Selling a home and moving is one of the most stressful life events that we do to ourselves. When we’ve put our efforts into creating a beautiful, life-giving native landscape, the emotional burden can often be too much to bear. Our fears of destruction begin to obscure what our landscape ultimately gives us – a deep, abiding connection with all that other living beings with whom we share our piece of this Earth.
It’s crucially important that we remember that the future home owners are also among those living beings! With deep breaths and a resolute dedication to share our knowledge and experience, we can create the conditions for the future home owners to connect with us and the landscape that we have fostered into existence.
I know this from my own experience. In 2020 we sold our home of 11 years for an adventure of a lifetime (more on that at a future date). It was imperative to us that we found buyers who would continue the work that we started.
*first a caveat* I would not recommend planting your front yard the way we did. For most people in most places, what you see above is absolutely not appropriate, especially so close to a sidewalk. We, however, live in Ann Arbor AND in a neighborhood that celebrates this level of botanical fecundity. This was appropriate for us because we could get away with it and no one would bat an eye.
Our landscape started with only a few native plant species that were hiding in an unkempt corner of the yard. By the time we left there we at least 112 native and perennial edible plant species.
These plants supported countless insect species. Bird and mammals found shelter and food. We found delight and connection.
This was a LOT to communicate to say the least.
The first thing I did was to compile a list of all the species that I knew to be on the land. This gave me a wonderful opportunity to reflect on all the work that we had done over the years. Each species added represented a distinct moment in our lives and memories of the work came flooding back. It also gave me the opportunity to reflect on all those experiments that didn’t work. (I like to tell people who think they can’t grow plants that I’ve likely killed more plants than they have tried to grow. Thus my thumb appears green.)
The next step was to create a simple map of what I considered to be the most important plants on the property. These are the plants that I feel provide the most ecological impact, are easiest to manage, look the best and should absolutely remain no matter what. Most of these were woodies species, but as you can see below I also included the rain gardens and black raspberries.
Making a map of your property will give the future home owners the ability to make sense of the garden. Your map should primarily reflect your values. Your values can then be tempered with reflection as to what a future home owner can reasonably be expected to understand. Remember, people are smarter and more interested than you give them credit for! People naturally care and want to do good! Allow them to!
Then I made another map that simply showed the different beds. I wasn’t going to burden them (or myself) with trying to map out individual or groups of plants. After 11 years and most of it started from seed there was no way that would make any sense. But this map below at least gives a sense to the prospective buyer how much of their future property is in garden. This would be especially important if they are buying in the late fall through early spring when all the plants are keeping themselves warm underground!
This leads then to the hard part – creating a coherent narrative that prospective buyers will find appealing. Keep in my that you are selling your house, not just your landscape! You want to give the buyers the feeling that they CAN take care of it, they will ENJOY taking care of it, and that it fits in with the culture of their new home. Give as much concise and coherent detail as you can. Your narrative will be longer the more garden elements you have in your landscape. We had veggies, herbs, raingardens, fruit trees, fruit shrubs, flower beds, wild areas, etc. There was a lot to talk about!
Below is the letter we wrote. This was included in the description of our home.
“Maps have been provided to show a broad view of the vegetation. We would be happy to make more detailed maps if the buyers are interested.
The City of Ann Arbor encourages homeowners to landscape with native plants in order to conserve and restore biodiversity (especially insect pollinators), mitigate climate change and reduce stormwater pollution. The city does not have any height or setback limitations for well-designed and cared for native landscapes except for preserving sight lines. This landscape conforms to the city’s code.
This mostly native landscape requires very little in terms of maintenance, The main task will be cutting back vegetation that is encroaching on the sidewalks. This can take place once or twice depending upon the home owners comfort level, once in mid June and again in early September. We have used garden shears to take the vegetation down to 18 inches in a foot wide buffer along the sidewalks. This takes about 30 minutes.
The second task is weeding out any invasive plants that may be trying to sneak in. The main worries are non-native shrubs like common buckthorn and honeysuckle, as well as herbaceous plants like garlic mustard and dames rocket. They can all easily be pulled out of the ground as seedings. We will provide photos for identification and a “how to” guide if the buyers would like.
Stems and leaves can be left for the winter where they provide visual interest and habitat for over-wintering pollinator species as well as enriching the soil and creating a natural mulch. Stems can be cut to 18 inches in early May or removed and composted or turned into mulch.
The native gardens flower from early April through early November. In addition to the ever-changing floral and vegetative display, the garden delights with fragrances from the American plum in the spring to the switchgrass in the late summer. Birds nest regularly here and have a buffet of caterpillars (who only eat native plants) to feed their young. Butterflies are found throughout the growing season but reach their peak in August. You’ll find dragonflies darting around every corner.
In addition the birds and bees, this garden does attract toads and mammals. If you want to grow veggies, make sure you keep your fence sturdy.
The strawberry patch will reward you handsomely for any effort you put into it. Fertilize in the spring, eat DELICIOUS berries in the summer, and prune the runners in the fall. We will include a guide to taking care of strawberries if wanted
Cultivated red raspberry are growing in the front yard along the vegetable garden. Their maintenance involves removing dead stems (having only three stems for every 18×18” square of land), winter pruning to 4 feet tall, and eating tons of raspberries for 6 to 8 weeks in the summer. Pull out raspberries that are sneaking out of their patch in the spring and summer.
Wild black raspberries grow in the back yard. They don’t necessarily need any maintenance, but they will produce a lot more fruit if they are occasionally pruned. (This will also keep them from expanding their boundaries)
We will have them covered in straw. They received a heavy amendment of compost in the spring of 2020.
There are quite a few edible perennials around the landscape from herbs to berries to perennial greens and even an almond tree! All of these are listed in the species list. We will be happy to help you identify and get to know these plants if you are interested. Some of the edible perennials include: rhubarb, scorzonera, sea kale, chokeberry, juneberry, hardy almond, elderberry, spiderwort, asparagus, and sunchokes. The landscape has been a blessing to build and to grow along side. Having a place right outside the front door, in a city, that children can go to catch toads, chase butterflies and climb a cherry tree while grazing on the fruit, has been very rewarding. Please do not hesitate to reach out at any point and ask any questions you may have. We are happy to help in whatever”
I think the most important thing we put in this letter was that we were willing to continue helping the future buyer. Knowing that you have support feels good, right?! OFFER YOUR ASSISTANCE in whatever way you can.
Ultimately we ended up finding the PERFECT couple to purchase our home. I am continually delighted to see that the landscape we started is continuing to thrive and expand.
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