Before you invest in expensive plants, let an expert help you plan your space

Michelle Neohio Gardens
Horticulturist Michelle Riley specializes in designing flower beds, hardscapes, waterscapes, ponds, native gardens, pollinator gardens, pet gardens, and other specialty gardens. (Photography: Benjamin Margalit)

By Mitch Allen

Last spring when I introduced landscape designer Michelle Riley in the pages of Mimi, her phone starting ringing off the hook. That’s because people who know me know that I wouldn’t have recommended her if she weren’t good—and inexpensive.

She’s both.

“I loved getting calls from Mimi readers last year,” Michelle told me. “They were all smart, fun, creative and, well, nice.”

Michelle ended the season after doing dozens of design drawings for our readers, including one couple who said, “You’re the magical unicorn we’ve been looking for. We’ve never met anyone like you.”

Experience and Expertise
I first met Michelle two years ago when my wife and I cut down three diseased spruce trees, leaving a large, circular, barren bed in our front yard. The trees were huge and had served as a privacy blind. Now, however, the house was completely exposed. Plus, we live on a busy street and everyone who knows me kept asking what we were going to do about it.

The pressure was on to replace the trees with some kind of show stopper.

I’ve planted many flower beds in my day, but never one this large and I didn’t know where to begin. That’s when my wife told me to “call the man,” which, in this case, was a woman—Michelle—a horticulturist and landscape designer who is Landscape Industry Certified. She’s also a speaker, consultant, landscape concierge, the president of All About You Signature Landscape Design, and founder of and ThePlantMall, an educational website for gardeners.

Michelle came to our home, interviewed us about our personal style, and took plenty of measurements. When I told her I was thinking of replacing the spruces with a line of arborvitae, she tried to suppress an eye roll. “They’re a little boring,” she said. “It’s even an inside joke in the industry. Have you considered Weeping Alaskan Cedar instead?”

I’d never heard of one.

Creative and Affordable
A few days later, Michelle returned and presented her plan, complete with a drawing that identified the position and name of every plant she proposed, along with a profile of each plant—how big it gets, when it flowers, etc. The design included everything we had asked for, plus some surprises, like Joe Pye Weed—a native Ohio plant—and a rock pathway through the garden.

She presented us with a bill for $350. I thought it was a typo. That was a fraction of what the plants would cost and one of the best landscaping investments I’ve ever made. I followed her design exactly and a few months later the local garden club presented us with a beautification award. I texted a photo of the certificate to Michelle and wrote, “This is for you.”

All Kinds of Gardens
In addition to small residential projects like ours, Michelle does flower beds, hardscapes, waterscapes, ponds, native gardens, pollinator gardens, pet gardens, and other specialty gardens. She creates dog gardens, featuring a dog run that encourages canines to run fast, slow down, turn corners, etc. She’s even thoughtful enough to include edible plants, like lettuce, cabbage and blueberries.

“I like to help people create the environment that is already apparent in the space,” Michelle says. “A garden should bring you to life and give you permission to be better in your own life.”

Michelle works throughout Northeast Ohio and even designed Cleveland’s African American Heritage Garden. She can do any style—specialty gardens, manicured gardens with boxwoods, or gardens that attract pollinators and wildlife.

Designs Starting at $150
Most of Michelle’s basic designs cost $350 to $700. She will come to your home to take measurements while practicing responsible social distancing. You don’t even have to come outside. But if you email her a photo and measurements (so she doesn’t have to make an on-site visit), she’ll do your design starting at $150.

But don’t do that.

You’ll want to meet her. She’s a unicorn.

Michelle Riley is based in the Akron area, but she designs breathtaking gardens throughout Northeast Ohio. You can reach her at 234-678-8266.