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Landscape Renovations: Deciding What Should Stay and What Should Go

Often, creating the landscape design for a brand new home with no existing landscape is easy. Renovating an existing landscape, however, is a lot more work. I’ve been doing this long enough that I can mentally peel back the layers to see what’s beneath, much the way some people like to imagine what other folks would look like without facial hair.

ooh, not sure I'm up to that challenge though...
ooh, not sure I’m up to that challenge though…

It can be hard for homeowners to approach their yards with the critical eye needed to decide what’s worth keeping, though. That’s why I was excited to read a recent blog post by The Interior Design Shrink in which she talks about criteria she uses to help people decide what stays and what goes. The same questions can be applied to the landscape.

1- Do you need it?

What could you possibly have in the landscape that qualifies as a need? Well, as an example, we have a mature sweet gum tree on the south side of our house. It’s right in front of my office, and that tree is what makes this room bearable in the summertime. I hate the spiky pods the tree drops and it’s not a gorgeous shape, but it serves a need.


The “need” may apply more to the function that this thing is doing than the thing itself. For example, a client had a pretty awful, deteriorating patio right off the back doors. The patio itself needed reimagined, but there’s a need for a patio of some sort to be there.

2- Do you love it?

We’re human beings. Therefore we are not rational critters, and that’s ok. We are certainly allowed to keep things because we love them. Perhaps that Japanese Maple makes you happy every time you look at it. Maybe that rosebush is the only plant you dug up from your grandmother’s farm after she passed away. No matter what, if something has value for you and it can be preserved or reused, I say go for it. Just be realistic about things that need transplanted or relocated. I’m working with a client who has a gorgeous Bloodgood Japanese Maple right where the machines have to come through to build the pool. He and his partner love the tree and want to save it. I do too, but I let them know the risks.

Can we move it? Mayyyyyybe....
Can we move it? Mayyyyyybe….

3- Does it reflect the highest version of yourself?

I love this question because it cuts to the quick. Yes, you love that sprawly, leggy, funky clump of random growth in the middle of your yard. But it’s what people see every time they come to the house. I love the stained, work University of Rhode Island hooded sweatshirt I’m currently wearing but I don’t wear it to meet clients. It’s not how I would represent myself to the world.

Everyone has to make hard decisions about what stays and what goes. What are your criteria?

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