How to fix an uninspiring garden

uninspiring garden
uninspiring garden

Do you feel there’s nothing wrong with your garden, but it’s still … dull? Here’s ways to diagnose and fix an uninspiring garden.

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow”.

– Audrey Hepburn

An uninspiring garden manages to be both dull and daunting. Dull because it has no character. And daunting because it’s hard to know where to fix it. But there are solutions. As a rule, a garden is uninspiring when the structural elements overwhelm the plants. Or when the plants themselves are generic.

Let’s look at each of those problems, and solutions, in more detail.

What does an uninspiring garden look like?

Is your garden similar to the gardens you see at a McDonald’s drive-through? That McDonald’s drive-through aesthetic is the natural result of lots of structural landscaping. There are many walls on display, but just 10 of the same plant.

Structural landscaping exists around commercial buildings for a reason. Often it has to do with zero-maintenance management of drainage and irrigation. Their plant choice is also often based on what’s available in bulk at a large home improvement and hardware chain.

That’s quite practical if you’re living in a fast-service restaurant. But if you want your garden to be an extension of your home and an expression of yourself, it’s going to be pretty depressing to look out on every day.

When we’re called on to fix gardens like that, the first thing we do is pull up all the unsuitable plants. If you want an interesting array of plants in your garden, you won’t be able to source every one of them from Bunnings (plus they tend to stock unsuitable varieties for our cold climate). 

To get some ideas, a day trip to the local Botanic Gardens in Mt Tomah or any of the open gardens in Mt Wilson are always a source of great inspiration. Also find the locally owned older-style nurseries. Nursery staff are passionate gardeners that love waking up to the smell of blood and bone and have liquid fertiliser running though their veins. Locally based, they offer a wider range of possibilities for your climate and can point you in the right direction. 

What to keep in an uninspiring garden?

Equally as problematic as the hyper-structural landscape is the older, overgrown cottage garden. A great temptation when faced with that is to rip everything out and start from scratch. But the problem with doing that is you end up with a big backyard of nothing. A blank slate is just as hard to stare at as a bland retaining wall.

We do restore a lot of older gardens. When we do, the first thing we look for is whether there are any old plants there that we can use as anchor points. I explain it this way: the gnarled old tree buried amongst weeds was probably planted 50 years ago. It may well be there for another 30 years. The person who originally planted it is long gone. But that’s the very reason you should hang on to it. 

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.

– Greek proverb

Old isn’t bad

The age of a garden adds a lot of value to a property. Potential buyers will see that big old tree as an asset. Certainly, if they plant a young one of the same genus, there’s every chance they’ll not see it mature. So hanging on to the best of the old is often a really good idea.

Real estate agents will tell you a well-maintained and established garden will add incredible value to the price of a property. So it’s absolutely worth looking at what you have in your less-than-exciting garden. Your aim is to see whether it can be built upon.

As a general rule, a bit of planning and design goes a long way. Add some interesting plants and not too much structural landscaping and you have the answer to an uninspiring garden.