few natural stones and rocks, a copper bird bath, plus mulch and a new brick garden bed border, along with a big ball night globe that I first saw in Aruba while dining at one of our favorite restaurants. I later found them to buy and have four ~ two different sizes that we use in various spots to add that evening glow. 

Bill added the solar lights to the new bed and, just like that, we had a revised, beautiful all-season, new shade garden that not only looks so much more interesting, but also better suited to our lifestyle now. 

Spring ~ right after planting: 




Mies also said, “God is in the details.”  

This garden now has lots of eye-catching, soothing yet exciting details. 

Thank god. And Mies 🙂

This is garden glamour.

Please enjoy.

* And please visit my new Shop ~ link is on the right. Under my Bio.

There, you can purchase the pretty, artful cocktail napkins I painted as an homage to Megan Fairchild, NYC Ballerina, who was a very special guest on my Ladies Who Lunch Conversations Facebook show.

These napkin designs, featuring Megan’s favorite cocktail: the Manhattan (naturally!) and toe shoes and cherries as cocktail “garnishes” are glamorously poised in front of the NYC skyline. They are the first in what will be the Ladies Who Lunch Collection.

Best part is that a portion of sales will go to the Ladies’ favorite cause~charity.

Thank you for your kind support.



  • Thank you so much for you kind words and helpful feedback.

  • Anonymous

    All so beautiful. Worth all the time and hard work. Love the napkins. Keep the information coming to us. Thank you.

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"Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

 I adore plants. Plants are my muse ~ they are my paramour… I’m a garden artist; a nature lover, & horticulturist. I’m an author & writer. My passion for culture & beauty, along with my trait curiosity, brings you an authentic celebration of life. I’m a storyteller ~ weaving the artful gifts of horticulture, garden design, tablescape decor, floral design, cocktail culture, garden-to-glass recipes & their glamorous garnishes, homegrown edibles, food & drink; & cooking, to bring you my flair & what I’ve been told is an avid elan ~ as well as the stories from those who inspire me ~ to pursue an elegant, enduring, & joyful, entertaining lifestyle. It’s an honor & a privilege to do what you love.

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