What to know before you grow

What Should Beginning Gardeners Plant in Their Yards?

The secret to getting that Secret Garden look.

By Catherine Wendlandt May 20, 2020

All spring we’ve been cooped up inside our homes, watching Tiger King and finding little home projects, like finally cleaning out our closets, but now’s the thyme to get out and spruce up our home gardens.  

“It feels good to be in the yard,” says Ginger Barber, a local interior designer with 40 years of experience. “I love it. It’s therapeutic to get out there and just get filthy dirty, cutting and trimming, weeding things out.”

Barber, who’s had her own interior design firm in Houston for 30 years, says one of the keys to a beautifully designed home is to make sure the outside is cohesive with the inside, so she often works with her clients on the landscaping of their yards.

We asked Barber to answer all of our burning questions about how to get that perfect garden look, even if we're severely lacking a green thumb. 

What should I know before I grow?

“You don’t really need to know a lot,” she says. “You need water, and sun, and just what God gave us.” Start with simple plants, get some dirt and fertilizer from the local store, and make sure you have some sort of water system in place. Barber herself uses a drip system for her herbs so she doesn’t have to manually water them every day.

In Ginger Barber's home potting table, she likes to plant herbs she can use in her cooking. 

How should I actually begin?

If you’re a beginner, Barber recommends starting out with a potting table—especially if you live in an apartment and have a balcony. Get a table, buy a few clay pots, and plant some herbs, like mint, basil, and tarragon. “Mint goes absolutely nuts,” she says. “You can’t kill mint.” Plus, you can use it in your cooking. Barber suggests sprinkling ground up chocolate mint on top of ice cream.

What should I try in my backyard?

Dwarf olives and yew are pretty easy to attempt in your backyard garden and are great for landscaping, Barber says. Yaupon holly shrub is a good replacement for boxwood, which can die easily, despite being a perennial plant. If you want something to put in a pot on your deck, try holly fern. For flowers, Barber prefers Gerber daisies and lavender. She says she also has “gardenias that are blooming their little hearts out” on her deck. 

I live in an apartment and don’t have any outdoor space. What should I do?

While not a proponent of ficuses and corn plants, Barber likes ZZ plants, which like low light and kind of look like the spikes on a stegosaurus, she says. She also really enjoys flowers, like orchids, on her desk for a pop of color. You can also just buy a nice fake, she says. “You can’t tell unless you walk up to it.”

I want my garden to have a certain aesthetic, what should I plant?

Barber gave us recommendations for three different looks to try in your garden, depending on your personal taste. 

Southwest Garden

For an easy Western look, similar to something you might see in dry climates like Arizona, Barber suggests embracing grasses, like dwarf pampas grass, which can grow between 10–13 feet. “I love grasses,” she says. “There’s just no maintenance to them.” Plant these in clusters, and maybe add a cactus in your yard to top it all off.

Tropical Garden

Although she’s a Florida-native, Barber herself is not the biggest fan of tropical-themed gardens. But if you’re gunning for that aesthetic, try banana leaf plants, which like warm, humid climates—perfect for Houston. “If the banana leaves are big, that can be quite pretty,” she says. Barber also recommends bamboo and Bird of Paradise. 

English Garden

To get that classic English garden look, akin to the Secret Garden, just go crazy. Barber suggests herbs, lavender, and roses. “It’s eclectic and busy and even the weeds look good.” She’s a big fan of climbing plants, too, like ivy, Virginia creeper, and wisteria, which she has growing up the walls of her garage and design studio. “I’ve got some that’s been on here for 10 years that’s all truncated and twisted and just beautiful,” she says.  

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