I’m convinced there’s a garden designer inside of each of us – just like there’s a writer, an artist, a fashionista, and a philosopher. If you have a story or a perspective you qualify to design your own garden or landscape. All you need is a little bit of knowledge to bring it out. And, in the words of the illustrious Jim Rome: “Have a take, don’t suck.”
So where do you start? Like most design, the best place to start is inspiration. Read a book. Flip through a magazine. Browse on Pinterest. Keep your eyes open as you drive through the neighborhood or around town. Visiting the local botanical gardens is a great place to get ideas, especially here in Nashville where we have a place like Cheekwood. My favorite way to get inspired is to walk around a local garden center. When I stroll through Hewitt’s Garden and Design Center in Franklin, TN I always see plants I hadn’t thought of and pairings that I would have never put together. Big box store garden centers can be helpful, but most are lacking in quality and innovation. Try to find a nursery that only sells locally.
It will probably feel like piracy at first, just cutting and pasting other people’s ideas into your own landscape, and that’s ok when you’re just getting started. Coloring books are fun when you’re a kid, and just seeing a color appear when you put the crayon to the paper is exhilarating. But, as you expose yourself to a wide variety of designs and ideas and perspectives, you’ll figure out what moves you and develop your own voice as a designer. That’s when the fun begins. Instead of filling in the pictures drawn for you, you’ll venture outside the lines and off the page, to wherever your spirit leads you.
Not all inspiration is aesthetic. Typically there will be some utilitarian function for your garden: food, shade, drainage, wildlife, etc. Functionality, however, should never quench inspiration, it should simply provide a framework for it. Find creative, beautiful ways to solve problems and you’ll add value to what may seem cheap.
Technical knowledge is vital for great design and a thriving garden, and that will come, but without inspiration it’s robbed of its value.