Courtesy Lisa Wright
Gardener Lisa Wright hired a garden coach to receive professional input on choosing plants and their locations in her garden.
Jennifer Hayden’s home was once a rental property that featured an acre of dead grass, bare patches and bark shavings surrounding a European-style house.
Hayden, a fourth-grade teacher, had dreamed of owning a home that included an English flower garden.
“I had never gardened before in my life,” she says. “My daughter lived with me when I first moved in and gave me grief, telling me what a waste of money and time my garden idea was.”
Just two years later, with the assistance of garden coach Kathy Green, Hayden transformed the once-bare yard into a beautiful English garden that others regularly compliment.
Green’s Colorado garden-coaching business, All Things in Nature, offers her clients education, instruction and expertise from her more than 40 years of gardening experience.
Coaching between Denver and Colorado Springs, Green helps clients identify plants that will grow well in the region’s high altitude and desert-like climate. In an area that experiences the largest amount of hail in the country, huge fluctuations in temperature and abundant wildlife, this garden coach provides advice on selecting plants that are drought-tolerant, hardy, and less likely to be eaten by deer and rabbits.
“I focus mainly on helping people learn how to garden without using artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides,” Green says. “In our community, people want things to look natural, because we live among the mountains. I have clients who don’t want much grass in their yard. I help them determine what they can do instead of having a lawn.”
Courtesy Lisa Wright
With the help of a gardening coach, Lisa Wright transformed her garden from one with no structure (see above photo) into one that made gardening fun and easy.
Cultivating New Gardening Skills
Garden coach Susan Harris was serving as president of her Takoma Park, Md., area garden club when a new member asked her what she would charge to teach her to garden. Harris’s first client recommended her to a lot of other people, and her garden-coaching business, TheGardeningCoach.com, took off.
“Many new homeowners don’t know which established plants are keepers and which are weeds,” Harris says. “It’s hard to study and learn about all the plants on your property. Hiring a garden coach can provide you with a resource who knows the planting zone, may be a master gardener and has years of gardening experience to offer. A garden coach can walk through your garden and teach you what to do. The biggest skill I teach is pruning.”
Experienced gardeners work with garden coaches, too. Harris says that experienced gardeners often have an area of their garden they just aren’t happy with. They may have problems they can’t fix or a plant they’ve barely kept alive for years. A garden coach serves as a peer in gardening—someone who brings a fresh eye, a voice of encouragement, new design suggestions and ideas.
“Some plants in gardens have seen better days,” Harris explains. “They are too big for their spot right next to the house, having outgrown their location. They look bad, or they look bad where they are and aren’t candidates for transplanting. Some gardeners need to hear someone else’s thoughts or permission to send the plant to the compost pile.”
Both Harris and Green teach their clients how to plant and care for their plants themselves. A garden can look good while being easy to maintain. Both suggest that clients don’t need to buy a lot of products or sprays but rather focus on the health of their plants.
The Garden-coach Approach
Client Lisa Wright read an article in the Washington Post’s Home and Garden section about Harris’ garden coaching. Being a do-it-yourself type of person, she realized a garden coach was a perfect solution. She needed guidance in picking plants and determining their locations.
“Susan [Harris] provided structure. I never would have thought about picking plants based on their sustainability,” Wright says. “That’s Susan’s specialty. Here in the D.C. area, we are pretty much in the middle of a drought. I also found visiting the nursery overwhelming, and Susan made it easy.”
Harris provides clients with one or two site visits, resources on her website, detailed descriptions of plants and links to other resources. During her first visit to Wright’s yard, they determined that removing overgrown forsythia would make plenty of room for foundation plantings.
“We talked about the front yard, and then took a look in the back. The second session became a plan for the backyard,” Wright explains. “I did the front yard and half of the back in one summer—it took me a while because I rented a sod cutter and made the borders myself.”
Harris helped identify plants that fit Wright’s lifestyle to make gardening easy and fun. Wright worried that by working with a landscaper she would find herself with high-maintenance plants—she wanted plants she could care for easily. Harris understood that and identified plants that are drought-resistant, are sustainable and require minimal pruning.
Working with a garden coach was a financial match for Wright, too. “I didn’t want to invest thousands of dollars,” she says. “It was empowering when the guy dropped off the sod cutter and said, ‘Wait, you’re going to run it?’”
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