Gardeners are moving away from the goal of a picture-perfect, neatly trimmed landscape and becoming more comfortable with nature’s “imperfections,” according to a 2018 garden-trends report from the Garden Media Group.

A more hands-off, naturalistic look is gaining popularity
A more hands-off, naturalistic look is gaining popularity over neatly trimmed hedges.
George Weigel

The Japanese have long embraced this idea and have a name for it: “wabi-sabi,” which means an appreciation of the imperfections in life.

“Applying that perfectly imperfect attitude to the garden encourages an imitation of nature in a way that allows people to relax and appreciate humble and imperfect forms,” says Katie Dubow, creative director of Garden Media Group.

Here are some examples of how American gardeners are becoming more relaxed in their yard care:

  • Spraying less. Rather than try to kill anything that crawls as soon as possible, gardeners are allowing “good bugs” to fight it out with “bad bugs” and accepting some plant damage in the process. They’re also more concerned about harming butterflies, bees and other pollinating insects and opting for more targeted oils and soaps when they do spray.
  • Trimming less. Loose, natural growth habits are gradually replacing work-heavy hedges and shrubs that are regularly sheared into boxes and balls.
Leave spent boolms for the birds to forage seeds
Rather than “deadheading” spent blooms, gardeners can leave them be for birds to forage seeds.
  • Deadheading less. “Deadheading” is the process of removing spent flowers. It neatens plants and encourages continuing blooms, but more gardeners are opting to let the browned-out flowers alone to develop into seeds that feed birds. It also saves work.
  • “Sanitizing” less. Gardeners are moving away from total “fall cleanups” and allowing fallen leaves to serve as nature’s winter plant insulation and eventually new soil as the leaves break down. They’re also allowing frost-killed perennials to stay in the garden over winter as shelter for beneficial insects and as food and nesting material for birds.
  • Imperfect lawns. Gardeners are less demanding of perfect, green-carpet lawns and more accepting of some weeds – especially clover, which is a favorite bee crop and a plant that produces nitrogen that’s a key nutrient for turfgrass.
  • Imperfect design. Natural, local and sustainable materials are the trends in accessories for the landscape as opposed to manufactured items. Examples: old iron gates repurposed into arbors, stone sourced from local mountains and quarries, and wood edging instead of plastic.