7 Deadly Sins of Landscaping

Picture of old, painted tire used in landscaping
David Beaulieu

What constitutes "bad landscaping" now? Trends change over time including what people would point to as things people do that end up making their yards look like hell—and this article lists what many now hold to be the gardener's 7 Deadly Sins. Of course, people have always argued over what constitutes a "sin," and those who preach repentance for some of the 7 Deadly Sins listed below may simply represent an especially vocal element within the gardening community at the time of this writing (namely, the early 21st century).

An Example of How Attitudes Change Regarding "Bad Landscaping"

How can attitudes change regarding bad landscaping? Before we look at examples of what is currently thought of as bad landscaping, let's look at how a former sin has recently been transformed—in the minds of some, at least—into a "good" practice:

Once it was considered bad landscaping to grow a vegetable garden in the front yard. Green grass was the king of the front yard; "unsightly" veggies were relegated to the backyard. But now there is a growing trend to move the veggies to the front burner. More and more people are killing the grass in their front yards and planting the space with veggie gardens. This practice made it all the way to the Obama White House with the opening of the much-publicized organic garden on the South Lawn.

7 Deadly Sins of Landscaping in the Early 21st Century

OK, so if front-yard vegetable gardens are "in" now, what's out? Today's sinners are often caught engaged in one or more of the following seven pursuits:

  1. Growing invasive plants.
  2. Using chemicals on lawn or garden, whether as herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers.
  3. Being too reliant on annual plants or other plants that are deemed "over-used".
  4. Burdening the eye with plastic.
  5. Altering natural objects to give them an unnatural look, whether in trimming shrubs, mulching, etc.
  6. Practicing "redneck landscaping"; e.g., using old tires as plant containers.
  7. Letting your yard "go to the kids" with holiday decorations such as Christmas inflatables.

In addition to the 7 Deadly Sins of landscaping listed above, we could point to numerous examples of supposed peccadilloes. For example, the traditional foundation planting now has many detractors. But we argue that, while it may be all right for the elite to dispense with foundation plantings, there's still a place for them in the landscaping of the average homeowner.

Seeing the Light: Righteous Alternatives to Bad Landscaping

If the above are examples of bad landscaping practices, what alternatives, then, do the "righteous" preach?

Sins #1 and #2 can be grouped together since they are both environmental sins. A saintly alternative to growing alien invaders is what we might term the "nativist" approach to gardening, wherein native vegetation supplants exotic plants altogether. But most members of the congregation will be content merely to exclude those aliens whose names show up on invasive plant lists targeted to their regions. Meanwhile, everyone is "against chemicals" nowadays, right (even when we're busily applying them)? But such landscaping chores as weed control are being tackled organically by a growing number of folks.

The idea that a plant is "over-used" should not be considered a sin anymore. That such-and-such a plant is "over-used" is a denunciation that is, well, over-used in the gardening community. If you like a plant, you are going to use it in your yard, regardless of how many other people are or are not planting it. But if unlike us, you're feeling some repentance on this one, you can always make a conscious effort to grow unusual plants.

Plastic may be the wonder material of the modern age, but most people with a bent for design don't much fancy the look of it in the landscape. Some shun plastic garden accents entirely. A less restrictive alternative would be to limit yourself to pieces that don't shout "plastic" quite so loudly, at least. If you use plastic edging in the yard, try to disguise it with mulch.

Speaking of mulch, controversy surrounds even this lowly component of the yard. People disagree over the desirability of the various types of mulch and natural landscaping, too. Do you prune shrubs such as forsythia in a way that spoils their natural form? Alternative: Abstain from this abomination, and let forsythia be forsythia!

Unless you're Jeff Foxworthy, you probably won't bother trying to define Deadly Sin #6: redneck landscaping. No, like the judge who was content to say of pornography that he knew it when he saw it, most of its detractors just assemble a vague image in their minds of what constitutes redneck landscaping. Two tire planters flanking a driveway may be one of the first images to present itself. City-slicker evangelists are torn between regarding such landscaping as representing tackiness or the old Deadly Sin of sloth. Take your pick. Either way, the alternative is to retire this tired landscaping.

Finally, you've heard the expression to "go to the dogs," right? Some hold the view that way too many people let their yards "go to the kids" when decorating for Christmas. They would argue that adults are giving in to their children's tastes and committing landscaping heresy by installing inflatable Christmas decorations at alarmingly increasing rates. In lieu of using such gaudy ornaments, they counsel us to decorate in a more refined manner. Whether or not this is a sin is anyone's guess.