Sunday, April 15, 2018

Mining a Garden for Inspiration: 10 Ideas to Borrow

Instead of focusing on specific plants, for this post I thought that I'd point out some of the many bits of inspiration a garden can offer.

The house is a typical bungalow–long and low. The yard is wide but shallow. At the back of the house, there are two distinct elevations. As you will see, the homeowner has played up this shift in elevation with a set of stone steps that lead from the upper level of the garden to a lower terrace with a large area for entertaining.

Idea 1: Soften the straight lines of your house and driveway with curved flowerbeds.

A simple way to tackle the front yard is to add a flowerbed that sweeps along the face of the house. Link it to a second flowerbed that curves away from the straight line of the driveway. 

I like how this homeowner has added a few taller shrubs at the far corner of the house. The shrubs add privacy and help create a little separation between this property and the one next door.

The homeowner was also smart to avoid evergreens that will grow to monster proportions. Instead, she's opted for shrubs that can be pruned to keep their growth in check or shrubs that have a low mounded shape.  

Idea 2: Lavender-blue & White What a fresh color combination this is! These are Spanish Bluebells (a bulb planted in fall) with Candytuft in the background.

Evergreen Candytuft, Iberis sempervirens: Candytuft has glossy, evergreen foliage and white flowers that bloom for several weeks in spring. Prune lightly after flowering to keep it from getting leggy. Good drainage is essential and somewhat dry conditions are preferred. Candytuft is not easily divided.  Full sun. Height: 20-25 cm (8-10 inches), Spread: 30-90 cm (12-35 inches). USDA Zones: 3-9.

Idea 3: Save money by growing plants from seed. Start easy to grow and short-lived perennials (like these columbine at the front of the house) from seed. 

15 Perennials easy to grow from seed: 
• Columbine
• Balloon Flower (Platycodon)
• Coreopsis
• Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
• Blanket flower (Gaillardia)
• Lupins
• Yarrow (Achillea) 
• Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria)
• Salvia
• Coneflower (Echinacea)
• Mallow (Malva sylvestris)
• Delphinium
• Maltese Cross (Lychnis chalcedonica)
• Butterfly Weed (both Asclepias incarnata and Asclepias tuberosa)

Idea 4: Create a destination by placing a bench opposite a gateway or at the end of a path.  

Idea 5: Install a low-maintenance water feature.

Ponds can be a lot of work, but there are other options that give you the same relaxing sound of splashing water without the labour of installing and maintaining a pond. Most big box stores and nurseries now offer kits that come with everything you need to install a water feature.

In this garden, a covering of grey pebbles disguises a pump and an underground reservoir. If you want to go with a water feature like this, be sure to choose a kit with a large reservoir so you don't have to refill it every day.

Hydrangea, Japanese Ferns and Lady's Mantle are a few of the part-shade plants you see here.

Idea 6: Make your yard seem bigger by making the fence disappear. 

Climbers, shrubs and trees can all help disguise the boundaries of your yard and make it seem bigger than it is. Here, mirrors have been used to reflect the green of the garden and make the fence less of a stopping point for the eye.

Idea 7: In shade, take advantage of any sunlit pockets 

Even the shadiest garden will often have a break in the canopy that creates a small area of part-shade or even full sun. Use these pockets to grow containers of colorful flowers that wouldn't otherwise be possible.

Solomon's Seal, Polygonatum at the side of the house.

A Euonymus hides the chimney. 

Idea 8: Make the entrance enticing and the exit memorable.

This was probably my favourite area in the garden. The wrought iron gate is pretty and even though there isn't a ton of color, the plantings are lush and green...which brings me to the next takeaway idea.

Idea 9: Use a single type of plant to make a statement. 

Ostrich Fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris has not only been planted in a large clump, but it has also been repeated on either side of the garden gate. The same hosta is also repeated- this time on either side of the path.

Pathway leading back to the front of the house.

Idea 10: Use a container of annuals to add color to an area that is mostly green.

Perennials are great, but annuals bloom for months once established. In a shady area that is mostly green, a container planting of annuals is well worth the investment.


  1. Where is this garden? I am so jealous, we are covered in snow and won't see any spring for a couple more weeks. Zone 3, envying those in zone 5.

    1. You are not alone. I just spent over an hour in the pouring rain chipping through yesterday's ice and snow in our driveway. And to think I almost packed away our snow shovels! LOL! It's hard not to be jealous of gardeners south of us at this time of year.
      This garden is in Mississauga, Ontario. The pictures were taken at the end of May last year. Right now I am sure this garden is also under several inches of ice and snow.
      Here's hoping for more seasonable weather soon!!

  2. Wonderful ideas! Thanks Jennifer!

  3. we replaced the home made water pond in our new place with a disappearing fountain. We kept the same hole but added a trench and bought some crates for the huge rock to sit on. There's a place not far from us that sells rocks and then they drill the hole in it for you. Every one of these photos shows a beautiful yard or section of yard. Beautiful. I especially love how the ferns and hosta soften that simple black gate. Lovely post.

  4. Fabulous advice to make your garden pop....I should grow more perennials from seed but now I am dividing plants which have grown or seeded around so that helps too!


I love to hear from you. Thanks for leaving a comment.