Private gardens can incorporate a diversity of habitats for wild species and altogether provide a valuable network for meta-populations. Recently, attempts have been made to promote garden practices that increase native biodiversity and structural heterogeneity relevant to plants and animals. However, little is known about whether such practices contribute to the aesthetic quality of gardens. This study is based on a survey with 36 garden owners in Switzerland, a species count in their gardens, and a photo-questionnaire with 249 Swiss residents who rated the attractiveness of the gardens. The 36 study gardens represented a gradient from conventional orthodox (frequent lawn mowing and weeding, intensive use of pesticides and fertilizers) to ecological unorthodox (infrequent lawn mowing and weeding, no use of pesticides and fertilizers) gardening practices.
Our results clearly show that scientific concepts of ecological quality can be in line with cultural concepts of aesthetic quality. The more ecologically managed a garden was, the more species it contained, and the more species it contained, the more attractive it was in view of our sample population. Aesthetically pleasing gardens were characterized as natural and species-rich, whereas aesthetically displeasing gardens were characterized as boring, normal and species-poor. A lack of time was no constraint to ecological gardening as garden owners felt that this practice needed less time than conventional gardening. A lack of practical know-how was more important. Information and education about the importance of ecological quality in private gardens might encourage more garden owners to apply ecological-gardening practices and lead to a positive feedback.