Bringing Together Beauty and Nature in the Garden

        Are you fascinated with the promise of a garden that shines both aesthetically and ecologically?

A garden that

  • Bounces back from stressors, like droughts or storms

  • Self-fertilizes by recycling the present organic matter and nutrients

  • Captures rain so the plants aren't reliant on supplemental watering (you)

  • Connects habitats, so that animals, insects, and even seeds can move across a built-up, human environment


We are too. HOW do we achieve this in gardens that are ALSO beautiful and feel good to be in?  


Naturalistic gardens can appear messy and unkempt, or not look like a garden at all.  The ecological benefits are often invisible, operating over the long term or on a microscopic scale.  

In her essay “Messy Ecosystems, Orderly Frames”, Joan Iverson Nassauer, professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Michigan, says "the dominant culture reads a neat, orderly landscape as a sign of neighborliness, hard work, and pride," qualities which rarely contribute to the flourishing of local ecology.

Her solution for the "messy" appearance of our yard ecosystems is to frame them in an orderly fashion.  Nassauer calls these frames cues to care.


We see the most success with the following cues:

  • Wide pathways with mowed, crisp edges

  • Limbed-up or pruned shrubs

  • Linear, geometric, and level garden edges and spaces

  • Garden art and built wildlife habitats such as bee hotels and birdhouses

  • Painted fences, retaining walls, and other structures

  • A high proportion of flowers to foliage (splashes of color)

  • Plantings along the foundation of a house


These design elements send the signal that the space is cared for.  As designers, we are working with the ecology, the existing elements of the site, and what you find beautiful. Through smart design, we can compose gardens that are vibrant places for people AND the more-than-human environment.

Using defined edges and garden art.

Using defined edges and garden art.

            How have you worked with this balance?  What’s your next step, what are your challenges? Wondering how to bring more humming, buzzing, chirping ecology into your garden?  Leave a question or comment by clicking on the title above, we love to hear from you!