Inspiration Boards

defining your garden style - plant partners from

As a designer I am not immune to creative dry spells – but the key to maintaining a steady stream of ideas is to know how to re-inspire yourself.   I gather inspiration from nearly every thing in my life; I never know when something is going to strike me in a way that causes new ideas start flowing.  But when I am in a pinch and feeling the need to force the issue…I have to actively go looking and often I find the answers in the art of others.

When I was in design school we had to study plants in depth – and a huge part of that study was learning a way to use them that was not only effective and practical in the garden, but also in a way that was artistically distinctive to each of us as designers.   The idea was that if we could strike on signature groupings, we could begin to define our distinctive styles as well as make the design process easier (by providing ourselves endlessly repeatable templates).

Do you have a signature planting look in your garden?  

If you don’t, it would be an interesting exercise to go through at the very least so that you can re-inspire yourself.  Here is what I do when I am trying to come up with something new and interesting:

  1. Find an inspiration source.  I like art; maybe you might pick something that is already hanging on the walls of your home.
  2. Study the piece for composition, pattern, and notable personality elements and also pull out the colors that appeal to you.
  3. Using these reference points to start, look for plants that reflect the work.  Let the list of possibilities ramble – maybe use a pinterest board to collect the ideas.
  4. Narrow it down.  Once you have a pool of ideas, start refining a plan based on bloom time (if you want your plants to play together – they probably need to bloom together), habitat (they need to be able to survive side by side) and individual characteristics as they meet your needs.

Hallway by Carolyn Swiszcz via  - how to create a planting collection from art. I’ve been playing with the collection above and it started with this painting by Carolyn Swiszcz (if it appeals to you as much as it appeals to me – you can buy it as 20×200).  The Coleus ‘Alligator Tear’s is a unique version of this plant – its feathery leaves reflect the pattern in the rug and the colors of all three plants are inspired by the painting.  I also want the planting to consist of things that are good for cutting and arranging….so that helped me to eliminate other options.   I am still working on this — and I think that I might add something that is the softest shade of peach pink….like perhaps a Verbascum ‘Southern Charm’.  And once I get it planted…perhaps it will be become something that works well and I can use it again elsewhere and in future projects – this is how I grow as a designer and gardener.

This collection is as quirky as the original inspiration and I am pleased that I have captured that.  How about you — have you used art (or anything else) to inspire planting? What image might you use to do the same?

Images:  Images courtesy of proven winners, and my instagram images are from one of my all time favorite design books – The Conran Ocotopus Garden Color Palette.  

Art:  Garden Hallway, Grand Rapids, MI by Carolyn Swiszcz

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Proven Winners.  I am not an employee of Proven Winners and all opinions are my own. See the other posts in this series. 

It’s January, Are you in planning mode?  Yeah, me too.

I’m planning windbreaks and barriers, berry gardens, possibly some new trees too, and the completion of my patio and arbor.

You might remember this post about black slats from last summer (you know where I was all talk about getting the arbor over the patio done – but then it didn’t get done….well this time I mean it).  I mean it so much I am planning the containers that will sit at the base of all those gorgeous black stained posts and slats (Note: My optimism about the completion of this is overflowing now that we have decided to hire a carpenter to finish the job rather than doing it ourselves – sometimes you just have to be realistic).  

Verdant Texture Planting Plan by
As I plan out the pots and accessories, I am so tempted to add a strong thread of another color, but green and black and white are just so great together that I have decided (at least for this year) I must resist.

I’m big on clusters of pots that go but don’t match; different heights and shapes and one type of plant per pot. Keeping the plants separated from each other – each in its own little manageable world – always seems to work better for me and I can re-arrange much more easily.

What do you think of the mix?  Here is my thinking on each choice:

Read the full post

I’ve been researching haunted houses in the area because my daughter wants to go to one for her birthday – followed by a girlie sleep-over. I’ve agreed to this plan, but fear it to be a really shortsighted idea since I have no idea how these six 10-year-old girls will respond to a haunted house. It could be disaster…but hopefully this is the type of thing that makes the best story (in 10 years).

It seems the haunted house scene has changed a bit since I last partook.  The places around here are kind of epic…in fact way more than I would ever want.  They seem to feature multiple scary places (not just a gym or a rec center transformed with a boatload of black plastic), they are purportedly many times more terrifying (even for adults) and they also have dining options and all sorts of other stuff going on so it is (I guess) meant to be a whole evening’s experience.  And the prices are whopping to go along with all this (most more than $30 pp).  I struggle to understand who wants to pay this kind of money to be terrified for hours on end (not me).

Being on the claustrophobic (and cheap) side…I’ve been looking for one of those well done but get you in and out in a half an hour for a fraction of the price sort of experiences.   They are hard to find and if you know of one in my area (Boston/ Central MA) I am open to suggestions.

Dark Scary gardens by www.studiogblog.comBut getting to the point of this post….I noticed that some of these haunted houses take advantage of some seriously good architecture.  There is one in a historic castle-like museum, one on the USS Salem (this is probably where we will end up if the govt. shutdown ends and it re-opens in time) and even one in an  old abandoned factory building (I shudder just thinking about that one). A nearby place called Witches Woods supposedly uses the creepiness of the forest to scare the bejesus out of you.

All this had me thinking how much more fun it would be to design some of these places – more fun (IMO) than it is to visit.  Of course I immediately thought the setting should be a garden center….or even better an old broken down garden center…

(Note: Above image from Creepy-chusettes an excellent blog about creepy places in my state…seems I’m not the only one who finds abandoned glasshouses with trees growing through them to be utterly terrifying…check out the site for more creepy destinations around New England)

So, I’ve been playing with all sorts of ideas that are inspired by movies and literature and of course gardens… and I’m having a grand old time making boards to share with you.  If you like some of these ideas and plan to use them in your own displays or projects, please take a picture and share it with us – or at the very least leave a comment to tell us where it it – or join and brainstorm/build on our ideas in the comments…it’s all fun.

Do you remember Children of the of the Corn? If you’ve seen it, it is near impossible to forget. If not — check out this run down on Life Between Frames.

sppoky corn field

Is there anything spookier than a corn field?  Lets just put aside the terrors of High Fructose Corn Syrup for a second and go deeper… walking through a field of rows where you hear the rustling of nearby beings…but because you are in a field of sameness your sense of direction is lost and you have no idea what lies perhaps only a few feet away….unless you catch little glimpses…

children of the corn inspired garden decor via

Making a corn cross is quite simple.  This one was made by The Scarecrow Post (with a brief rundown of how he did it).  I would put one together with the use of a long thin piece of wood (like a firing strip ziptied to a fence post to hold it up.  The rest can be constructed by either lashing together stalks with string or zip-ties.

We road tripped to Vermont this weekend and stopped at a corn maze that was built by a local garden center. This was not my first corn maze but it did enlighten me a little on the details of corn maze making (in that is was underwhelming and I could see how things can go very wrong).  The biggest fault of this particular maze was that the corn was planted much too far apart and the maze was cut too late.  Subsequently  there was no mystery and you almost couldn’t get even a little bit lost but you could twist your ankle or trip at nearly every step on the full grown corn stumps in the path.

I did a little poking around and if you are thinking of making a maze (like a chilling ‘Children of the Corn’ inspired maze perhaps?) — there is a little more thought that should be put into planning, planting and managing it.  Here is a little primer from Wikipedia…but a much more informational paper is downloadable from the Rutgers University Agriculture Agent William J. Sciarappa and Soil specialist Joseph Heckman called “Growing an A-maize-ing Corn Maze”. Worth checking out…it even has a little about the economics of creating this sort of public attraction.

I’ve got a few more ideas for creepy gardens that I am working on with inspirations coming from movies like Coraline, Pet Sematary, Hunger Games, the generally terrifying vegetable patches….I’ll get them up soon.  In the mean time feel free to suggest additions to this one!

Images The Scarecrow PostLife Between FramesCreepy-chusettesSeymour Mfg. 2G-497 Serrated Grass HookSeymour Mfg. 2G-497 Serrated Grass HookMalene Cornfield by Snake eyes (creative commons) on Flickr.

knot garden by tobi farely

Knot gardens in your average American garden always seem to me to a be bit of a trick.  In their most traditional style of implementation…they come across as a little pretentious (IMO), slightly old-fashioned and unless you have a house that looks like an English Manor with a gardening staff to accompany it…they are are probably too high maintenance for the average homeowner.


But taking inspiration from the classic Knot garden – these modern looser versions are much more achievable and appropriate.  This one by Eckersly Garden Architecture in Australia, uses sedum and a variety of drought tolerant grasses to create simple patterns.  Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 7.34.56 AM

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 7.35.07 AM

The Filoli Knot Garden, while being precisely the kind of place you might expect an old-fashioned,  clipped-tight Knot garden, takes the idea in a looser direction by using plants that don’t need the clipping and it is their looser form that gives this knot movement.  The lavender and berberis  appear in glorious drifts that also happen to be pleasingly symmetrical


Some of the plants used in this garden:

  • Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ –English Lavender 
  • Berberis thunbergii ‘Crimson Pygmy’ – JapaneseBarberry 
  • Ballota pseudodictamnus – Woolly Horehound 
  • Teucrium chamaedrys- Germander 
  • Rosmarinus of icinalis ‘Tuscan Blue’ – Rosemary (topiary standards)


Here is a looser example that uses a variety of berberis and boxwood from cherry gal.


And another completely achievable version from dry stone gardens.


I’m a huge fan of Sedum – it is simply stunning through New England autumns and am thinking to use it to even greater effect in a loose knot.  Besides Lavender, Berberis, Santolina, grasses and some of the other plants mentioned here, I am wondering if you have experimented with loose knots and found any plant treasures to make them more modern, low maintenance and achievable for modern homes?

Images: by TobiEckersley GardensLandscape Focus, Filoli Knot Garden with Lavender from Naturetime by Pam and Richardcherry gal,  dry stone gardens.


I am having a little obsession with garden whites right now. I have recently discovered a ocupel of plants as well as some bird lovers accessories that I am eager to find a place for – either in my own garden or someone elses.

I am a sucker for a beautiful leaf, and Allium karataviense ‘Ivory Queen’ aims to please don’t you think.
allium karataviense ivory queen
image from plantsgallery.

Nancy at Gardening Gone Wild has this allium planted in her garden and shares a great picture on her site where she has it paired with white-flowered dwarf fan columbine (Aquilegia flabellata var. pumila f. alba) , ‘Spotty’ dianthus, ‘Brookside’ geranium, ‘Marcus’ salvia, ‘Cramer’s Plum’ love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), ‘Walker’s Low’ catmint (Nepeta), ‘Caradonna’ salvia, and Rozanne geranium.  I love it,  but am thinking of a display that is more modern and probably contrived to really highlight these plants.

I am similarly obsessed with the ghostly qualities of Hosta ‘White Feathers’. White foliage is just so unnatural but eye catching, I can’t help but obsess.   I think the only place I could do this is in the some good shade and paired with something to really make it stand out, like maybe Ophiopogon planiscapus (Black Mondo Grass) and something silver like Dusty miller or perhaps more appropriately for the shade Japanese painted fern.


Image from J. Parker.

I am not interested in creating a white garden in the spirit of sissinghurst, but rather something completely modern that uses white for drama in a clean green space. This bird bath, bird house, and bird feeder would fit perfectly. I am not sure that the bath is substantial enough on its own but, I think maybe by doing 3 at different heights it could really be a stunning focal point.

modern white garden inspiration

Images from (from top right)

Allium  image from plantsgallery. Bird Bath and Birdhouse both from Bobby Berk Home. Bird feeder from binome jardin. Dusty Miller Image by LelisA. Hosta White Feather from Dutch Bulbs. Japanese Fern image by mistymisschristie. Ophiopogon image by Ge®t®ude

viburnum callicarpa crabapple berries

I’ve been outside snipping little bits, gathering tiny treasures from nature and making inspiration boards for the Thanksgiving Floral workshop that Rochelle and I are holding on the 14th. Todays board is all about berries. SO many colors, sizes and density of clusters to play with. - Roanne

clockwise: callicarpa, crabapples, viburnum, cotoneaster, ilex
Photo credit John Gruen

The starter motor in my car was dead this morning, so I have to drive the truck.  Driving the truck makes everything feel different.  It is the vehicular equivalent of rose colored glasses…except it makes me sing old country songs and desperately want to go junking – which I think I might do.  I have an appointment this afternoon a few towns away and I think I am going to find the longest possible route with as many junk shops along the way as possible to get there.

diy painted pumpkins

When these moods strike, I need to be prepared, that is to have a few ideas in mind.   So I gathered a few seasonal things that I have seen around the internet lately that have me in this lovely fall mood.

Do you decorate for Halloween?  I do, sometimes, (when I have time) but I think I might go for it this year….depending on what I find today.   In the mean time….here are some of my favorite fall decoration ideas.  I’ll let you know if I find anything really special.

chalk painted pumpkins

P.S. If you have a minute, say a little prayer to Saab fairies that the new starter motor will not cost so much that I have to re-think my treasure hunt!

mini frida kahlo costumeP.P.S  I’m in love with this mini Frida Kahlo costume…I’ve almost got my daughter convinced that she should do this…she is game but thinks the other kids won’t ‘get it’ – unfortunately I think she might be right.

P.P.P.S – Which do you prefer the Bright Painted Pumpkins or the Chalk Painted pumpkins?  I can’t decide for myself…I figure if I strike out on everything else….at least I can hit a farm stand and  fill the truck with gourds and pumpkins to satiate my truck adventure craving.

images Bats on the door (lots of other great halloween decor ideas there too),  painted pumpkins from handmade charlotte (lots of other pumpkin ideas there),  chalk painted pumpkins, and little frida (original source not found, via pinterest).