Garden Expectations: Classic Fiction or Non-Fiction?

Garden Expectations developed by watching too much HGTV or visiting formal gardens are comparable to Charles Dickens’ Great Expectationsfull of extreme imagery and a colorful cast of characters.

The images presented by popular media outlets capture our attention and pull us into the belief that our gardens, homes, and lifestyles can be perfect, balanced, and weed-free. And the truth is, they can be. However, a quick reality check may be needed to achieve our Garden Expectations 

Gibbs Gardens aka Garden Expectations
Gibbs Gardens in Ballground, GA


Gardens are always growing and need tending to stay beautiful. Tending takes the form of pruning, weeding, digging up, and moving. Have you heard of Gibbs Gardens in Cherokee County? A small army of staff are needed to maintain that fairy-tale landscape. In my garden, I am constantly pulling out crazy plants like black-eyed susans that grow everywhere and in places I most definitely do not want them. I can’t image how many people it takes to preserve the beauty of a place like Gibbs Gardens!


Low Maintenance is a pop star in Garden Expectations. It is a process that arrives with time and planning. Art of Stone Gardening develops low maintenance gardens by using the best plants for the site. We analyze the site including elements such as sun exposure, shade, soil conditions, drainage, height, and the client’s wishes. Then, we amend the whole site, if possible, and add plants that will spread to cover all open areas. Until they spread enough, we use LOTS of mulch. Any open space is an invitation for Weeds.  

Weeds is a villain in Garden Expectations, one that must constantly be fought. Weeds are brought to your yard by birds, rain, and wind. They will show up and grow on top of anything.  If you don’t want Weeds, the answer is multiple choice. Spray them to death. Pull them whenever you encounter them. Pave your yard 

Death, too, plays a role in Garden Expectations. Plants die and sometimes it is a mystery. Is it too much water or not enough? Did the nursery sell you a bad plant? (Rare) Is the plant root-bound, or was it planted improperly, leaving the metal basket or plastic on the root ball or ropes on the trunk? 

The foil to Death is to try something else. If a plant works well in my garden, I will use more of it instead of trying something unknown. The positive side of death? Compost bins! That way, at least, the casualty becomes food for the next plant.

Death, an unexpected character in Garden Expectations. 

One of our client’s trees had died. We dug it up and found the culprit was most likely the wrappings left on the root ball.


We can’t discuss Garden Expectations without considering how you want your landscape to look. For many folks, that is what it is all about. People want plants that match – one on each side of the door. Plants are, however, like people. None are exactly the same.  

And, to look good, one must shop. But, beware! Going to the nursery and buying something because it looks great and then coming home and having to find a place for it probably will not work. Let’s try it here. No, over here. No. What about here? No… 

Did you read the tag? Not reading the tag on the plant at the nursery may result in a misfit. Putting a cute little shrub that will grow to 10’ tall in front of the window is a recipe for Death to enter again. You will prune that inappropriate “shrub” until it dies or you pull it out. Remember, too, that the tag could be for a plant that is grown in Oregon. I found this out with my favorite shrub (Cryptomeria japonica ‘Globosa Nana’.) The tag at the nursery says it grows to 3’. Not in Georgia. Six to 7 feet is more like it. 


Garden Expectations are all about your particular location. Plant the wrong plant in the wrong place – reenter Death. If the site is too shady or too wet, the plant will not thrive. It will always look poor, bringing down the visual pleasure of the landscape. 

Enter Water stage left. We know Water is a critical role to Garden Expectations BUT it is two-faced. A location that is too wet can be a condition of the site or the result of the gardener’s behavior. “The plant looks bad,” says the gardener, so I will add water.” Unfortunately, problems related to too much and too little water often look the same on a plant. 

Absence (of Water) makes the plant grow less. Do not expect plants to live without water. The comment from one client, “Well, it rained last week, indicates a lack of attention or understanding of the needs of the plant. After you’ve gone to the trouble and expense of planting that plant, learn how much water it needs and then pay attention. 

When water comes on the scene, where and how does it go? Does it pile up in one place? Does it tear through that recently laid bed, or does it gouge out a gully? Water is powerful. Not fixing the drainage situation on your property before creating your dream garden is throwing money after rain. 

The End 

How does Garden Expectations end? The landscapes presented on HGTV and at Gibbs Garden are not quite fiction, but they require work and discipline to achieve. Art of Stone Gardening can help you write your Garden Expectations. We know the plot and the characters – the planting, the weeding, the care – and we can create the “costuming” and shape the setting, which is your yard and its peculiarities.  We are gardeners and as such the author of many great works. Let’s write your story together.  

Gibbs Gardens

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