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Audrey Hepburn famously says, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” But for every homebuyer who gushes over daylilies or bountiful tomatoes, there’s another who looks at a garden and sees a lot of maintenance — or a bunch of plants they can’t possibly keep alive.
“Elaborate gardens don’t do it for the buyer,” says Kelley Martin, a top-selling agent in San Antonio, Texas, who has a garden at home. “Most people can’t maintain it, or don’t want to maintain it, or think it’s too expensive, or they won’t have the time.”
That said, a study of 2,001 homeowners in the United Kingdom found that specifically landscaping a garden had a low cost (about £2,750, or roughly $3,500 USD) but a huge return on investment, boosting property value by as much as 77%.
Let’s dig deeper into whether gardens increase property value, and how to present your garden so it’s a selling point for the right buyer.
The benefits of gardens
A garden is essentially a dedicated space for cultivating plants. Because the definition is so flexible, a garden can encompass a lot more than you might think. Tyler Radford of Hollie’s Farm & Garden in Lutz, Florida, which has served the Tampa Bay area for more than twenty years, says types of gardens include:
- Flower gardens
- Vegetable gardens
- Herb gardens
- Container gardens
- Raised gardens
- Succulent gardens
- Zen gardens
- Fairy gardens
- Hedge gardens
- Ornamental grass gardens
- Xeriscaped gardens
Although the word garden has its roots (pardon the pun) in the Gothic word for “enclosure,” a garden doesn’t have to be fenced. Even the size can vary, points out Marion Owen, coauthor of Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul, who likes to quote 1800s horticulturalist Liberty Bailey on this: “One plant in a tin can may be a more helpful and inspiring garden to some than a whole acre of lawn and flowers.”
Exposure to plants, green spaces, and gardening is beneficial for mental and physical health, according to a study from the Royal College of Physicians in London, England. The physical activity and exposure to nature and sunlight lowers blood pressure and increases vitamin D, for starters, the study says.
But do gardens increase property value?
Post Office Money, a United Kingdom financial company that provides services such as mortgages and savings accounts, found in 2019 that UK households added an average of £40,000 (about $51,000 USD) to their home values through improvements such as revamping the kitchen, adding an extension, increasing energy efficiency, or enhancing the garden.
Although the Post Office Money survey singled out landscaped gardens as having a 77% boost in home value, other research takes a broader view. For instance, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) estimate that applying mulch annually, mowing about 2,800 square feet of lawn, pruning shrubs, and planting about 60 annuals or perennials costs about $3,000 — but has a 100% return on investment (ROI) upon selling.
That said, gardens may have a higher cache across the pond. In Martin’s experience, gardens are a bit like swimming pools — they appeal to a specific type of buyer.
“About 7 out of 10 will say, ‘There’s no way I can maintain that,’ or ‘How much is that going to cost to maintain?’ or ‘Oh, my gosh, I would kill every single one of those,’” she says.
The financial website Investopedia agreed, saying that while homebuyers appreciate well-maintained landscaping and curb appeal, a beautiful yard or garden likely won’t add much to the selling price. In fact, the more elaborate the garden, the more likely a buyer might consider it a burden, either because the buyer will have to pay a gardener to maintain it, or it could become an eyesore.
If you spent an exorbitant amount of money on landscaping, including a garden, you likely won’t see near the full return on your improvement costs, Bryan Lynch, a certified real estate appraiser with Advantage Appraisals, serving the Sacramento, California, area and parts of Nevada, explained on his website.
However, assuming all other features of a home and comparable properties are equal, there is “generally a positive market reaction” to items such as patios, decks, outdoor kitchens, sprinkler systems, and gardens, he says. But it’s important for your agent to find comparable properties with similar landscaping features for one to have an edge over another.
Are there gardens that buyers don’t like?
Gardeners love to create a “sense of wonder” for visitors, but extensive gardens are a lot of work. That’s unfortunately what some buyers notice, says Rootwell Products Inc., a plant care research, engineering, and manufacturing company based in Union Lake, Michigan.
This especially holds true for English gardens, koi ponds, and vegetable gardens, which not everyone wants to grow, the company says.
“It only has as much value as the person puts in it,” Martin adds. She recalled one seller who had three grapevines from Germany from which he made wine. He even gave her a clipping from one of them.
“They were beautiful grapevines, and they gave off tons of grapes,” she says. “He thought ‘what a treasure it was going to be for the buyer.’ I’m not sure the buyer thought there was any value to it at all.”
How to make your garden shine
While a garden’s appeal may vary depending on buyers’ tastes, there’s no need for the soil and toil you’ve put into your garden to die on the vine. Here are some ways to turn your garden into a showpiece.
When a garden’s upkeep falls behind, people notice. “I don’t think there’s anything that makes a garden shine other than maintenance,” Radford says. He suggested fertilizing plants three to four times a year so that they look their best.
In addition, remove weeds and apply mulch — “always an ongoing project,” he says — and deadhead (or remove dead buds and leaves) and trim the plants when needed. “Generally here in Florida, since the growing season is so long, we can usually trim whenever we feel like it.”
Other plants may need pruning immediately after flowering to control their shape and size, as well as remove damaged leaves or branches, Garden Design magazine says.
Finding beauty in simplicity
According to Rootwell, the type of gardening that tends to add the most value is the simplest:
- low-maintenance plants
- bright annuals or perennials, such as repeat-blooming hydrangeas
- no weeds
- fresh mulch
Low-maintenance plants happen to be among Garden Design’s top garden trends of 2020. These are shrubs, perennials, annuals, and groundcovers that don’t need complicated pruning, excessive watering, staking, or regular deadheading, such as:
- Repeat-blooming hydrangeas
- Ornamental grasses
- Black-eyed Susan
- Coral bells
- Japanese pachysandra
Choosing shrubs with colorful foliage, such as evergreen rhododendrons, is one low-maintenance way to add visual interest year-round, the magazine says.
Too many garden accessories can be a turnoff, at least when you’re selling your house. “Some people tend to like a more manicured look to their garden, and some don’t,” Radford says. “Much like an interior space, what looks good to you might not look good to someone else.”
Hollie’s Farm & Garden makes use of its open space by adding bird baths and benches for visitors to relax. (Incidentally, if you’re worried about attracting mosquitoes, Radford says he doesn’t typically see any larvae in a bird bath that’s in full sun.)
Consider any of the following:
- Classic three-tiered resin fountain such as the Napa Valley Fountain from Bond Manufacturing (about $207 from Home Depot)
- Kenroy Home’s Stave Resin and Slate Indoor/Outdoor Floor Fountain (about $312 from Home Depot)
- Lotus Flower Fountain with a cascading column of spiral blossoms (about $359 from FrontGate)
- Mediterranean stylings of the Antilles Fountain from Ballard Designs (about $319)
As for seating, the gardening website Gardener’s Path, founded in 2014, recommends several different styles of benches, including:
- Campania International Traditional Curved Garden Bench in cast stone (available in natural and 11 earth-tone patinas; about $690)
- Pineapple Metal Garden Bench from Plow & Hearth featuring cast-iron scrollwork (about $140)
- Cast-iron and aluminum Belleze Antique Designed Rose Style settee available from Amazon.com (about $110)
- Leora Wooden Garden Bench in durable acacia wood from Beachcrest Home (about $140)
Whether your garden has been a backyard retreat or an enjoyable spot to get your hands dirty, talk to your real estate agent about how to present it to buyers for maximum appeal. “I have perennials, annuals … I love gardening, but I don’t know how to take care of a vegetable garden,” Martin says.
Her go-to recommendation? Add fresh mulch and some annuals up front where buyers look first. “Just don’t let it look dreary,” she says.
Header Image Source: (Dimitry Anikin / Unsplash)