Messy gardens—they’re a trend!

Bedhead is always in style in the Licata garden
Bedhead is always in style in the Licata garden

Trend reports are kind of trivial in the grand scheme of things—we can all agree on that. But they can also be interesting, entertaining, or both. Or maybe they just reinforce things we’d like to see happen, regardless if they really do or not. For example, I like to declare that animal prints in home design are on the way out whenever I can. Sadly, this is not really true, but I’m an editor, so I can use my bully pulpit (to no avail, in this case).

For the last decade or so, Garden Media Group has been issuing a yearly trend report; some years I pay attention to it, other years not so much. I kind of like this year’s.

There is all the usual stuff about outdoor rooms, containers, sustainability, and so on, but two of the trends mesh with stuff that is really happening, or should really happen. Like these:

Rebel-hoods: Neighborhood residents are rebelling against and campaigning for the reversal of ordinances. They will work to transform the neighborhood to the agri-hood.

This is real, at least judging by what’s happening in Buffalo. We enacted a chicken ordinance a few years back and went through an urban farm battle at about the same time. Now we have urban farms (including an aquaponic complex) throughout the city and a prolific accumulation of community gardens has been in progress for much longer.  Yet, many of the older ordinances still in place are far too vague and people with perennial or (rarer) vegetable gardens in front of their houses often get harassed by neighbors who call the city complaint line about  “weeds.”  There has been progress, but not enough.

Bed Head Style: Purposefully un-styled outdoor spaces are the result of intentionally working within the natural landscape. This casual landscape style expresses an effortless personality with an “anything goes” attitude.

In my view, this is the way gardens naturally want to be. If you aspire to the highly manicured spaces beloved of modernist designers, you better be out there with the micropruners and tweezers every single day. Though I don’t know what they mean by “natural landscape,” I do know what purposefully un-styled means, and that’s often the best way to go, especially when your area is inflicted by boring, cookie cutter professional “landscaping,” as so many regions are. (Of course, you can’t have boring, cookie-cutter landscaping without  clients who say that’s what they want.) When people I know ask me whom they should call to “fix” their garden, I rarely have a recommendation to give. Because it just doesn’t work that way. I don’t think I have the slightest clue about what my natural landscape should be, but I do enjoy planting things I love and watching them grow. So that’s what I tell other people to do. There’s my trend.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. And once again, I have been ahead of the curve for decades. I’m a plant collector, and by definition a plant collector’s garden is messy. And proud of it, too. Now that I think of it, my gardening mirrors my housekeeping – and that’s all I have to say about that.

  2. LOVE IT- I purposefully bought my house outside of any neighborhood ordinances so no one could tell me what to do in my yard. I liken my yard to the cobbler whose children have not shoes, too busy for my own property! Thanks for posting.

  3. A pleasure to read Elizabeth! Twenty years ago my husband and I lived in Pasadena and used to walk in the evenings through the Huntington country of San Marino. In one of the front gardens on our route was a gorgeous raised bed veg garden and it gave us such a wicked thrill to think how the neighbors with the manicured gardens must have grumbled. I can appreciate a stunning manicured garden as much as the next person (because I never see it round here!), but the choice for such is personal. The power that has been given to HOAs etc.. brings out the worst in human nature, and inevitably, the worst in gardens – and that is why we live just outside of town now.

  4. As beautiful as well trimmed gardens are, sometimes it’s nice just to plant and let the wild character of nature take over! Messy gardens make me think of playing in my grandparent’s messy garden when I was in elementary school. It’s a very sentimental memory for me, so messy gardens hold a special place in my heart.

  5. By late July–the messier the better! September brings a neater look. I hand all this to the beauty and order of nature. Embrace the garden as it happens.

    • I agree. After all, most gardens get started by wanting this or that plant for butterflies & hummingbirds and then you want plants that self seed so you can have more hummingbirds & butterflies. I’m happy to have my style recognized at last!

  6. Despite my best efforts, I am now up with the latest trend. Ah well, the trend will change and those of us who love our messy, wildlife friendly gardens will still be doing (and not doing) the same things.

    Thank you.

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