Home Improvement: A Minimalist Garden


As a financial impact on the appraised value of a home, gardens and landscaping are practically worthless. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t impact a home’s sale price, it’s saleability or the homeowners’s enjoyment of the property.

Extensive gardens can be a lot of work and money. A minimalist garden can be a tasteful and upscale way to have your cake and eat it to: inexpensive beauty with low maintenance. Today we turn to the experts at Architectural Digest and Julie Ferris to walk us through making a decision on a minimalist garden.


When it comes to gardens, ornate displays with manicured hedges have been the gold standard throughout history. (One word: Versailles.) But more recently, minimalist designs have made the jump from interiors and taken root outside. “Looking at your garden should not make you think of your to-do list,” says Julie Farris, a New York–based landscape designer who has made a name for herself with her understated plans. “It should actually be the opposite. A minimalist garden can be powerful and beautiful without demanding too much of you in the way of upkeep and money.” We couldn’t agree more.

Here are some tips on how to maintain a streamlined aesthetic in your outdoor space, whether you’ve got a small urban terrace or a more sprawling tract.

Garden Minimalist ~ Wissel Homes


Decide If It Makes Sense For You

“The choice of whether to have a minimalist garden really does depend on personal style, as well as the architectural style of your home. The flow from inside to outside should feel seamless, so if you have a modern aesthetic, a minimalist garden can be a natural outdoor extension of your interior look. You also need to consider your actual lifestyle rather than your idealized version of it. If your life involves kids, dogs, or both, designing to accommodate things like storage, irrigation, a barbecue, a place to sit, and shade are important. It should be beautiful, of course, but it should also be inviting and comfortable.”

Garden Planning ~ Wissel Homes

Plot out Your Space

“Urban backyards are great canvases for minimalist gardens because they can become quiet and enclosed mini-natural escapes within the busy city context. Plus, I think it’s easier to create a minimalist garden in a small space. I like to borrow from the Japanese tradition of visualizing gardens as miniaturized nature, because they do it best: the balance they achieve by pairing plants in twos, threes, fives, and sevens; an understanding of scale; the use of stone, moss, and evergreens—all can make a space feel timeless.”



Choose Your Materials ~ Wisely

“I generally choose enduring materials that can hold their own in a balanced composition. For example, in the garden shown, I used limestone for the patio, steel for the planter, and gravel, bamboo, and boxwood in an asymmetrical composition. Each material is extremely hardy and weather-resistant, and has a distinct and compelling color and texture that can stand on its own. Believe it or not, I use synthetic lawn quite often in urban gardens because it is green all the time, requires practically no maintenance since it’s recycled plastic—so it’s sustainable—and, if edged well, can look quite modern. It’s also dog- and child-friendly, and mosquitos don’t like it as much as a real lawn, either.”


Garden Spaces ~ Wissel Homes

Create Boundaries ~ More than Personal Space

“Edging and the definition of form is an important characteristic in a garden. I like using steel edging that has a substantial thickness (one-fourth inch) to separate materials and specifically define planting beds. With that thickness, they don’t warp or bend over time. I personally like more muted natural hardscape materials like wood, granite, limestone, and bluestone so that the plants can be in relief against this kind of quiet backdrop.”

Garden Minimalism ~ Wissel Homes

Plant the Seeds ~ Metaphorically and Literally

“An obvious benefit of a minimalist garden is that you have fewer plants to worry about, but this can be a double-edged sword, because the plants you do choose need to provide structure and perform throughout the year, so the pressure is on. I love deciduous trees with unusual branching and bark like the crepe myrtle, stewartia, and the birch; ornamental grasses like Nasella, Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster,’ Pennisetum, and Deschampsia; and perennial flowers like echinacea, with large seed heads, have a presence even when they go dormant. Some people don’t like plants that look ‘dead’ in winter, but I believe that one reason to live in a climate with four distinct seasons is that you actually get to see plants express this very seasonality. For those who prefer an all-season greenness, evergreens like boxwood, bamboo, laurels, and pines are some of my favorite go-to plants.”

All great ideas. But that’s not all…

You see we’re avid gardeners here at Wissel Homes as well. We know the enjoyment they can bring and how their aesthetics can take a home from zero to hero. So we’ve got a few additional suggestions for our Central Maryland environment.

Garden Color ~ Wissel Homes


Consider Color ~ All of it

Be conscious of the plants and colors that you use. There are a lot of beautiful perennials out there that have stunning impact during a specific range, and then go back to just being green. Add plants that might give more interest with variate leaves or unique varietals. Massed color is a surefire way to create impact. If you have to choose just one (or two) blooming plants in a tight space, make sure that it counts.  Reds, Oranges, Whites and Yellows show up better from a distance than pinks, violets and purples. Don’t be afraid about designating a small pot or area to just annuals with big color impact. You can toss it at the end of the season and pick a new color next year.

Garden Structure ~ Wissel Homes

Use Plantings to Create Architecture

If your house is mostly horizontal – like a rancher – perhaps use garden plantings like a spiky cypress to give vertical interest. Don’t be afraid to build structure. Living walls, hedges, and shapes can all be created with plantings. There are many varieties of plants that can be pruned into hedges or topiary. While topiary and trimmed hedges can increase your maintenance, most hedge plants only need to be pruned in the spring and fall.

Take advantage of the internet when searching for plants. Don’t just grab the first shrub off the shelf at Home Depot or your nursery. Take a picture of the tag and research the variety. Many local nurseries and stores stock plants which have had some specialization bred into them. The same plant could have two sub-varieties, one small and one tall. Take a close look at the growth patterns, size and shape. It won’t do to put the “perfect” plant in a small space only to realize it grows 5 feet wide and 20 feet tall. Do your research on what you want.

Garden Feature ~ Wissel Homes



Consider a Feature

Don’t feel shy about adding something really interesting to your minimalist garden. An old urn or mechanical piece, sculpture, an “object de Arte”, a water feature like a small pool or fountain, a reflecting globe, even a pink flamingo can all give your small space a personalized flair.

I like to look at minimalist gardens as a narrowly focused vision. The palate is edited as are the details. A minimal garden is all about focus. You want viewers to look at certain things, move through the space in a specific way. Adding a unique feature is easy to give your small minimal space personality and make a statement.

Native Garden ~ Wissel Homes


Go Native

Every region has it’s own unique plants and vegetation. Native plants are localized to your area and generally are hardier than most other plants. It doesn’t mean you can plant them and totally forget about them, but its not far from the truth. Native plants can include wildflowers, shrubs, creeping plants, ferns, or unique trees. These plants are also generally better for the local animals, butterflies and birds. Native plants often have a symbiotic relationship with the local wildlife and can improve your environment just by planting them.

If you don’t know what plants are native to your area, ask your local nursery or check with your friend the internet. It’s worth mentioning that you should also find out how invasive a plant you plan to plant is. Native or not, some plants are so good at growing in their environment that they are considered invasive.


The professionals at Wissel Homes know the Central Maryland market because it’s our home too. We live and breathe the local neighborhoods in Howard County, Carroll County, Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County and more. We understand what it takes to get the job done right. Contact us today to set up an appointment to list your home or to start the home buying process. Let our experience help move you into your dream home.