The Dos and Don’ts of Gardening, According to Two Landscape Stars

·4-min read
Photo credit: Tyler Sargent
Photo credit: Tyler Sargent

Who isn’t thinking about a garden these days? But if you’re at a loss when it comes to your (unmanicured) lot in life, or simply looking to start out, Fernando Wong and Tim Johnson, the duo behind the landscape design firm Fernando Wong Outdoor Living Design, are here to help. Wong, who is currently on the new Discovery+ gardening show Clipped with TV personality Chris Lambton and domestic goddess Martha Stewart, joined Johnson to share with ELLE DECOR their foolproof tips for planning a garden and making it thrive for seasons to come. And speaking of seasons, be sure to tune into the finale of Clipped on June 16.

Do: Invest in Your Landscaping (and Yourself)

If your backyard became your sanctuary during the pandemic, it’s time to give it some TLC in return. “We’re coming out of a year where the garden has always been there for you,” Wong says. “If it’s possible, invest in a good lawn service. Maintain your trees or even grow some edible flowers for yourself.”

Do: Think like an Interior Designer

As with any good design project, it’s pivotal to approach your garden with a plan—even if it’s an incremental one. Wong advises first focusing on your trees and then prioritizing privacy elements, like hedging. Once those major elements are in place, you can begin work from the periphery inward. “You can implement things over time when funding becomes available,” Wong explains.

Photo credit: Nickolas Sargent
Photo credit: Nickolas Sargent

Planting close to your house? Keep it manicured. “We always want to use classical principles of design,” Wong continues, who is fond of using boxwood hedges as privacy screens, and a topiary or two. Then as you move away from your home, the design can become more wild and meadowlike.

Working on a flower bed? Approach it as you would your living room, choosing tones and colors to suit. Says Wong of his firm’s strategy, “We try to match soft colors and not use a lot of hot or harsh colors.”

Don’t: Shell Out for Exotic Varieties

Even though they can be showstoppers, exotic plants are no longer de rigueur, according to Johnson. Instead, turn to local species. Not only are they beautiful, hearty, and sustainable, you’ll be doing the rest of the critters in your area a favor. “By using native plants, you not only use less water and fertilizers and pesticides,” he explains, “but there’s this whole ecosystem that when you plant natives comes back because it attracts different insects and birds. You bring back all this nature by using natives.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Fernando Wong Outdoor Living
Photo credit: Courtesy of Fernando Wong Outdoor Living

Do: Consider a Kitchen Garden

Not ready to tackle your entire yard just yet? Try a trendy kitchen garden. We’ve seen a huge increase in people asking for kitchen gardens with raised beds,” Johnson observes. “People are focusing much more on growing their own food, and being able to go out to their garden and pick the salad or a tomato or get a lime from a tree.”

Do: Start Small—and Ask for Help

If you’re brand new to gardening, “start with indoor plants,” Wong insists.

Lucky enough to have an outdoor space but at a loss what to do with it? “Start with an inspirational photo. Think about how you what your backyard to feel,” Wong continues. “Then with that photograph go to Home Depot or a garden center. You’ll get so much gratification from learning about gardening.”

For garden newbies and green thumbs alike, Johnson recommends the plant app Picture This. “It can literally identify millions of plants. If you see something you love, it’ll tell you what it is.” he says. “Also, if there’s a brown leaf, it’ll tell you what’s wrong with your plant.”

Don’t: Love Your Plants Too Much

“Eighty percent of houseplant homicides are from overwatering,” Johnson warns. “You want to soak it, but let it dry out again.”

Do: Socially Distance Your Plants

According to Johnson, many first-time gardeners commit the error of cramming their new plants too closely together—a move that can inhibit plants reaching their full, lush potential. “First time gardeners often don’t give plants a chance to grow,” he says. “A garden should look nice when it goes in, but it should grow and mature and get more beautiful over time.”

And that leads to Johnson’s final—and perhaps most important—point: “Be patient.”

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