If you’re feeling restless after the long winter, turning your attention to your yard is the perfect way to keep your hands busy and your mind moving. And gardening is one of the best things you can do to help beautify your space—but the benefits don’t stop there. According to a study by Preventive Medicine Reports, it also has measurable impacts on your quality of life, sense of community and overall health. Check out these five gardening tips to get started on a beautiful space and a healthy mind.
Nestled in the quiet village of Arden are Sadie Somerville’s home and flourishing garden—which her friends and fellow gardeners might call whimsical. With its colorful pots and charming collection of antiques, the garden is so imaginative that it almost feels like a work of fiction. “Sadie’s garden is straight out of a storybook,” says her close friend Dink Pompper. “When you step into that garden, it’s like walking through a fairy tale.”
Though Somerville works to preserve Arden’s history, she’s not what you might call traditional when it comes to gardening. Rather than aiming for a perfectly maintained outdoor space, Somerville and her partner Rodney Jester instead embrace the beauty of playfulness. Their favorite way to achieve this look: repurposing old and antique pieces for their garden.
In Somerville’s case, the best way to bring life into the space was to fill it with history. If your garden is feeling lackluster, she suggests heading to an antique store and letting your imagination run wild. A rusted wheelbarrow might look doomed for a landfill at first glance, but it could easily be transformed into a home for potted parsley or Agastache, Somerville suggests. An old window frame may seem like junk, but paint it red and prop it against a tree and it creates whimsy.
“I like things that look interesting,” Somerville says. “As an artist, I’ve always been drawn to old and colorful things. When you find something blue or yellow or red or orange, it stands out against all of the green of your garden.”
Her favorite place to discover repurposed pieces is Renewed for You, a shop just across the state line in Bethel. “The place is perfect for inspiration to reuse old architecture, gates, household pieces, furniture and decorative items for your garden,” she says. Nearby, Chadds Ford also has a few antique stores worth perusing.
There’s no rule that says your favorite sculptures have to be displayed inside your home. If you want to bring eye-catching dimension and surprise to your outdoors space, try placing sculptures in your garden or front yard. Whether it’s a classic stone-carved statue or a more eccentric modern piece, any form of art is guaranteed to create bold contrast against the rest of your garden.
According to Somerville, the key to selecting pieces that brighten up your space is to be adventurous. “If you like it, put it in your garden,” she says. “It might feel challenging to find something that suits what you like, but be bold and just keep trying.”
In her own garden, Somerville likes to keep the fairy tale alive by hiding small faeries amongst her flowers. The cheerful nymphs decorate her English garden, adding childlike wonder to the paths that weave through the dense flowers. “It makes our garden feel magical,” she says. “It’s almost like ‘The Secret Garden.’”
While the faeries might seem magical, there’s no big secret behind incorporating them into your own space. According to Somerville, you can find metal faeries, butterflies, moths and other simple artistic pieces at your local garden store. All you have to do is hammer their stakes into your garden, and they’ll add fun for seasons to come.
If bigger pieces are more your style, Somerville notes that adding artistic flair to your space doesn’t need to be expensive. She recommends heading to a craft or garden store and picking up a faux stone sculpture. Not only are they lighter to carry than the real deal but they can also easily be painted to look older or to match the rest of your garden.
A yard is a place for gathering. It’s where friends and family share meals in the summer, bonfires in the fall and days spent planting in the spring. But a garden is not just a place for loved ones to come together—it’s also where birds create their homes.
If your garden feels a bit too quiet after a long winter, Somerville suggests designing your outdoor space with feathered friends in mind. When you take steps to create a garden that welcomes birds, you’ll quickly find your home coming to life with the sounds of passing creatures. On top of that, birdhouses and birdbaths are a simple way to brighten your space without requiring much maintenance.
“Supporting the birds started off as something simply aesthetically pleasing to us,” Somerville says. “We loved the way their houses looked with the flowers. But as we started to enjoy their company, we got more interested in creating habitats for wildlife.”
She and Jester have incorporated a variety of birdhouses into their garden over the years, including Somerville’s personal favorite: intricate wooden houses boasting porches and window boxes. But birdhouses don’t need to be complex to make a difference. Even a simple carved gourd can provide a safe place for birds to build their nests—plus, creating them can be a fun activity for the whole family. If you’re looking to bring some bright colors into your space, Somerville recommends heading to your local craft store to pick up a birdhouse kit. You can paint them to complement your house and garden, and they’ll add color to your porch and surrounding trees.
If the near-constant mowing, pruning and mulching is getting old, it might be time to do away with the manicured lawn and opt for something a bit more natural. Native gardening—the practice of gardening with plants native to our region—not only helps support the ecosystem but it also creates a gorgeous personal oasis around your home.
According to Sue Barton, a professor at the University of Delaware’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and a member of the Delaware Nursery and Landscape Association, non-native plants can make gardening harder than it has to be. When you opt for plants native to this region, such as black-eyed Susans or yellow thistles, you may notice that they’re much happier in your soil than ornamental plants from overseas. The reason for that is simple: They’ve adapted to thrive in these parts.
In fact, gardening with ornamental plants can be more than just challenging—it can be downright damaging to the ecosystem. Local animals have evolved to depend specifically on our native plants for food and shelter. When you fill your garden with non-native plants, you might be unknowingly kicking a critter out of its home. The key to a healthy garden is finding balance. “Non-native plants are very attractive, and you might want to have it in your landscape as long as it’s not invasive,” Barton says. “But it’s not going to contribute to the wildlife the way a native plant would.”
According to Barton, an easy way to get started with native gardening is to imagine your yard as an outdoor room. Fill the perimeter of your yard with native plants like dogwood, inkberry and sweet goldenrod. They’ll create the “walls” to add privacy around your grass, she explains, which is where you live and gather. If you’re not sure which native plants will work in your space, head to your local garden store. They’ll point you towards plants that will flourish in your yard while helping out the environment.
When you imagine a garden, the flowers, green foliage and brightly colored planters generally steal the show. However, beneath those vibrant hues are the underrated performers of the garden: Rocks. While they may not seem glamorous, a rock bed or boulder in your garden might be just the extra touch you’re looking for this season.
Whether they’re the centerpiece or an accent, rocks can add texture and depth to any area of your garden—from the mailbox to the flower beds around your porch. One of the easiest ways to make rocks a staple in your garden is to simply highlight them where they naturally fall. Pompper, who maintains a shady garden in Arden, chose to leave the large, natural boulders in his garden rather than haul them away. He uses then as a backdrop for shade-loving plants like hostas and ferns.
If you don’t have naturally occurring boulders in your garden, you can install them with the help of a local landscaping company, Pompper says. They’ll help you match your boulders to your environment and find balance between them and the surrounding plants.
Looking for something a little subtler? He’s also a fan of incorporating small rocks and pebbles into his outdoor space, finding that they help create definition in flower beds while maintaining a rustic look. “Choosing a stone that is native to your area makes it look natural,” Pompper says. “I bought some granite stones and used them to outline my flower beds. If you’re looking for something that stands out, go for more brightly colored rocks that fit your theme.”