Are you a Martha, a Kelly or a Tommy?
Garden guru Ryan McEnaney uses those three gardening personalities (based on real people) to help you determine your gardening style.
McEnaney, a member of the fifth generation working at his family-run Bailey Nurseries, says gardening should be fun. And that’s the approach he takes in his recently released book, “Field Guide to Outside Style.”
We talked with McEnaney, who left Hollywood to come back home, about how he teaches others to tackle their gardens, his personal landscaping style and more. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: How did the book come about?
A: Unintentionally. When I started back at Baileys, people would call for advice — they had a space in this corner of their house or this area in their house. So I was telling them what could be planted where, about the growing conditions and what would look beautiful. I also homed in on gardening styles and things like using patterns and textures when designing with plants. And it went from there. It’s been an incredible learning experience putting all of that on paper.
Q: So, how does one figure out their garden style?
A: I start the book talking about fashion and furniture and architecture because I do think your outdoor space can evolve from those influences. If you read an in-depth design book, it can be overwhelming, so I break that down with these three archetypes.
Martha is a classic beautiful cottage garden. (It might be inspired by Martha Stewart.) Kelly is a more naturalistic design with intentional wildness that is going to be a little more prairie-esque and dense. It’s inspired by an author and dear friend Kelly Norris, who lives in Des Moines. Tommy is a West Coast style inspired by landscape architect Thomas Church. He made that modern, clean-lined look pervasive in California.
You can mix styles, of course. I don’t want anyone to feel they have to be put in one of these boxes. But it’s a good starting point. And it’s a fun way to talk about gardening. I met someone who said they gave the book to her neighbor. She was a Martha while her neighbor was a Kelly. What I love is that people are really connecting with these different archetypes and it’s starting conversations.
Q: Are you a Martha, a Kelly or a Tommy?
A: I think I’m a combo of the two most opposite styles, a Tommy and a Kelly, because I really like clean, sharp lines but I love the density of plant material that you put into a landscape. My husband and I bought our house two years ago and we have a really steep slope where we’re going to build a modern floating concrete staircase down the hillside.
Then around that, we’re going to plant densely with a lot of ornamental grasses that drape a little bit over the stairs so it breaks up that hard-lined edge. And then we’ll add a mix of colorful perennials with really great textures and put in some hardy shrubs that give it a lot of structure. I like that balance and that juxtaposition of very modern Tommy with the intentional density of Kelly.
Q: You have sections labeled Brunch and Happy Hour. Isn’t this supposed to be a gardening book?
A: Absolutely! Learning about these things is much more fun when it’s a combination of conversations over a meal, snack or happy hour. It was about finding ways to incorporate what can be scary or intimidating topics, such as soil mix, and trying to make it accessible and fun. You still have to know the basics so you don’t plant something that will die tomorrow.
Q: What garden trends are you excited about?
A: The growing popularity of small plant varieties as we look to design for smaller, compact spaces. Another hot trend is creating natural privacy fences and borders with the use of things such as hedging plants. For example, serviceberries are having a moment because they give you that multi-season, summer-fall fruits, and are such colorful hedges.
Q: You left an A-list career in Hollywood. Who were some of your biggest clients and why move back to Minnesota?
A: I worked in entertainment public relations for one of the largest celebrity firms in the country. My first client was Flavor Flav during the first season of his VH1 series. Then I worked with Sarah Jessica Parker and Jude Law before moving into beauty PR and working with clients such as Ariana Grande.
Eventually, I started working for myself and decided to move back to Minnesota. I had a lot of fun and I learned a lot, but I think I was ready to come back, be with family and get back into the gardening business.
Q: When did you first garden?
A: Whether picking berries with my grandpa up north or decorating pots with my mom for Mother’s Day, gardening has always been pervasive in my life.
In high school, I started working at the nursery, but then went to college and moved to California. When I moved back, I started doing PR for clients here and doing social media for my family’s consumer brands, including Endless Summer Hydrangeas and First Editions plants. The nursery has always been such an important part of my life and part of the fabric of who I am.
And I get to work with my family. My mom is the CEO. There’s me and my brother, the fifth generation. To see the impact of what’s been built for 100-plus years and hopefully contribute to it in a really positive way — I’m really grateful to be doing this.