Saturday, November 19, 2011

Landscaping Inspiration

I've been very focused on landscaping and designing beds this season.  The process has come about in different ways.

I began by considering what kind of garden I prefer.  I like a cottage look with lots of flowering perennials packed in together.  But I also like the straight lines and clean shapes of a more formal area.   There are so many styles I like and for different areas and different reasons.  I found it impossible to resign myself to just one.

I tried considering the gardens based solely on planting conditions.  Where there is full sun I made lists of sun loving plants.  I considered planting trees in full sun to create some shade so I could have shady plants that I love.  From experience I know you can't fight your location so this factor was important.  In my previous shady garden all I wanted was flowers flowers flowers.  I tried, and failed - many times - to plant bright vibrant flowers.  It just wasn't working and I was frustrated.  Working with the shade brought about a garden I could be happy with so it's important I put plants where they will thrive.

It would have been near impossible to
grow these dahlias in a shady location
In the back garden I was inspired by a single plant.  I bought a Plume Poppy last year not knowing what it was.  When I discovered it wasn't a poppy at all but a large spreading perennial I needed to create a space specifically for it and I began to create a garden in colours and textures that would support it.

Plume Poppy
The large leaves of hollyhocks and hosta echo those of the poppy and the maroon flowers of Geranium Samobor complement the purple/blue leaves.  Thus far this strategy has worked well.  You can see the bed filling out below.

The entrance bed ran a completely different course.  This bed was constructed specifically to create a divide between the house entrance and the orchard.  As this bed is located at the front of the house for all to see I felt it should be in keeping with the tone of the house.  We live in a century old farmhouse and rather than a stiff formal garden I felt it needed a more romantic feel.  A cottage garden was decided on.  Loaded with perennials that I remember from my childhood.  It's funny, as I look around I see that in some ways I have recreated my mother's garden.  The size of the bed was important as well.  It's a large house and a large property.  A small bed would have looked insignificant in this setting.  Only a large bed would do.  A bed large enough to hold several trees, numerous flowering shrubs as well as loads of perennials.

The house won't dwarf this bed, it might be the other way around!
What design inspirations do you use?  Do you start with a drawing? Are you moved by a specific plant or object?  Is there an aesthetic you strive to achieve?


  1. I also asked myself the same question this summer: what did I want my garden to feel/look like? I came up with suburban prairie meets cottage style. Finally having a vision of what I wanted really helped with the design process since a lot of my garden needed redesigning.

    It's interesting how we subconciously add plants that are meaningful to us without realizing we're doing it. It solidifies how important that person/memory is to us.

    What are your plans for the large shrubs by your porch?

  2. Everywhere but my own garden, I get inspiration from the site itself, the views, the neighborhood, the personality, decorating style and preferences of the homeowner, and the architecture and character of the house. The gardens evolve from a process and study. In my own garden, the above really does not come into play as my garden is like a testing ground to judge success of plant combinations and planting styles for others. It is good you went through a process. I can see it working nicely and your cottage garden looks great with your home.

  3. I have been asking myself the same questions. Typically I just buy plants I love and then find a place for them in my garden. This makes for a very eclectic garden and doesn't really following any landscape design rules. I think I need to start considering plant structure, texture and good plant combinations to really have an impact and buy accordingly.

  4. Hi Marguerite, I find that my garden is very much like my mother's garden as well. I suppose when you grow up in a garden it becomes hugely inspirational. After we married, we lived in a small townhouse for 14 years and I dreamed about the garden I wanted someday. I collected inspirational pictures and planned it all in my head.
    We have lived in this present house for about 8 years now. I think it might be a good time to step back and take a hard look to see at whether I am still on the right track of creating that dream garden that I carried in my head in those early years of marriage.

  5. Tammy - those are a couple of overgrown yews by the front door. It would be nice to relocate them but ultimately they may just be chopped down as they're so huge. The entire front porch needs to be rebuilt due to rot and work done on shingles, etc. so this area will be changing drastically in the coming years.

  6. Donna -It sounds like your garden and other professionals have a similar issue using your space as a test area. Before reading blogs I never really thought about the fact that landscapers and nurseries would test plants. It's an unusual way to think about about a garden space.

    Karin - I've been doing a lot of buying plants in singles just because I love them. It's a hard habit to break. I tend to excuse myself because I figure if I want to learn about a plant I have to try growing one before I can decide if I like it and buy more.

    Jennifer - I applaud how organized you are in planning your dream garden. I've seen some of those clippings, you're very thorough! I too dreamed about the garden I would one day have but have not been nearly so organized in planning. There's just too many styles and plants that I love and want. I can't decide.

  7. Marguerite your front bed looks lovely and from the angle of the photo makes your house seem smaller than in other photos I've seen, did you know Yew is one of a few evergreen trees where you can cut into old wood and it will regrow, so you could make them smaller or narrower, in a book I saw a photo of a climber with bright red flowers on a yew it looked beautiful, sorry can't remember what the climber was,

    I did design on paper the little front garden when first here but it has become over grown, the one theme in my mind has been nature, then considering the different areas hence a damp meadow rather than a wildflower meadow which my soil is too heavy for, I am only just starting to think more about hard landscaping, very recently where I have finally been able to create beds I am working out what I have and what I would like new to plant in them, future posts will tell more, Frances

  8. Don't you love the idea of 'garden rooms'? You can have your cottage garden and your formal, straight lines, just in different areas. It seems to be coming along beautifully. It's wonderful when young beds start to fill in and you can see your design coming to fruition. I think the front bed is going to be wonderful in a couple more years!

  9. Frances - you're right, this picture makes the house look smaller than it is. I knew yews could be trimmed and shaped but wasn't sure how much. Interesting that you can cut them back that much. Ultimately though they need to be moved completely as we'd like to expand the porch area. If I can cut them back and then dig them out that's a possibility but I have no idea how big their roots are and how much work that would be.

    Aagaard Farms - one thing about having such a big property, I think I can get away with very different styles in separate areas. I can't wait for spring so I can get back to work on that front bed, I'm excited already for how it will look in the future.

  10. Whatho Hidcote had a post up about the colourful climber on yew. Troph- something?
    As your ideas develop, a little judicious transplanting, and propagating the ones you love will give you garden rooms. Which we will enjoy visiting!

  11. I like these design posts and seeing how your gardens develop. You have given thought to the look of your house and how the look of the garden should complement.

    My designs come from problem solving -- I need some screening here, need a focal point there, have to get some shade on the west side of the house, need to hide the utilities, etc. It's not very cohesive, but my landscapes do solve problems and end up looking good!

  12. Marguerite girl hello there : )
    Your gardens are going to be beautiful no matter the design because as gardeners we have an insatiable desire for PLANTS and the more the merrier ? LOL
    I too tried out Plume Poppy for covering ugly gas meter .. but I then fell for ornamentle grasses and hydrangea and the craziness goes on .. but I still like plume poppies !even if I don't have any.
    You asked what the plant was with these gorgeous coloured leaves .. "Golden Spirit" smoke bush aka Cotinus goggyria Golden Spirit .. I have it planted close to my Royal Purple and the contrast can be breath taking can the smoke flowers .. I highly recommend it for a specimen shrub or small tree (which is more what I aim for) .. I think it would look wonderful on your property girl so think about getting one too !!
    Joy : )

  13. Like you, I like different styles, so I generally try a formal shape, with cottage style planting. I draw out the outline on paper, but I'm not good with measurements, so I just wing the plantings. Which is much more fun, because I'm an impulse plant shopper! Sometimes I think having a large property is especially hard because there are too many options!

  14. My source of inspiration is a website of landscape company in Vancouver, BC. They are posting pictures from their commercial and residential landscape installation and maintenance projects on their website every month. Go take a look at their slideshow

  15. Diana - definitely have some ideas about judicious transplanting already! One of the hard parts of gardening is waiting to see your garden take shape.

    Laurrie - I think a lot of people design the same way. Particularly in urban landscapes there are a lot of neighbours to hide from or utilities to screen out. We've been lucky to not have to worry about that too much.

    Joy -did you pull the plume poppy or did it die? I find it hard to imagine this plant wouldn't survive, it's a bit of a monster. Like you, I can't help myself from wanting to try everything.

    Holley - sometimes I wonder if I won't fill up this property with one of everything from the nursery. I'm definitely in the impulse category too.