Joan McDonald

Joan McDonald has over twenty years of experience in the landscape design business and is an expert at creating unique garden designs based on her client’s needs, site challenges, and her creative vision.

Joan began her fantastic journey into horticulture in 1996 by volunteering at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) and was subsequently hired to manage the Gardener’s Resource Center where she provided reference services to home gardeners, staff, and the professional horticultural community.

In 1998, she received her Certificate in Horticulture from BBG, and founded Gardens by Joan, a boutique garden design, installation, and maintenance company.

In 2000, Joan co-created a curriculum and workbook for “Your Garden Tutorial”, which was a garden design course that remained a popular class at Brooklyn Botanic Garden for 12 years. She also has written and designed for BBG’s ‘Plants & Gardens News’ and has contributed to BBG’s award-winning horticultural handbooks. Check out Joan’s Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s page to see some of her work.

In addition to her garden writing, Joan also lectures and gives workshops on various horticultural topics throughout the NY metropolitan area and is a member of many conservationist and horticultural groups.

After being active as an officer and then President of the BBG Auxiliary, an enhanced volunteer experience, Joan now co-chairs the BBG annual plant sale which is a major fund- and friend-raiser for the Garden.

Studying native plants and animals in a creek near her childhood home in Virginia, turned Joan into an avid naturalist. She is particularly fond of native plants, wildflowers, and birds. This fondness is often revealed in her garden design.

Joan studied Fine Arts in Minnesota and Washington, D.C.  She also had a successful 20 year career as a multimedia producer and designer in both Washington, D.C. and New York City.

Joan happily tends a wildlife garden in Gravesend, Brooklyn, and a deer-resistant garden in upstate New York with her husband, Steven. 

THE TEAMteam hands

Our team is comprised of professional designers, certified horticulturalists, and gardeners. We also work with an extended family of skilled carpenters, masons, and irrigation specialists.


Our garden design philosophy is simple. We will help you create the garden of  your dreams not ours.

We have a passion for creating beautiful, long lasting landscapes. Starting with your vision, we encourage you to be a part of the creative design process. Whether it is the renovation of an existing landscape or the design of something new, our professionals will develop creative solutions that will maximize the potential of your landscape and exceed your expectations.

We evaluate your garden space from two points of view:

First, we become familiar with your location, existing plants, sun exposure, wind conditions, drainage, and potential views, and evaluate any existing “hardscape” such as fences, patios, and pathways.

Second, we then listen to your needs and desires, and discuss styles and themes, which may help you discover or refine the design to suit your personal style. You can always share inspirational photos with us to help us interpret your style, needs, and overall vision.

We are sustainable gardeners…

Sustainable gardening is the practice of using native plants, shrubs and trees, improving soil, and reducing or eliminating the use of toxic chemicals. Our goal is to utilize every renewable resource that nature provides: from rain water to stone. We recycle as much of the existing material in your garden as is possible and practical and always use locally sourced building materials. 

Some projects can also benefit from green roofs or water-harvesting systems, which we design and incorporate to economize on water, one of our most precious resources. Design choices of green roofs include either lighter weight, lower maintenance, limited palette of plant species; or an intensive green roof which is heavier, requires more maintenance, an irrigation system, and allows more diverse plant options.

We are plant specialists…

Our horticultural palette is unique, diverse, and varied setting us apart from the “garden by number” type landscaping companies. We keep existing plants if they fit the new vision and all new plants must be compatible with the site’s challenges. Our credo is “the right plant in the right place!” This ensures that the plant will thrive and, if native, also provide habitat for birds and threatened pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

Irrigation, lighting, and maintenance are the keys to a successful garden…

Professionally installed lighting and irrigation systems, as well as proper maintenance, enhance the overall beauty and long term success of your landscape design and garden.  

Proper lighting design and the use of carefully chosen lighting fixtures will showcase and beautify your garden, add security to your home, and allow enjoyment, even after dark.

Proper watering for the palette of plants chosen is arguably the most important factor in the success or failure of your garden.  A properly designed irrigation system, for your specific garden, is a critical maintenance aspect. For those who will maintain their own gardens, we are compelled to offer designs that you can easily maintain, or… we can maintain it for you.