Finding Garden Inspiration that is Beautiful and Realistic, in Three Easy Steps
Plus, How to Research Garden Design to Best Inform Your Landscape Designer to Build the Garden of Your Dreams
When preparing to create anything, it’s best to start with a plan—especially when it comes to starting a garden, you need good inspiration.
We do not build homes without a blueprint; therefore, I don’t suggest starting a garden without a good plan.
And for me, before getting out the graph paper and seed catalogs, I recommend taking even a few more steps back before spearing a single shovel into the ground.
Gathering good inspiration that will not only inspire you, but also create attainable garden goals and potentially help better inform your landscape designer includes these three key steps:
- Clearly Evaluate Your Garden’s Environment
- Gather Inspiration from Your Local Garden Community First
- Research Timeless Inspiration that is Beautiful and Attainable
- Plus, What to Do With All of the Amazing Inspiration
Evaluate Your Garden’s Environment
If you have not already done so, I highly recommend reading this post first on how to plan for your garden logistically. It’s good to get clear on what you want, and what you’re capable of achieving as far as time, money and your garden’s environment.
You can curate a perfectly beautiful Pinterest Board of garden inspiration that is stunning to look at. And, I do encourage you (eventually) to save all clippings that inspire you. But to make it a reality, or your own version of a reality, we’ve got to nail down a few things.
What is Your Goal with Your Garden?
Are you just looking to landscape around your home? Will your garden be a place to entertain, or instead an escape? Is it a pathway to another area of your home? Are you wanting to grow food for your family?
Get clear on what your goal is with the space.
Similar, again, to your home—we know what the kitchen is used for, what the bedroom is used for, etc. What is the purpose of your garden?
What is Your Hardiness Zone?
While not infallible, knowing your hardiness zone will be a helpful boundary to set when it comes time to choosing plants. If you don’t know your hardiness zone, you can easy find out and learn more about it here.
What Style Best Suits Your Natural Environment and Home?
This is a personal opinion, but I truly believe that gardens that are in harmony with their environment create a better experience. You can certainly have a garden design that is a purposeful juxtaposition, but that is much harder to pull off, in my opinion.
We live in Oklahoma. My favorite gardens are English cottage gardens and potagers with ivy climbing stone walls. Now, a true potager would not flow well with our 2010’s white farmhouse. Ivy would look messy on our home.
To plant flowers and vegetables that grow well in England, but not here, and to design something very cottage-like would not feel right with our home.
However, I do not like rows and rows of rectangle and square shaped beds that would fit our home. I love all gardens, but I personally don’t like the Victory Garden rows on rows look.
I have to find a blend in my garden inspiration that provides the romance I love in those potagers, but doesn’t compete or “argue with” our home.
Eventually, we’d love to paint the house a darker color, inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, which would help adjust the farmhouse vibe to something more romantic.
But even still, I want to be mindful that some of my inspiration may not be a literal interpretation (which is a good thing!), and to keep returning to the idea of harmony.
Gather Inspiration From Your Local Garden Community First
It is so tempting to browse through those giant garden books in Barnes & Noble or endlessly scroll on Pinterest for ideas first. Don’t do it! Start local.
Start at Your Local Nursery
You are probably already a regular at your local nursery, but start paying attention to the plants that get replenished the most.
During my time working with my local nursery, Sanders Nursery, I have learned so much in general. But, I’ve paid a lot of attention to what plants are always in demand and what the nursery team is always, consistency selling. Those plants obviously do very well!
Don’t be afraid to ask questions too. They will not, or will stop, selling plants that don’t perform well in their area as they want to keep customers happy.
Your local nursery is a great place to start to gather local garden inspiration.
What Has Survived and Matured in Your Town?
This is my favorite “sneaky” way to gather garden inspiration. Drive around the old neighborhoods, and look at what trees and shrubs look the healthiest and most mature. Those have stood the test of time with your environment.
Go to your local botanical gardens, historic homes or other older, public venues and take a look at the more mature landscaping.
Oklahoma’s extreme weather of triple-digit summers to a fluke sub-zero winter, droughts, heavy winds and more makes us, the local gardeners, wary of plants that are fragile or on the border of our hardiness zone.
If you love a plant, you should definitely give growing it a try! But for investing in a landscape or major garden, get some consistently-proven plant inspiration just by driving around town.
Ask Local Gardeners What to Embrace and What to Avoid
I know, it seems obvious, but you’ve got to get off of your computer and go talk to a real-life person who has experience to share. They will be more helpful to you than anything you find online, trust me.
Join a local garden club, sign up for your local nursery’s gardening classes, offer to volunteer at a local public garden…or, apply to work at your local nursery like I did!
While I knew a lot about gardening in theory, talking with the nursery’s team about personal project or plants I was interested in gave me so much more insight, and later success, than any influencer or book.
How to Research Timeless Garden Inspiration
Seeking timeless and unique inspiration was part of my job as a magazine owner years ago, preparing for photo shoots and story boards. And for me, this is really the fun part!
We get to blend all of the facts about our garden environment and what is logistically possible and combine it with our dreamy ideas to create our own garden style and design plan!
Your First Round of Garden Inspiration Research Should Be 20+ Years Old
Honestly, the older the inspiration at the start of your design research, the better. But, whether for fashion or home design, I like to start at least 20 years back for inspiration.
Why? If a design idea has lasted a 20-year cycle of trends, to me, it’s timeless. If I see something from the 1990’s that I think is stunning and relevant today, it’s transcended trends and will be a design choice I won’t regret.
Where do you find such inspiration? Go to a local thrift store, or even eBay, and flip through old home and garden magazines from 20 years and farther back. I have all my old Martha Stewart and Architectural Design magazines from the past 20+ years, and I will always keep them for reference.
Search for Garden Inspiration in Books, Before the Internet
This will help you find older, timeless inspiration as well. Years ago, it was much more difficult to publish a book, or even a magazine. There were more gatekeepers involved.
The good thing about that was that anything in a book was usually much more vetted and verified than the content we consume today. The bad thing was that it sometimes provided a very narrow perspective on a topic.
Still, I recommend going to a bookstore or library and looking in garden design books, interior design books—really, anything that inspires you.
Dream Big and Seek Inspiration from Unlikely Places
One of my favorite things to do: seek inspiration in unlikely places.
My favorite place to seek inspiration, something I did often for my magazine, is films. From old black and white classics to moody foreign films, historical shows…really, whatever you enjoy. Look at the landscapes of the spaces, look around the gardens the lovers are promenading through.
Set designers put so much thought and effort to the entire scene, even the landscape and outdoors. Take another look and ask yourself what you like and don’t like and how the outdoor environment affects the scene.
You could be inspired by a song or literature, or old photographs of your family. Look around, open your eyes to the world and art surrounding you.
Now is the time to dream big. You’ve set your logistical boundaries and know what can and cannot work. Enjoy gathering the final round of inspiration for your garden!
Overwhelmed with Amazing Garden Inspiration, What Now?
Maybe you’ve curated your garden Pinterest Board or went old school with a binder of clipping and notes, or both! What to do now that we have all of this amazing garden inspiration?
Next step is to actually plan your garden! You can dive in with your measuring and graph paper, or, hire a landscape designer to help you with your project.
While you certainly can map out your garden yourself, if you’re working on a large project—aka, a large investment—I would really encourage you to take all of this inspiration to a professional landscape designer.
Having a professional review and design your space and provide a blueprint to your project will be a priceless tool that will help give you a north star to your goals.
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This post may contain affiliate links from a sponsor, Amazon Affiliates or other program. If you use these links to buy something we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. This allows me to continue creating more content that you love. The content of this article is for general information purposes only. My goal is to provide you with the best information possible from my personal experiences for you to make the best decisions on the given topics for yourself.
Photograph by Leah Payne