Desiging your own healing garden

Michelle Neohio Gardens
Michelle has carved out a niche within her landscaping business she calls “healing gardens.”

By Mitch Allen

I first wrote about landscape designer Michelle Riley back in the spring of 2019 when my wife and I lost three massive spruce trees to disease and needed help designing a garden to fill the large, empty bed. Michelle put together a creative plan that included many different plant species along with details about the proper care of each.

But these days, she’s doing something a little different.

Michelle was the primary caregiver during her father’s terminal illness several years ago, and now she is serving the same role for her aging mother, whose illness has led to weight loss, anxiety and depression.

“My mother is depressed about her own situation, but she is also upset over losing so many of her friends,” Michelle says. “It’s hard to watch her suffer.”

As a result of her mother’s journey—and losses suffered by several friends and clients—Michelle has carved out a niche within her landscaping business she calls “healing gardens.”

“Healing gardens are about creating a unique space that brings out joy and peace during our hardest moments,” Michelle says. “They are highly customized for each client. Some people want bursts of color to help them feel alive—confetti, crocosmia, allium, hydrangea—while others prefer mostly green because a lot of color can be overwhelming. Whatever it takes to help you relax before going headfirst back into whatever your situation is in the real world.”

Michelle’s clients include those who have gone through divorce or the torment of the death of a child, those who are experiencing health concerns such as cancer or are in the throes of dementia.

“Some gardens are designed for those with depression, given everything we have gone through over the past two years,” Michelle adds. “More and more people are staying at home and want their outdoor space to be as relaxing and as joyful as possible. And that means something different for every person.”

Michelle only designs the gardens. She doesn’t do the planting. And she’s not a psychologist. “All I do is ask questions and listen to understand what the client is going through and what makes sense in their garden space. Sometimes we laugh; sometimes we cry. But we are always searching for plant materials that bring out your inner glow.”

Life, Michelle insists, is like a garden. “Everything we say and do is a seed,” she says. “And we can plant seeds of hope or seeds of discouragement. Whether we garden in the soil or not, we are all gardeners of life.”

Michelle can create pollinator gardens, cut-flower gardens, shade gardens and others. And she’s a risk-taker. “Don’t let a plant’s label inhibit your creativity,” she suggests. “The term ‘full sun’ doesn’t mean a plant cannot tolerate some shade. It’s a continuum. As long as it gets eastern sun hitting before 1:00 p.m. it should be okay. And shade plants can often tolerate some sun. It’s all about where you plant them.”

Michelle’s designs usually run a few hundred dollars, depending on the garden size and the number of hours required for the design. It’s a small price to pay relative to the cost of planting material and the years of enjoyment.

Although it’s not too late to design and plant a garden for this year, Michelle suggests designing it now for planting in the spring. “This way you have your plan in place and can hit the garden centers early for the best selection.”

For more information or to schedule a consultation with Michelle Riley, call 234-678-8266 or email Find blogs and videos at

Categories: Home & Garden