What To Do With An Overgrown Garden: HELP!!

– Posted in: Garden Design

Trusting that my fellow gardeners are never shy to give opinion when asked, I’m coming to you for some input on a challenge I’m currently facing in my own garden. Let me set the stage for you. The piece of land on which I garden was basically empty when I began, except for one maple tree. I have created, renovated, and nurtured it, and I’ve experienced joy, pain, frustration, and a slew of other emotions in it. There were years where I could not get enough of gardening: Every moment I was infused with ideas, new plant combinations I wanted to try, etc.

But within the past four years, my garden has gone stale. It started when my mother became very ill and I just wasn’t able to tend to it the way I wanted to. I knew at that time in my life the garden would be kind to me and allow me a respite. But even after my mother’s death, I was never able to renew the passion I had so strongly felt. Another factor may be that I am planning to sell my home within the next year and no longer want to put more of myself into the garden. I know it will be difficult for me to leave this garden but at the same time, I am ready to create a new garden for myself.

Even with all of that, I am contemplating renovating my top island bed garden, or possibly dismantling much of it, this fall, because it has become terribly overgrown. Rather than sticking to the island bed layout and re-designing with new plant material, my gut tells me that it’s time to throw restraint to the wind and go all out with planting a naturalized garden/meadow on the entire top level, taking out all pathways except for narrow ones that would allow one to meander through or weed when necessary.

Has anyone else out there gone through a “blue” period of gardening, where you just haven’t been able to motivate yourself into a creative, expansive mindset when gardening? If so, how have you handled it? And has this mood passed?

And finally, do you think I should stick with the basic island layout as shown in these pictures, and just dismantle and replant with some wonderful perennial and deciduous shrubs? Or, do you think I should have a last hurrah with this top garden area and go for the meadow/naturalized perennial look?

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at www.fransorin.com.

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Fran Sorin
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Saxon Holt October 18, 2007, 1:38 pm

Fran – As your fellow blogger and resident “expert” on natutalized meadow look (because I have spent a year reseaching and photographing them) I say STOP this fantasy !!!!

Meadows, like any garden style take years in the making, and without the gardeners maintenance quickly become weedy. Please do not take out your beautiful garden and put in a new one just in time to turn it over to a new homeowner.

I can’t honestly tell from your photos (knowing the camera always lies) what your issues are with the current garden. It is autumn and gardens always look overgrown and tired – because they are.

Prune and thin heavily and let a new owner revel in a garden you think is stale. Or let them renovate to a style they want. Please don’t style a garden just to sell it.

If you are set on a meadow, rip it all out and start with Prairie Nursery No-Mow fescue immediately. It will grow in fairly well in one year and provide a base planting for future owners’ own bunch grasses, forbs, and woodies.

All for now – must meet john Greenlee this afternoon and photograph a meadow installation – for someone who intends to keep the garden.


bev October 18, 2007, 6:27 pm


I am in a similar situation; planning to sell my house within the year. (I AM a little different in that I already have the house I am moving to and a garden there). I have been advised by my gardening friends to just simplify my existing garden for lower maintenance, while maintaining whatever beauty can be sustained; keeping in mind that the new owner may rip it all out and install grass anyway. In my suburban neighborhood of 100 +_houses, I can count the number of real gardens on one hand. So I say, don’t waste a lot of time on changing it; just go for what’s easy to maintain (and move what you love, to take to your new garden!)

Carol October 18, 2007, 9:42 pm

I agree. Clean up this garden, perhaps even simplify it a bit, then figure out what plants you want to move with you, if any, before you put your property up for sale. Hopefully, another gardener will buy it and be delighted to have a garden as pretty as the one you show above.

As for not being as excited about gardening? Perhaps a new garden will provide that spark you need to get fired up again.

Pam/Digging October 18, 2007, 11:40 pm

I agree with your other commenters. Don’t radically change your garden just to turn around and sell your property. Most non-gardeners wouldn’t appreciate a meadow anyway. I would just cut back your current garden, while planning your new one.

Like you, I’ve had blue gardening periods, but they often arise in the summer, when the weather in Texas is miserable for being outside. Then fall comes along, and I remember that I like to garden. It’ll come back to you too.

Jeff Joyner October 19, 2007, 4:20 am

I agree with simplification, and I’m in a similar situation; my Dad suffered a massive stroke 4 years ago, and my garden has become an overgrown jungle at this point. If I were to move at this point I would find have to remove tons of plant material, setting aside treasures I’d want to take with me in pots, renovate the lawn, and prepare myself for the truthful realization that most potential homebuyers are not looking for a real garden. On the positive side, I could leave behind the Vinca major, Cherokee rose, Miscanthus sinensis, Clematis virginiana, Iris pseudacorus, and all of the other things I’ve planted over the years which have become invasive thugs!

Benjamin October 19, 2007, 1:09 pm

Most buyers do NOT look for nice big gardens (I am a realtor and builder’s son). They come, look at the yard and say “Oh, how gorgeous” then they say “but I don’t think I want to take care of that” or “we’ll just have to rip that out–the kids need a football field, that’ll be too much money and effort” And how sad that is!! I’ve recently moved, still have my little old place for sale with it’s little old garden, and the longer it sits the more often I go back and steal a few plants (which helps me leave that place emotionally and kick me into new design ideas at the new place). Unethical I know to steal my plants since they are part of the package, but there are so many no one will notice–and they might rip it all out anyway.

That being said, I’ve always wondered where the line is. Realtors says it helps to have a lived in look ala landscaping, but people don’t apparently really want nice landscaping if they have to spend more than 30 mintues a year taking care of it. You all know this I’m sure. Sigh. I could go on–but I agree with others, leave it alone and start again joyfully, that will jumpstart you, no more blues, especially if you decide to put in a prairie type area which will be all new (myparents are doing such on 5 acres, and they were told it takes YEARS to see it coming into its own).

fsorin October 19, 2007, 5:04 pm

To all of you-

Thanks so much for your words of ‘wisdom’. You have helped me to see that trying to create a new setting would be a
waste of time and probably quite frustrating. And Benjamin, how right you are! When the realtor came to price my home, she said that my garden would not increase the value of my home but could actually be a liability: that folks in my neighborhood just want a flat property where their kids can go outside and play!! So much for beauty!! Fran

thess May 21, 2008, 10:55 pm

I feel your pain. After my father passed away I could not get back into my love and passion, my garden. But I started to think he was the reason I loved gardening and he would be sad if he “showed up” on my door step and saw it so unruly. I started to think of what would please him to see and I turned in to part of my healing process. This time I involved my daughter and later years my son into gardening ( I was 5 mos pregnant when my father died). I gave my children their own plot to plant and experiment and now I feel my father’s love lives in all of us through gardening!
In regards to moving, yes it was though when I had to do it. I thought I was never going to love another garden the way I loved that old garden. I divided my favorite perennials and some that had special meaning and had a friend of mine hold them in a part of her vegetable garden she was no using that year. The following spring I transplanted them to my new house. I know now it was all worth it when I stop to think that I have had some of these perennials for 18 to 20 years!
If moving far, give your favorites to someone that you love or appreciate and this way you can feel you have made someone’s garden special and you can always “visit” them!
Gardening to me is about improving not just your life through nurturing but sharing what you love with others and make them feel special. I share my favorite plants with everyone interested to have them, and gives me great pleasure to see I created beautiful gardens beyond my own.
My hobby and passion had in the last 8 years turned into a Landscape Design business and I truly love my job!

Thanks for your lovely and thoughtful post. How wise of you to get your children involved in gardening. Am glad that you’ve found your true passion through landscape designing…you clearly have followed your instincts and it has turned out beautifully for you. Kudos!! Fran

Rebecca May 16, 2010, 9:12 pm

I just stumbled across your site. What did you end up doing? (Your garden was lovely.)

Hi Rebecca,

Am glad you discovered Gardening Gone Wild. I did let the garden go wild AND unexpectedly I sold my home (and garden) last May so I am now in the process of creating a new garden. Am having alot of fun and it is a real challenge…I am living in a Zone 10 climate! Fran

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