A New Guide to Outside Style

With its friendly tone, practical sensibility and solid advice, Ryan McEnaney’s new book, Field Guide to Outside Style: Design and Plant Your Perfect Outdoor Space (Cool Springs Press, 2022), would be a great gift to any new homeowner or experienced gardener ready to revamp their yard.

This book approaches garden design in a way that is different from typical design books—and that’s a good thing. After covering some design basics, McEnaney asks readers to go on several “dates” with their landscape. It starts with a coffee date during which you walk around your neighborhood and decide which styles, colors and hardscapes appeal to you. During a brunch date, you conduct a soil test. By the time you are on a dinner date, you’re thinking about the scope of your project and how committed you are to your ideas. Each date leads readers to the considerations and decisions they need to make to avoid design disasters. And, they’re fun.

In a necessary (but often omitted) chapter on “Guardrails,” McEnaney walks readers through key practical issues: how much things cost, how much work you can do yourself, how much maintenance you can commit to depending on your stage of life. He warns gardeners not to get caught up in social media images (yea!) and urges those of us in cold climates to think about all four seasons in the garden.

In later sections, he helps readers discover their outdoor style by offering three style icons: Martha, Tommy and Kelly. Walking readers through the choices these icons would make for classic, minimalist or natural garden designs gets at the personal sensibility we each bring to our gardens. What style makes us happy and expresses our creativity? He suggests why these style approaches work while assuring readers to develop their own outdoor style. He offers real-life garden designs—very useful—and plant combinations that look good in different garden settings and climates.

The book is filled with inspiring garden images, many of them taken by Tracy Walsh, a Twin Cities-based photographer and regular contributor to Northern Gardener® magazine. You may even recognize a few of the spaces as gardens that have been featured in Northern Gardener®.

If Ryan McEnaney’s name seems familiar too, that’s because he is in the fifth generation of the family that owns Minnesota-based Bailey Nurseries, developers of roses, hydrangeas and many cold-hardy shrubs. He’s often featured in the company’s how-to videos on Instagram and YouTube.

Whether you are new to owning a home or in a new garden or just ready to embrace your outside style more fully, McEnaney is a friendly, helpful guide to have at your side.


Mary Lahr Schier is a freelance garden writer and speaker and recently retired as editor of Northern Gardener® magazine. Follow Mary on Instagram at @mynortherngarden_mary.

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