How to Make a New Garden Look Older: Expert Tips and Tricks

How to Make a New Garden Look Older: Expert Tips and Tricks

Transforming a new garden into a charming, aged oasis is possible with the proper techniques and inspiration from gardening experts.

When moving into a new home, many people long for the character and charm of an old Southern garden. With the proper knowledge and creativity, it is possible to make a new garden look older and more established. By incorporating techniques such as using antique roses, researching the area's history, and planting in unglazed terra-cotta pots, homeowners can create a garden full of texture and character. In this article, we will explore expert tips and tricks for transforming a new garden into a timeless oasis.

Let the roses meander and climb.

Renowned interior designer Charlotte Moss suggests incorporating climbing roses into the garden to create a wild and romantic feel—antique varieties such as Mme. Alice Garnier, New Dawn, Cecile Brunner, and Constance Spry can add a touch of elegance and history to any garden. The Peggy Martin rose, known for its resilience, is another favorite that can quickly take over an entire exterior structure.

Invest in Gold

Research if there is a bit of history there.

Finding plants that have a connection to the history of the area can give a garden a sense of continuity. Author Frances Mayes suggests seeking out local gardening club brochures or materials to learn about the former homeowner's plant collection. By tending to the garden in homage to its past, homeowners can create a garden that feels part of a timeline.

Go perennial.

Garden goods expert Keith Meacham recommends filling garden beds with potted perennials. These plants give the illusion of having been in the garden for years, as they come back reliably each year, albeit slightly smaller than when first planted. By incorporating perennials, homeowners can create a garden that feels established and well-maintained.

Plant in unglazed terra-cotta pots.

Using aged-looking clay pots can instantly give a garden a more mature appearance. Moss suggests finding old clay pots that have weathered beautifully over time. Even new terra-cotta pots can add a cohesive and natural feel to the garden. Investing in high-quality terra-cotta pots in Italy or purchasing locally-made pots can enhance the overall aesthetic.

Make the most of moss.

Adding touches of moss between bricks or along a walkway can instantly make a garden feel ancient and moody. Garden designer Chip Callaway suggests collecting moss from woods or old neighborhoods and using it in high-traffic areas of the garden path. Native mosses can also be purchased and planted to create a timeless atmosphere.

Build with old bricks.

Old bricks can add a sense of history and character to a garden. Landscape architect Thomas Angell recommends sourcing surplus materials from other projects or searching for old bricks in neighbor-to-neighbor sales. Reclaimed bricks can create pathways, walls, or even a greenhouse, instantly giving the garden a more aged and authentic feel.

Make new surfaces look older…with buttermilk?!

Applying buttermilk to bricks, stones, and terra-cotta pots can encourage a natural patina to develop over time. Landscape architect Mary Palmer Dargan suggests creating a slurry with yeast, yogurt or kefir, dark corn syrup, moss spores, water, and olive oil. Applying this mixture to garden items and keeping them moist for a few weeks can result in a beautifully aged appearance.

Grow plants with meaning.

Planting varieties that hold personal significance can create a sense of connection and continuity in the garden. Choosing plants that evoke childhood memories or taking cuttings from other people's gardens can add a layer of history and nostalgia. By growing meaningful plants, homeowners are more likely to tend to them and keep them thriving for years.

Plant in the cracks.

Allowing plants to spill over the edges of stones or bricks can create an illusion of age and character. Interior designer Charlotte Moss suggests planting creeping thyme, button fern, or Irish moss in the cracks of a courtyard garden. This technique gives the impression that the stones have been there for a while, adding depth and texture to the overall design.

Group bulbs.

Planting bulbs in groups of eight to ten can create the appearance of established growth. Plantsman Jenks Farmer recommends using a post-hole digger to create perfect circles and planting bulbs side by side. This technique mimics how bulbs grow in old gardens and adds a sense of maturity to a new garden.

Pick a primary color.

Repeating a specific flower color throughout the garden can bring harmony and draw the eye along. By incorporating biennials and annuals in the chosen color, homeowners can achieve a cohesive and established look. Cool-season plants such as nigella and larkspur can be seeded in the fall, while warmer seasons can feature cosmos or other reliable options.

Create a base of evergreens.

Adding evergreen trees or plants to a garden provides structure and a sense of permanence. Landscape architect Mary Palmer Dargan suggests choosing large plants with interesting shapes or unique characteristics. These evergreens serve as a backdrop for other plants and give the garden “good bones.”

Throw around old words for effect.

Using old-fashioned terms for garden elements can add a touch of whimsy and nostalgia. Referring to lemon trees in pots as an “orangery” or bushes as part of a “parterre garden” can elevate the overall aesthetic and create a sense of history and elegance.

Keep transitions in mind.

Blending different elements, such as native grasses leaning over a walkway or using stones or pebbles for transitions, can create a more natural and aged look. Consider incorporating oyster shell gravel for a genuinely Southern feel or using materials that complement the overall design and add a sense of continuity.

Use historic paint colors.

Choosing paint colors that have historical significance can enhance the overall aesthetic of a garden. Watered-down whitewash or dark greens can be used on outbuildings or fences to create a classic and timeless look. Using historic paint colors, homeowners can add depth and character to their gardens.

Classic Wooden Shed

Get creative with fencing materials.

Using reclaimed wood or unique materials for fences and outbuildings can instantly add charm and character to a garden. Salvage yards, neighbor-to-neighbor sales, or companies specializing in reclaimed materials can be excellent sources for finding materials with a rich history. Incorporating these materials into the garden design can create an authentic and aged feel.

Plant ferns.

Ferns have been around for millions of years and can add a relaxed, romantic, and timeless feel to a garden. Whether tucked into a brick wall, grouped in a shady spot, or hanging from a basket on the porch, ferns bring texture and a sense of age to any garden.

Get wild about vines.

Using fast-growing vines can quickly cover new walls and give the impression of age and maturity. Plantsman Jenks Farmer suggests using gourds, such as loofah or cucuzza, to mimic the appearance of vines that have been growing for years. Native vines, such as Major Wheeler honeysuckle, not only add beauty but also support pollinators.


Pruning plants not only helps them grow bigger and healthier but also adds a sense of shape and longevity. Following the lead of renowned gardener Bunny Mellon, who was known for her masterful pruning, homeowners can create a garden that is well-maintained and visually appealing.

Accessorize just a bit.

Adding accessories or art to a garden can personalize the space and create instant style and mood. Whether it's an antique urn, Victorian metal bench, or wooden structure with a patina of color stain, incorporating complex features can enhance the overall aesthetic. However, it's essential not to over-accessorize and to maintain a sense of balance.

Purge plastic.

Removing plants from thin plastic pots and replacing them with more natural materials, such as terra-cotta, can instantly elevate the look of a garden. Plastic labels and stickers should also be removed and replaced with metal tags or other more aesthetically pleasing alternatives.

Keep records in a garden journal.

Maintaining a garden journal can help homeowners track which varieties thrive and which do not. This record-keeping allows for better planning and helps create a garden that evolves and improves over time. Whether it's noting planting dates, growth patterns, or personal observations, a garden journal can be a valuable tool for any gardener.

Beware of storms.

In areas prone to storms and flooding, it is essential to consider the resilience of native plants. Landscape architect Raymond Jungles suggests incorporating plants withstood storms for centuries, such as spartina, silver saw palmetto, and spider lilies. By selecting plants that can withstand extreme weather conditions, homeowners can ensure the longevity and survival of their gardens.

Don't kill it!

When a plant or tree in the garden suffers damage, it is essential to research ways to nurture it back to health. By providing proper care and attention, homeowners can help their plants recover and continue to thrive. Seeking advice from organizations like the Arbor Day Foundation can provide valuable guidance in restoring storm-damaged plants.

Plant bigger plants…or maybe smaller ones.

Incorporating older trees and larger plants into the garden can instantly give it a more established appearance. However, dwarf plant varieties can also create dimension and interest beneath more giant trees. By strategically selecting and placing plants of different sizes, homeowners can create a visually appealing and mature garden.

Take stock of your tools.

High-quality, classic gardening tools can add a sense of history and craftsmanship to the gardening experience. Tools such as hand rakes, trowels, and weeders made from forged materials can become heirloom pieces that enhance the overall aesthetic of the garden. Additionally, utilizing unique accessories like myrtle-wood trugs or metal tags can further personalize the space.

Seek out historic gardens when you travel.

Visiting historic gardens can provide inspiration and ideas for creating an aged and timeless garden. Whether exploring the camellias at Middleton Place or the tropical gardens at Vizcaya, seeing how other horticulturalists have designed their spaces can offer valuable insights. Even within the South, numerous gardens with rich histories can serve as sources of inspiration.

Wait and see.

Ultimately, the passage of time is the most effective way to make a garden look older and more established. By spending time in the garden daily, noticing changes, and making adjustments, homeowners can create a garden that evolves and improves over the years. As British gardening guru Monty Don suggests, gardens are not fixed installations but living, ever-changing spaces capable of reinventing themselves.

Transforming a new garden into an older and more established oasis requires patience, creativity, and knowledge. By incorporating techniques such as using antique roses, planting in unglazed terra-cotta pots, and researching the area's history, homeowners can create a garden full of texture, character, and a sense of continuity. With time, care, and attention to detail, a new garden can become a timeless masterpiece that brings joy and beauty for years.

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