Giving a New Garden a Sense of Age

  • 01 of 16

    Charm on a Budget

    Weathered tree branch tomato cages add character to a practical vegetable garden.
    Marie Iannotti

    One of the first questions asked by visitors to a stunning, lush garden is "How old is this garden?" It takes years for a garden to fill in and become established. Walking through gardens designed and created decades ago can fill you with both enthusiasm and despair that you will never be able to recreate the feel of substance that age brings to a garden. It’s true, plants need time to make themselves at home. But there are other features of older gardens that we can fudge early on. They won't completely fool you, but they will take the edge of newness off your garden design and they'll build a bridge to a more mature garden.

    5 Garden Design Ideas to Add a Feel of Age to Your Garden:

    1. Use of Weathered Objects
    2. Well Placed Large Plants or Large Quantities of the Same Plant
    3. Interwoven Plants and Layering
    4. Spilling Plants
    5. Worm paths

    Here's how to use these design techniques in your garden.

    Structures and ornaments dot every garden. Ornaments that weather with a garden are made out of natural materials, showing signs of their age such as discolored wood, rusty metal and the green patina of copper. So the easiest way to add some age to a newer garden is to choose natural material structures that have already been used and even abused.

    You don't have to pay a fortune for these objects either. In the vegetable garden pictured here, the tomato cages are made of weathered tree stakes gathered from nearby woods. They not only add character to the garden, but they make a utilitarian vegetable garden ornamental.

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  • 02 of 16

    A Seat With History

    Old bench in a garden
    You may never sit here, but you'll think about all the people who did. Marie Iannotti

    Maybe no one will ever sit on this bench, but plopping it up against the tree makes this bed of Hosta and the shade garden behind it look like they've been here long enough to grow moss.

    It doesn't really take long for wood to gray and grow moss. You can even help it along with some stain and distressing and a good moss recipe

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  • 03 of 16

    Don't Clean Those Pots

    Stained cement adding interest to a garden
    Marie Iannotti

    You know those clay pots you keep meaning to scrub? Don't do it.

    OK, you don't want a build up of salt on the pots. That will just eat away at the clay and harm the plant roots. But a little mineral deposit with some worn-in dirt and a hint of green will be enough to make it look like those pots have seen a lot of years. Place them throughout your garden or use them the way this gardener did, as an entryway.​

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  • 04 of 16

    The Simplest of Ornaments

    Antique watering can in a garden
    Well worn garden tools make it look like both the garden and the gardener have been around awhile. Marie Iannotti

    Sometimes it's the smallest touch that bestows a unique charm on a garden. We all love the look of old tools, even if we don't enjoy the cumbersome use of them. An old watering can on its own will look like you forgot to bring it in. An old watering can with a plant growing out of it looks like it was abandoned years ago and the garden has grown through it. It even transformed this tangle of Bishop's Weed (Aegopodium podagraria).

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  • 05 of 16

    Start With the Old

    Potted plant on a table in a garden
    Just like indoors, one evocative piece can set the tone for the whole room. Marie Iannotti

    If you're just beginning a garden, you can build a brand new garden around an outdoor area and give it a sense of timelessness with aged furniture. This rusted, but still functional, table and chairs become the focal point to build the garden around. Whatever you plant behind them will look like it has been there as long as the table and chairs have been rusting.

    Adding pots of large and unusual plants all around the seating area brings us to the next garden design technique for adding age and substance to a garden.

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  • 06 of 16

    Standout Plants

    Plants in a border
    Shearing plants in a border lends an old-fashioned flair. Marie Iannotti

    One advantage of an older, established garden is that the plants in it have had time to reach their mature size and spread out. Large plants and large quantities of plants can be quite expensive to start a new garden with, but it's worth it to purchase one or two stand-out plants to create immediate weight in the garden.

    Here the gardener has chosen Plume Poppy (Macleaya cordata), which grows well over 6' in a single season, some type of grass and a barberry bush that has been sculpted into a globe. With the basic bones laid out, she dressed the rest of this border with a handful of flowering perennials that repeat throughout the border. The scale of the large plants and the layering of similar plants gives the appearance of an evolution over time, without having to wait. Of course, it will just get better as it ages. [Note: Both the plume poppy and the barberry can be aggressive to invasive in some areas. Chose your plants according to where you are gardening.]

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  • 07 of 16

    Creating Size With Pots

    Pots add substance, color and attitude to a garden.
    Marie Iannotti

    If you can't find large plants to start your garden with, you can always substitute a large pot or urn. Larger containers can often be more expensive than plants, but at least you don't have to worry about them dying. Another option is to buy a medium-sized pot and elevate it on blocks, upside down pots or mounded soil. The plants in front will camouflage the support.

    This gardener used one imposing urn planted with annuals, to give weight to this garden. Smaller pots to the side add color. The rest is a shrub, some roses and lady's mantle. It's the large urn that gives the illusion this is an older planting, while the other plants fill in.

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  • 08 of 16

    Happy Happenstance

    Pots that look almost like they've been neglected for years.
    Marie Iannotti

    Sometimes quantity is enough to give substance to a planting or even a container garden. These potted plants have two things going for them. One, there are so many of them and two, they're not overly arranged; it looks like they've been collecting there for a while. The variety of textures, forms, and colors are just a bonus.

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  • 09 of 16

    What's in There?

    Cottage garden
    Even plants in a cottage garden need some editing, or the garden loses its composition. Marie Iannotti

    Most mature garden designs incorporate some sort of repetition. In formal plantings, the repetition is more delineated. In cottage gardens, it's more haphazard, with plants bobbing and weaving in and through each other. When a formal design is allowed to do as it wishes, it tends toward the cottage style, which is what we have here.

    This garden is well on its way to being mature. While it's still very pretty, I'm using it as a caution to the idea of aging your garden with interwoven and layered plants. You'll still need to do some editing or the plants become a jumble and you don't know what's in the garden any longer.

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  • 10 of 16


    The same plant, in a striking color, can move the eye along a garden.
    Marie Iannotti

    This might be a better approach for attempting to interweave plants in a new garden. Start by repeating them in large clumps throughout the border. This shot was taken in early spring, so the borders haven't fully emerged yet. This gardener works to keep things in check, but you still see the idea of plants jumping throughout the garden, as if they've reseeded through the years.

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  • 11 of 16

    By Their Own Devices

    Create the illusion of age by haphazardly seeding the same plant in nooks and pathways.
    Marie Iannotti

    Another way to approach this drifting repetition through the garden is to tuck individual plants in between larger plants and even in the borders and walkways as if they had seeded themselves there. Eventually, they will, but there's nothing stopping you from creating that illusion from the start.

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  • 12 of 16

    Tumbling Over the Wall

    Stone automatically gives a garden age. Spilling plants complete the story.
    Marie Iannotti

    Every mature garden has plants that can't be contained and simply spill over the garden's boundaries. This is easy to create early on if you have some type of retaining wall or even a clean edge. Plants like the corydalis here or other trailing plants like Lobelia, ivy geranium, and Nasturtium, grow quickly and will drape themselves as if they've been in the garden for years.

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  • 13 of 16

    Covering Ground

    Creeping plants
    Choose some plants that creep quickly and let them do their thing. Marie Iannotti

    Here's a combination of garden aging techniques centered around a weathered urn with plants spilling out of it. This is a good use for golden creeping Jenny, which can get out of hand in the ground. It will quickly drip down the sides of the already aged urn.

    A fast-spreading Sedum has been used to quickly fill in space in the border itself and the haphazard nature of the stone wall adds to a sense of timelessness. If you can find stone with lichens already on it, you're that much ahead of the game.

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  • 14 of 16

    Moss and Stone Again

    Path in a garden
    Paths should invite and entice you. Marie Iannotti

    You can get away with a lot if you have a good structure to your garden. A path gives a garden direction. It can also be used to show age. This shady corner already has a lot of ground cover. Laying a stone path and allowing the existing ground cover and moss to fill in buys the gardener time to work with the actual gardens.

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  • 15 of 16

    Grass Paths

    Grass path in a garden
    Grass paths are so relaxing, you slow down and enjoy the view. Marie Iannotti

    Lawns have taken a beating in the gardening world of late, but a grass path can be an economical and practical way to give your borders a sense of maturity. The British have been doing it for centuries. The best thing about using grass for your path is that you don't have to worry about foot traffic wearing it down. You want it too. Weeds and leaves just add to the effect.

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  • 16 of 16

    Weathered, Worn and Interwoven - Putting It All Together

    Path with greenery
    Any path surface looks more interesting with plants creeping onto it. Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    Here we've incorporated several aging techniques into our path. This gardener created an aged look by starting with weathered stones for the walkway. She then tucked in a creeping plant, Golden Creeping Jenny again, in just one spot of the walkway, near a bench and pot already showing signs of age. The surrounding borders make use of large-scale plants. No one would know if you put this garden in this weekend or years ago.