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Making a Garden Your Own: Top Tips for Getting Started

A Baltimore Born Gardener and Towson Native Garden Contest Winner Shares her Expertise.

towson md front garden scene native plants

Gardener Tanya Ray grew up in a Victorian house in the Govans neighborhood of Baltimore eating fresh cherries in early summer and pears in fall from a nearby orchard. Influenced greatly by her two gardening grandmothers, Tanya moved easily between the two gardens just blocks apart. One, tended by her Native American grandmother, teemed with native flowers and provided all manner of herbal remedies. The other garden, just across from her school, was very formal and featured geraniums cared for, just so, and a vegetable garden with the largest collard greens and kale one could hope for. Tanya laughs when she explains she actually never told the kids at school it was her grandmother's garden because everyone knew you weren't supposed to touch anything there!

In those days, she lived near a meadow and was the first to volunteer to retrieve balls that flew over the fence, just because she was drawn to the feel of the meadow. By age 11, Tanya had become a full fledged gardener.

One day her grandfather came home with some gardening supplies. She immediately went to the basement to start sowing some seeds. That very same year, she found herself competing with a gentleman down the street over who could grow the tallest corn. Tanya has been gardening ever since.

Today, Tanya, more than 10 years into running her own gardening service in the Towson area, is as busy as a bee and overflowing with customers. She absolutely loves it when native plants catch on between neighbors and delights in talking about a Towson neighborhood with townhomes where a row of front gardens with natives evolved after one homeowner started gardening with natives and some help from Tanya.

Tanya's own garden is new to her. In 2021, she move to a new home in Parkville. She has a vision for the garden and enlisted her husband to help bring it to fruition. Tanya, with amazing influences from her childhood combined with her professional expertise, shared so much great advice for getting started with a native garden and these were the same things she did in her own space.

native violet lined front path and native perennial bed

Start in the Front Yard!

You can start your garden and enhance your curb appeal at the same time. Many front gardens can be fairly sedate. Foundation shrubs and lawns can be brought to life by adding perennials. They not only add movement but will attract pollinators and birds. Your garden will come alive.

Don't be Afraid to Remove Plants to Create your Garden

Tanya removed non-native azaleas and hostas to make room for flowering perennials. These flowers really make Tanya's garden stand out in the best of ways.

Perennials are the Best Buy for Your Money

Tanya knows many of us get the gardening bug in early spring when garden centers are overflowing with cool weather loving annual flowers like pansies. Tanya points out those will be gone once the summer heat sets in and will need to be replenished.

Perennials are a bit more expensive but far more lasting. They will return year after year and many can be divided to create more plants once they are established. A much better investment. Tanya prefers native perennials because they tend to need less water once established and have longer bloom times than many of the non-native perennials.

Make Your Garden Personal!

Tanya's garden is filled with personal treasures, each placed just so. St. Kateri, the first Native American Saint, considered the patroness of ecology, is featured. Clam shells from her grandmother's garden evoke memories of finding shells while gardening and pretending the garden was once in the sea. This lifelike gnome is a vintage find. Most of us have items that can be repurposed to the garden. It's just a matter of taking a fresh look.

Share Your Garden

Tanya entered the 2022 Green Towson Alliance Native Garden Contest because she truly believes in the power of native plants. Many pros would have waited until their gardens were mature, looking just like the vision they designed. Not Tanya. She wants us all to know how exciting gardening with native plants can be! If you live in the Towson area and have created even a small space in your garden for native plants, you can help spread the word by signing up for the 2023 contest here. Live outside of Towson? You can gather inspiration from the 2022 gardens here.

Upon moving in, Tanya started working on the garden before she unpacked the moving boxes inside. A lifelong gardener indeed!


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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