The Seven Deadly Sins of Landscaping – Sinners Beware!


    Guest Rant by Lori Hawkins

    Just as Dante identified the seven deadly sins in his Inferno, so we will explore the cardinal sins of the landscaping world.  Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride are all alive and well!  They will all be identified with examples of the offenses.  No names will be used, but surely the sin of the offenders will find them out.  ‘Yeah’ though we walk through the valley of the shadow of Garden Gnomes we will fear no evil!  Let’s begin our journey:


    Lustalso known as lechery, is derived from the Latin, objet d‘artmultus, meaning much artwork. This sin could be best identified by intense or unbridled desire. For anyone afflicted by this vice, one of anything will never be enough. Their garden overflow-eth with yard art, gazing balls and garden fairies.  You will truly know this sinner by their fruits:

    •    Inappropriate or overuse of yard ornamentation: Too many ceramic figurines, flower choices, birdbaths, fountains, etc.

    •    Over improvements to the landscape: A Koi pond, a large fountain, and five birdbaths do not all belong on the same 10 foot plot.


    Gluttony. Derived from the Latin floracophany, meaning to assault the garden, gluttony is the over-indulgence of anything to the point of waste. This sin was first identified in the yards of kindly grandmothers, where the sin took root. Contemporary examples of this can be seen in:

    •    Random use of any and all plant material, regardless of appropriateness or function.

    •    Leaving near-dead shrubs and broken amenities for nostalgia sake. Maybe Aunt Tillie’s dead rosebush just needs to go!


    Greed (Latin, Multifontis), also known as avarice or covetousness, is also a sin of excess. Greed, however, is usually seen as an excessive pursuit of material possessions. This sin manifests itself in:

    •    Over-use of inappropriate, even grandiose, features in the landscape. 


    Envy. Like greed and lust, envy (Latin, iwanta) is characterized by an unquenchable desire. Envy can also be characterized by discontent towards one’s current situation. Another attribute of the envious is their inability to possess the object of their affection. Observe the envy in these examples:

    •    Using objects that should never be used in landscaping, i.e. car tires as planters, fountains, etc.

    •    Inappropriate or tacky focal points.

    sinner5 wrath

    Wrath (Latin, Ipruna), also known as “rage,” may be described as inordinate or uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. Wrath, in its most severe form, includes destructive and even violent behavior. See this vice manifested in:

    •    Practice of unnatural pruning all shrubbery into small meatball-like shapes

    •    Crape Murder (i.e. unnatural pruning of Crape Myrtles.)


    Conversely, Sloth (Latin, Inopruna) is most often defined as physical laziness. As seen in the following example, Sloth is indeed a deadly affliction. This vice manifests itself in:

    •    No pruning or ongoing maintenance of the yard

    •    No landscaping at all. This is especially evident in a large or estate style home devoid of landscaping.

    sinner7 pride

    Pride (Latin, watchmedoit)  is considered the original and most serious of the deadly sins and the source of all others. Pride can also be described as an unnatural elevated belief in one’s ability. This vice can have many strange manifestations, as seen here.  This sinner has trouble leaving the big jobs to the professionals! 

    Yes, salvation from these cardinal sins IS possible. Just when you imagined all hope was lost, you can find redemption from the landscaping gods. Here are some acts that may appease them:

    •    Simplify the impact of your focal points by limiting them to one really spectacular one, two at most. Less IS more!

    •    Group plants you love in 3’s, 5’s, 7’s, keeping larger plants at the back of the bed and smaller in the front.

    •    Stay away from any landscape element that will draw attention away from your house or be an eyesore to your neighbor.

    •    Prune judiciously, retaining the natural shape of the plant material.

    •    Hire a professional for larger projects! 

    Lori Hawkins, ASLA has been a practicing landscape architect out of the Greensboro, NC area since 1999. Wife, mother to three grown daughters and an ever expanding family. She blogs at Musings of a Garden Diva


    1. Oh dear. While I understand that this article is mostly intended as tongue-in-cheek and I did recognize some valid points, I just can’t get behind the cookie cutter tips offered there at the end. Yes, following these instructions will probably result in a yard that is inoffensive and unmemorable to most. But I don’t much see the point in that. Go ahead and choose a monoculture lawn with a well behaved shrub here and there if you care that little about actual gardening.

      • Hi Laura:

        Yes, this was definitely meant to be tongue in cheek- my first attempt at a satirical piece! I see I will need to keep my day job and not take my comedy to the road:)

        • Hi Lori, Oh I found the article very amusing and certainly did appreciate some of your points. I think part of my issue may have had to do with some of the photos chosen to illustrate the “sins.” The gardens in the lust, gluttony, and pride pictures all resemble mine in some way and I find them completely charming. Yes, if you want things to look neat and magazine-perfect then hire a professional and do away with the frippery. Same with any other space in one’s home.

      • As an English teacher who has taught Dante, I loved this piece! What a great satire. Except, I totally with everything you said. Who wants tacky garden crap in their yard? It’s looks bad.

        One of my neighbors took an old mattress and the old wire framed bedding, chucked it in their yard and threw pots on top. It looked so bad! It’s like, um, you live in really nice house, please don’t do that! They finally got the hint and took the monstrosity down!

        • I am glad that you enjoyed my attempt at satire Laura! I understand where you are coming from. As a Landscape Architect, I feel that I have to be the ‘middle man’ in between the wants and desires of many people who live in and around a space that I am designing. The homeowner may want one thing, her spouse may want another. Their next door neighbor may stop my crew and try to get them to do something else (YES! That happens.) Needless to say, there are many parameters to be taken into consideration, but ultimately the homeowner makes the final decision. I have had to steer a customer away from a design element, due to the issues with the neighbors. Lots to consider! Thanks for your comment.

      • I’d wager that there is some third option that can stand beside the tired, unsuccessful monstrosities pictured in this article and the “inoffensive and unmemorable” gardens that Laura posits as the alternative.

        I think two things are true: most people garden according to their own taste, and most people have tastes in gardens that trained observers find questionable.

        It’s hard to imagine why a gardener who finds their own yard charming, and has no desire to consider the opinions of anyone else, would give much thought to an article of this type.

        Which, I suspect, is fine since they are not the intended audience.

        • Vincent-
          Welp, I for one certainly have no desire to consider the opinion of someone who might consider my humble little garden to be a “tired, unsuccessful monstrosity,” but, yes, I agree that there is often a middle ground. We often can honor our own personal tastes in our gardens without offending (most of)our neighbors. Unless of course our neighbors subscribe to the rigid rule set outlined above and find plants grouped in even numbers and multiple focal points offensive.

    2. Ok. I agree with so much if this, but tires shouldn’t be used as planters? You’ve lost your mind.
      In the South, no respectful garden doesn’t have a painted tire planter. And seriously, they can be very good.
      But I’m also not appreciating the comments at the end.
      None of that is relevant to a good designer. I never group plants in odd numbers, for instance. Give me 4 of anything!
      And an ugly house certainly should not get the attention in the landscape.
      And check out the work of Pearl Fryar for tips on pruning.
      Remember that gardening is an art form. Creativity and innovation get the best results.

    3. Oh I am guilty of these sins, certainly. Especially in my neighbors’ eyes. I prune too much or not enough. Parts of my garden are woefully neglected because I’m too lazy to deal with the problems therein. I find a plant I like and plant it in abundance. Bird feeders? A dozen or so in my plot of suburbia. I find things I like (or the kids do) and it stays in my yard until well past the point of usefulness or attractiveness or impact. No professional will ever touch my garden. It’s mine.

      But I am also unrepentant. It’s my garden and I don’t create it (not “didn’t” since it is never done being created) for anyone but myself and my family. Mostly for myself. Bad enough I have to live in a cookie-cutter home. I won’t have my landscaping also fit into a mold.

      • HI Laura:

        Thanks so much for your comments- yes, I am guilty of all of these too! Mostly gluttonly. . . . and sloth (since I am never home to work on my own yard!) I think the best way to describe my examples are silly and ridiculous, which is what I was aiming at. Enjoy your garden!

    4. A whole lot of preaching going on in this Rant, eh? Along with what I can only assume is a pretty heavy dose of ironic holier-than-thouness. I loved the picture of the ski lift gondola – it would be pretty cool in a garden up here.

    5. I also love the ski lift! I love seeing stuff in a garden that is unexpected. When I was little the garden in our apartment complex had a VW bus with no wheels or doors. It was kinda tacky but so much fun to play in!

    6. Like the analogy that you did with the 7 deadly sins. Anyways, it boils down to this: you know, just make use of what you have and don’t go overboard. Right? I guess when you are too ambitious about your landscaping project, it may lead to disaster. Thanks for this eye opener, by the way!

      • Hi Oliver:

        YES- You got it! I was just trying to use some quirky humor, which sometimes works and sometimes, not so much:) Actually most of the gardens I see are absolutely lovely and many gardens I have designed have yard art and unusual focal points. The thrust of what I see that might be considered ‘unattractive’ (in some people’s opinion) is oftentimes just too much of a good thing. I would say as a landscaper you know what I mean. Thanks for the comment!

    7. This looks like the deadly sins of landscaping, not gardening. I have a tiny property and if I planted 3, 5 or 7 of everything I’d only have about 3 different things! So instead I “designed” a garden to be seen up close and personal. It may not make a great landscape but when I’m sitting in the garden there’s a lot to enjoy!

      • Diana:

        I also agree that the scale of the space has to be taken into consideration as well. A small garden would be overcrowded with too many of one variety. Sounds like you’ve got the right attitude- Enjoy yourself and have fun with it!

    8. Respect your first attempt at satire, and REALLY respect any one who puts there words or images or art out there for others…takes courage.

      This said, in my mind there is only one deadly sin of gardening: any action that harms ecoystems at a micro or macro scale.

      • I couldn’t agree with you more Barrie about protecting our ecosystems! In reality, gardening is much more of an art form than ‘landscaping’- which is mostly only for aesthetic purposes. I do have to say that many of my customers are much more educated on green practices for fertilizing, weed control etc. so we have come a long way.

    9. I agree with Laura and Barrie Collins. Protect the ecosystem and encourage creativity. I find too many people are afraid to do much in case someone else thinks that it is wrong. Go wild!


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