The Plant-Free Garden


Today, the Wall Street Journal has a deliberatively provocative piece called "The Concrete Gardener" about a big trend in gardening: no plants whatsoever.  Just hardscaping.  And TV’s, dishwashers, couches, hot tubs, and all the things that really make heading outdoors worthwhile.

Of course, here at Garden Rant headquarters, we think this is all horrible, reprehensible, these people ought to be stopped–except I was stopped by the accompanying photo of a side yard in Alexandria, VA.  Sideyard

Undeniably beautiful.  Utterly appropriate for its brick-Georgian-house-filled urban neighborhood.

If my non-gardening neighbors ever decided to replace their weeds and juniper-filled side yards with hardscaping of this quality, I’d applaud.


  1. What does it tell us about a landscape designer who himself can’t deal with the challenges of grass and poison ivy, so paves everything over? Sounds like another Susie Coelho to me – a designer who designs outdoors, not a gardener. Though I agree the pool he designed for the Alexandria site looks great, there’s still lots of green (on presumably real plants) in the photo.

  2. Ack! You’re freaking me out! Fake plants outdoors???!!!!

    OK, I’m all over that story. Meanwhile, I have to say that this sounds like a problem for the wealthy. Oh, my, it’s getting so hard to tend my massive garden that I’m just going to have–I don’t know–flagstones and brick put in. And granite countertops. Shit, I can’t afford granite countertops in my house, much less outside.

    And you’re right, that photo does look nice, but I see that as a small, city courtyard kind of deal, which seems totally appropriate. (And very green! Or are those fake plants?)

  3. Unless they are cleverly wonky fake plants they must be real, and in that case there is a lot of proper planting in the example.
    Does the US have the same flooding problems caused by too many paved gardens? Here in the uk all the city front gardens that have been paved or tarmaced for car parking are stopping rainwater getting absorbed into the ground and causing high waterlevels, flooding and water contamination. Another car related reason why London will drown if left to its own devices.

  4. Susie Coelho is a close to being a landscape designer, as I am as close to landing a role on Desperate Housewives.

    Now concernig the article, my real concern is the use of fake plants-that’s news to me. The expanding hardscape is not new-that is old news, TWJ needs to catch up.

  5. My blood is boiling. As much as I hate the thought of just ‘hardscaping’ I could only dream that my neighbors would hardscape as nicely in that photo – what we get here is asphalt everywhere around us so they can park their fucking cars…4 on the right (they surround them around their inground pool – I’ll have to post a pic to show you how absolutely ridiculous that is!!), 3 on the left and 7 to 9 behind us! Talk about drainage nightmare! If there was ever a grand RANT for gardenrant this would certainly be ours!
    – robert

  6. Fake plants? Isn’t that like the Brady Bunch’s back yard? Remember it had that fake lawn?

    NOT gardening, definitely NOT gardening. Next thing we know they will want to put giant domes over their houses to keep the rain off all the outdoor rooms that are 100% hardscape.

  7. Note that this is deceptive in that it is NOT low-maintenance. Those shrubs have to pruned regularly. The pool must be skimmed and hardscape swept daily (if not more often). The second you stop sweeping, more debris, leaves, and trash blow in.
    It is a more attractive setting than an asphalt pad for extra parking as is happening in my neighborhood as well, but don’t be deceived into thinking it is less work than other landscaping. The neighbors across the street replaced their whole side yard with cobble-stone pavers — a not unattractive treatment — however, EVERY morning they are out there with leafblowers whining away for an hour clearing off every leaf and speck. When are these things going to be banned?

  8. That is a good point – and all the maintenance would be more like housework(bad) than gardening (good).
    I took up gardening originally as I hate housework – it would be awful to have to vacuum the garden.

  9. Geez, you guys are a tough crowd. I think it looks great, and it’s not that large a paved space. You can catch a glimpse of their front yard, which looks pretty green to me. I say a courtyard here and there actually enhances a garden rather than detracting from it. It gets you out in it, gives you a space for a party, and keeps the mud off your shoes.

  10. Did I miss something? The link leads to a registration page. $99 for a online subscription to The Wall Street Journal so I can read “The Concrete Gardener”. I just wrote a post about The Sacramento Bee wanting my home phone number and physical address to register and this site wants $99? Yikes!

  11. Trey, sorry about that link! I guess you are only forwarded to the article if you’re already a subscriber. The Journal definitely charges.

    Well, I really like that side yard. I’m with Pam–a bit of hardscaping is really nice. I have a concrete and slate patio in my city yard. I’d never put such a thing in, but now that it’s there, I like it.

    Yes, it would be preferable if the asphalt-addicted idiots in particular would garden. But I do think we gardeners have to recognize that not everybody is going to garden–so I appreciate yards that look really good and that don’t need gardening. There’s a yard near me that is nothing but Bishop’s weed, grass, one spectacular dogwood, and one spectacular wisteria. I must say, it looks really good in a really minimal way.

    Of course the keenest comment of all is Jane’s–the housework/gardening divide disappears if you have too much hardscaping. Man, I HATE housework. I LIKE being dirty! That’s why I garden.

  12. Little bit of hardscape, mostly hardscape doesn’t really matter, I have been calling myself an outdoor maid for years when people ask me what I do for a living.

    While fake plants are some what appalling, if I had a nickel for every time I recommended silk plants to fussy clients who couldn’t keep a rock alive from exasperation over their inquiries for the perfect plant that required nothing of them, did nothing and never changed in any way, I would have a big bucket of nickels.

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