Your Garden Design Questions, Answered

Florence Boogaerts creates lush scenes for discerning clients (and shares her wisdom with students at the New York Botanical Garden). When it comes to sprucing up a yard, she doesn’t beat around the bush.

Photo by Matthew Williams

How did you get started in this field?

In 1972 I planted a tree in front of the town house where my husband and I lived in New York City. We would walk in the evenings and prune street trees for fun. For his birthday, I surprised him by getting donations from other homeowners and planting trees on our block. A few years later, the New York Times wrote about it; someone from Estée Lauder read the article and hired me to plant trees all along the route the Lauders walked from their Upper East Side homes to their office. That was my first job.

As a pro, do you have an overarching philosophy?

I try to make the design appropriate to the area. American landscape gardener James Rose put it best. When someone asked him to install a Japanese garden, he said, “Of course. Whereabouts in Japan do you live?”

Is there an easy formula for making a plain yard look designed and done?

If you have a square or rectangular backyard—and most people do—a good trick is to add plants to the corners of the yard to soften the edges and make the lawn look more circular. It immediately seems like you’ve done a lot. A circle is soothing and elegant, whether you have a small or large space. This plan also cuts down on the amount of lawn that needs to be mowed, watered, and sprayed with chemicals.

What’s your advice on landscaping from scratch?

Pay more attention to shapes than to flowers. Evergreens, for example, can work like sculptures. Also, make sure you consider the plant structure in winter. Certain shrubs and trees, like the Japanese maple, have nice skeletons. And think about the fruit that trees have—not just for you but for the birds to eat. The birds are part of the scene.