329-Cultivating a Personal Garden Style with Rochelle Greayer

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Part of what makes gardening so magical is that every garden is unique. To share how gardeners can identify their personal garden style and achieve their garden goals, joining me this week is garden author, designer and teacher Rochelle Greayer of Pith + Vigor.

Rochelle lives in Massachusetts on a hilltop outside Boston where she grows food, flowers and more. She says her New England garden is her science and design lab as much as it is her haven. She runs the website Pith + Vigor, where she blogs about garden design and offers garden design courses.  She has contributed to several gardening books and in 2014, published her own book, “Cultivating Garden Style: Inspired Ideas and Practical Advice to Unleash Your Garden Personality.” 


Rochelle Greayer

Rochelle Greayer is the founder of Pith + Vigor and a garden writer, designer and educator who helps gardeners determine their own garden style.


Rochelle is also a host for HSN (formerly known as the Home Shopping Network) and she’s also been a magazine founder and a software project manager. She came to garden design as a second career after working in tech.

She says that gardening is a combination of science of art. The science part is how things grow, and the art part is how to put all the plants together. “The beauty of garden design is that it’s both — and it’s really fun,” she says. “And it’s a lifetime of learning. You’re never going to get it. You’re never going to know it all. So enjoy the ride and have fun with it.”

Get to Know Rochelle Greayer

Rochelle wanted to be a pilot and astronaut when she was growing up in Colorado. She pursued her dream by learning to fly shortly after she learned to drive, and she earned an undergraduate degree in applied physics. She was in the U.S. Navy for a little while then started a career in the aerospace industry. She got a job for Hughes Aircraft, where she helped build F-18 flight simulators and launched satellites around the globe. She designed software that helped satellites reach their orbital slots after they were launched into space. She never made it to space personally, but her hands have touched things that have been launched into space.

After several years working in software and tech, Rochelle felt like she could use a change. By this time she was working for Nortel Networks and living in London. Not long after she took the job, Nortel announced it would be closing its London campus. She worked for several months knowing that her job had an end date, and she thought about what her next career move would be.

One day Rochelle sought respite at the Chelsea Flower Show. While there, she says, a sunbeam broke through the gray sky and shone down on her. She decided then that she would sign up for garden design school.

Rochelle grew up gardening, and her mother and grandmother before her were gardeners. “Our garden when I grew up was like that garden on the block,” she says, adding that her mother was also the local garden club president.

Seeing garden design done at a high level at the Chelsea Flower Show was revelatory, Rochelle says. “I did not know such a thing existed, and as soon as I saw that it existed, I was all in.”

She signed up for a yearlong program at The English Gardening School in London, started her own design studio in 2004 and has designed gardens around the world.

Gardening in America vs. England 

Being an American abroad, Rochelle was constantly comparing her culture to England’s culture. 

Americans look at the English as the leaders in garden-making, she says. Having trained in garden design there, she values the English mindset, and says while a resident there she observed that the general population in England knows a lot more about gardening than Americans do.

“People know plants a little more,” Rochelle says. “There’s this base level of knowledge culture-wide that is at a greater level than here. And you see that play out in so many other areas — in politics, or in how the grocery stores are laid out. … It has fingers everywhere.”

Every place needs to be more garden educated and garden literate, she says. That is to say that everyone has to be a gardener, but that more people understand what goes into making a garden and what the benefits of gardens are. It also means becoming more environmentally literate. She says it will change your values and your perception of how the world works.

“Being a garden designer, you can only help the people who’ve hired you, which tends to be a pretty small number of people and a particular type of person usually too — they have a lot of discretionary income,” Rochelle says. “And I really just like the idea of having a bigger impact than that.”

She says design is a key to having success when you’re gardening; if you start out with good design principles, other good things will follow and you won’t run into as many challenges.

“Design is gonna make things more beautiful, which makes it more appealing,” she says. “Design is going to make it easier, which makes it more appealing.”


Alyssum bloom

Garden literacy is much more common in England than in the United States. Rochelle believes if everyone was more garden literate, they would be better than attuned to environmental challenges and solutions. (photo: Amy Prentice)


Teaching Garden Design

In the last five to six years, Rochelle wound down much of her other business to focus on teaching garden design. She offers online classes through her DIY high-end garden design programs, The Garden Design Lab and The Planting Design Boot Camp. 

In addition to working on “Cultivating Garden Style” and other books she has contributed to, Rochelle has had a number of garden writing jobs, including blogging for Apartment Therapy. A recurring Apartment Therapy feature was a house tour, during which the residents were always asked to “name your style.”

“People’s styles would be things like ‘Grandma on Acid’ … or ‘Farmhouse Tropics.’” she recalls.

She says she was always tickled by the descriptions, and they were so true. “They gave people such permission to be creative,” she says. 

Historically understood garden styles and movements are typically born out of necessity, she points out.

“There’s a reason why cottage gardens are cottage gardens,” she says. “There’s also a reason why Dutch gardens look like Dutch gardens, and it’s not just because people are like, ‘Hey, let’s get together and make Dutch gardens look like this.’ It’s because of the way the land is, and necessity, and the way they parse things out, and the flatness and all these kinds of things. The same thing with Islamic gardens — it has to do with belief systems.”

In the United States, people tend to just take their backyard, put some borders around the edge and a bunch of grass in the middle, she says.

“Not to judge anybody, but I find that just really boring and not very fun and exciting and not very enticing, and — as we’ve learned, I think in more recent years — increasingly problematic,” she says.

So the question is, how to get away from that tired paradigm? Her answer is to engage people’s personal histories, their personal sense of style and what they’re drawn to from some historic styles, and to identify if their house or culture lends itself to a certain garden style.

Rochelle shows people how they can start to blend what it is that makes them who they are, with their neighborhood and their house, into something truly unique.


Rochelle Greayer's “Cultivating Garden Style: Inspired Ideas and Practical Advice to Unleash Your Garden Personality.” 

Rochelle Greayer’s book “Cultivating Garden Style: Inspired Ideas and Practical Advice to Unleash Your Garden Personality.”


Overcoming Garden Design Overwhelm and Determining Your Style

In her course, Rochelle instructs students to throw together a bunch of things that they love and find beautiful and appealing, then step back and look for throughlines to determine their personal style.

The throughline could be a certain color or texture.

“Sometimes people can’t see it for themselves,” Rochelle says. They post a collection of things they love into her forum, and say, “I have no idea what my style is.” But then others taking the course will be the ones to notice the repeating motifs.

Rochelle walks readers through this process in “Cultivating Garden Style.” It explains how to get an inspiration board together and how to use it.

“Each chapter has an inspiration board that kind of describes where we’re going with this chapter,” she explains. “And these chapters, each of them is based in one of those historic styles, but I tried to maybe put like a little more of a modern twist in that apartment therapy sort of way, where somebody made it their own in a more modern way.”

She advises gardeners to remember that they are bringing themselves to a landscape, and it should be reflective of them but it also comes with its own past. 

“It’s your place, and it will become your place,” Rochelle says. “But this landscape had a history before you arrived, and it has a set of requirements or a set of things that are already there and are going to be there whether you like it or not.”

This includes the soil, the native plants, the existing flora and fauna, and the history of the region. It can even include the fact that the contractors backfilled the lot with sand when they built a new house there. There are also basic practicalities such as what USDA plant hardiness zone the yard is located in.

“Start to bring all of these stories together,” Rochelle says, explaining that garden design is storytelling, with a number of stories weaved together.

Hone in on your style, name it, and then when you’re shopping — whether it’s for furniture or plants — you’ll have in the back of your mind an idea of whether it fits.


Rochelle Greayer's garden

One view of Rochelle Greayer’s garden. Before the design stage begins, Rochelle encourages contemplating and defining your personal style. (Photo courtesy of


Job Descriptions for Plants

“Honestly, people don’t like rules, but rules are helpful,” Rochelle says. “They really start to narrow things down, and they help you have some guidelines to start working within, which makes things a heck of a lot easier. I always encourage people: write your own set of rules, like job descriptions for plants.”

One sunny area of your yard may be assigned to screen the view from your neighbors. But maybe you also want it to be flowery, and maybe it’s a white garden, Rochelle says. So now you know when shopping for plants that you need plants that are tall, floriferous with white blooms and sun-loving. Suddenly, it becomes easier to choose a plant — rather than perusing the million other plants that wouldn’t actually be a good fit. Nursery staff can help you find the perfect plant when they know what your requirements are.

When we know what we need from our plants, that helps us decide what the appropriate plants are to fill that niche. Rochelle’s guidelines are like guardrails, keeping you within your lane and on track.

Attending garden tours in your region or visiting local botanical gardens can also be helpful and inspiring because you will know that what grows there will likely also work at your home.

“These places are there for helping you figure out what plants are good and maybe not so good in your landscape,” she says. “So use them.”

Botanical gardens helpfully label everything, Rochelle points out, and she also uses PictureThis to identify plants. 


Rochelle Greayer's garden

Another view of Rochelle’s garden. When you have “job descriptions” in mind for plants, it is easier to shop. You’ll hone in on the plants that will achieve you garden goals. (Photo courtesy of


Tips for Buying Plants

When buying plants in person, Rochelle recommends giving the plants “a good physical.” If a plant is so root-bound that you’ll never be able to tease the roots out, don’t buy it. Also, make sure it doesn’t have bugs before bringing it home.

“You could have anything from something that’s so crazy root-bound that you’re never going to be able to tease that out, to something that maybe has hardly any roots at all,” Rochelle says.

The plants you want may not be at the nursery when you get there, or they may not be the healthiest specimens. Rather than going home empty-handed, Rochelle advises bringing a list of the reasons why you are buying a certain plant, and consulting it to find an alternative. You may have to swap in a different color than you wanted, but you can still achieve the garden you envisioned. 

Rochelle warns against “plop and drop” — impulsively buying a plant you liked without having a plan for it, and planting it somewhere it may not be suited for.

“There’s room for that, especially if you’re experimenting or trying things out or want to learn about something,” she says. “But to do it constantly is how people end up with a lot of things that fail. A lot of things that are in the wrong spot. A lot of things that don’t work together, a lot of things that don’t look how they want them to look.”


Seedlings in a plant nursery

Before purchasing a plant from a nursery, Rochelle recommends giving it “a good physical.” Check for disease and pest issues and inspect the roots.


10 Tasks in 10 Days to Transform a Garden.

Rochelle’s website offers a free 10-Day Garden Design Challenge.

“If you sign up for it, every day it’s going to email you and say, ‘OK, go do this thing today.’ And there’s some information as to why,” she explains.

These are basic things that can get you out in the garden, get you started, and get you thinking about how you can make things better, she says. 

These are very achievable, small pieces that can make big differences.

“You’re not necessarily redesigning your whole yard and spending tons and tons of money, but you are starting to think through what you want it to look like and making big improvements.”

One of Rochelle’s tips is to paint your doors. I can speak from experience in attesting to what a difference this makes. We recently re-did the outside of our house, white with white doors. But we realized the house needed something. Well, the barns are red, so we painted the doors red to match, and it made everything pop. 

“Painting your whole house is a big job,” Rochelle says. “Painting your front door is nothing, and it can really radically kind of change the way everything feels.”

Thresholds and entry points, from one space to another space, from inside to outside or the other way around, are pivotal. 

“Make these pinch points, these doors and entryways, meaningful because they really are part of that story,” she says.


Rochelle Greayer tends her garden

Tackling a small garden task each day can have a big impact. (Photo courtesy of


Design Choices for Ease

Some garden design choices are easy to make because they are easy to reverse. For instance, plants added in the garden in containers are simpler to take away later than a shrub or tree that was planted in-ground. Containers are low commitment, Rochelle says.

The containers themselves can be swapped out for containers that better fit your style. If you have a plant in your garden in a container for a year or two and decide that you really like it, you can then transplant it into a garden bed.

Another tip Rochelle offers is to choose plants that make it easy to mow clean edges. Rather than having to cut clean edges with a half-moon edger, she chooses plants to border the driveway or turf that can be mowed under or next to easily, for a soft blended edge rather than a messy edge.

“The mowing creates such a nice edge from something wild to something not,” she says.

Even as she tends more and to a naturalistic style, the edges still matter, she says.


Container gardens are low commitment. If you decide a plant is not a good fit, it easy to move it.

Container gardens are low commitment. If you decide a plant is not a good fit, it’s easy to move it elsewhere. (Photo courtesy of


Pretty Potager

In the chapter titled “Pretty Potager,” Rochelle’s book has tips for making front-yard food gardens look tidy and kept up. This is very handy if you only get full sun in your front yard, you don’t have a backyard at all or you live in a homeowners association with restrictions on how your front yard can look.

Raised beds, beds edged with stone or another material, containers or rows can all give a food garden structure and organization that can make it look more attractive to you and less objectionable for your HOA.

Carefully arranging salad greens (and purples) of different textures can be really quite stunning, defying any HOA to find a problem with the garden.

Whether working in your front yard or your backyard, keep rhythm in mind. Whether in music, architecture or gardening, rhythm is a beat that repeats, and you can feel it, Rochelle says.

She advises identifying the first thing you and others will notice in your garden. In her garden, it’s red flowers. In yours, it could be any flower or plant that has an eye-catching bloom or interesting structure. How can that “beat” be repeated?

“When we start to have rhythm, those first things that we’re going to notice are those beats and that feels good,” she says.

In a vegetable garden that you want to both be of great utility and look pretty, think about a repeating motif. For instance, if you have four raised beds, perhaps each has a tomato plant in the center, she suggests. Whatever it is, you can give your vegetable garden a sense of design by spreading things out.  

The Art of Illusion

There are a number of ways to trick the eye. This is called the “Art of Illusion.” 

Rochelle says people mistakenly think that space will feel bigger if you can see it all. “Particularly in small spaces, you can make small spaces feel much bigger if you can’t see the whole thing right away,” she says. 

Blocking views so visitors have to move from one area to the next to see each part of a yard gives the illusion of the space being bigger than it is. 

“Garden rooms” work this way. These are hedged-in enclosures that lead from one to another, making the garden feel voluminous. 

“The trick of that, really, is that you don’t know where it ends,” Rochelle says. When the edges of the garden are not visible, the mind imagines the edges could be far away, she explains. In fact, she recommends designing a garden from the inside out rather than from the edges in. 

“Bring the plants in off of the edges. The closer you bring things to you, the bigger the space will actually feel,” she says.

Using hedges for privacy can be challenging because plants at the far reaches of a yard must be very tall to block the view of and from neighboring houses. It could take many years to grow two or three stories tall, if it ever gets tall enough. Rochelle points out that the closer a hedge is to you, the better it will be at creating privacy. It’s much easier to disrupt the sightline when the “walls” are closer in.

Changing the grade by adding a step — just five to seven inches — can also really transform a space and create a sense of transition — just like walking through a front door or a gate does. 


Garden steps

Steps in a garden create a sense of transition. (Photo courtesy of


If you haven’t already listened to my conversation with Rochelle Greayer on cultivating a personal garden style, you can scroll to the top of the page and click the Play icon in the green bar under the page title to do so now.

How did you arrive at your garden style? Let us know in the comments below.

Links & Resources

Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.

Episode 041: Small Space Garden Design

Episode 042: Raised Bed Gardening, Pt. 1: Getting Started

Episode 197: The Many Benefits of Building a Naturalistic Garden, with Kelly Norris

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joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Seed Starting: Everything you need to know to start your own plants from seed — indoors and out. 

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Beginning Gardener Fundamentals: Essential principles to know to create a thriving garden.

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Growing Epic Tomatoes: Learn how to grow epic tomatoes with Joe Lamp’l and Craig LeHoullier. 

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joegardener Online Gardening Academy Perfect Soil Recipe Master Class: Learn how to create the perfect soil environment for thriving plants.

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Pith + Vigor 10-Day Garden Designer Challenge

Pith + Vigor on Instagram: @pithandvigor

Pith + Vigor on Twitter: @pithandvigor

Cultivating Garden Style: Inspired Ideas and Practical Advice to Unleash Your Garden Personality” by Rochelle Greayer


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Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us, and compensation is not an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast were based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Corona Tools, Milorganite, Soil3, Greenhouse Megastore, Territorial Seed Company, Earth’s Ally, Proven Winners ColorChoice and Dramm. These companies are either Brand Partners of and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.

About Joe Lamp'l

Joe Lamp’l is the creator and “joe” behind joe gardener®. His lifetime passion and devotion to all things horticulture has led him to a long-time career as one of the country’s most recognized and trusted personalities in organic gardening and sustainability. That is most evident in his role as host and creator of Emmy Award-winning Growing a Greener World®, a national green-living lifestyle series on PBS currently broadcasting in its tenth season. When he’s not working in his large, raised bed vegetable garden, he’s likely planting or digging something up, or spending time with his family on their organic farm just north of Atlanta, GA.

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