How do I stop the madness of crazy bedlines? These are the lines that slither through the lawn without a care in the world. Those new to landscape design often follow this approach: place plants in the ground, then outline each plant on the edge with a bedline, which results in a wiggly array of chaos (see below).

I encourage you to take a step back and think about how landscape design is about creating space.  We create the space first (the lawn or patio, for instance), then use the plants to reinforce that space.  You can read more about this idea in my Keep it Positive in the Garden post. The bedline is the edge of that space, so it needs to be purposeful to reinforce whatever shape you are creating for the lawn or patio.

Catherine from Garden Drum has a great way to think about this concept. She describes the garden space we are creating as the doughnut hole, while the actual doughnut is the planting bed reinforcing it. The bedline would be the outer edge of the doughnut hole.

There is another benefit to stronger bedlines...less maintenance and easier mowing.  Imaging trying to edge all those wiggly curves with a spade, or worse, trying to mow into those tight little crevices. Eek.

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I always love finding fun garden blogs.  As you take a break for the holidays, sit back, relax and do some garden dreaming.

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A great way to add pop to your garden is through contrast. Contrast is an art principle that refers to placing opposing elements together (light/dark, black/white, smooth/rough, etc.) to create visual interest.

In the garden this can be achieved in many ways, but I thought it would be fun to show it simply using a bench tucked into a small planting. A bench can be a great focal point if you heighten it's contrast to the surrounding landscape. Using complimentary colors is a good way to get high contrast. Complimentary colors are those opposite on the color wheel and include these combinations: green and red, orange and blue, plus purple and yellow.
There are times when you might also want low contrast in your garden. Maybe you'd like your bench hidden, so you can slide away to read in quiet or your goal might be a calm, soothing color scheme where everything blends in a tranquil way.

Below I've attempted to show high to low contrast combinations so you can decide what might work best in your garden (yes, I got a little crazy with the mysterious purple plants, but I had to prove my point somehow!). Oh, and the bench design was gently borrowed from Belle Escape.

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Recently, a friend of mine had a sweet little girl named Poppy.  She asked me kindly to create an illustration for her room, so I created the one below.  My friend is a horticulturist, so her other daughter is aptly named Violet. What a beautiful pair.

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Over the last few weeks I've made a lot of big decisions in terms of how I want to focus this blog and share my love of garden design.

In celebration of my birthday and the holiday season, I'd like to toss in one more twist...sharing my eBook, The Peanut Butter & Jelly Garden with all of you.  This book focuses on my theme garden development process in a whimsical (yet practical) way.  I've been developing this process for a long time and just want to share it with the world (no need to hide behind a price tag anymore). 

Once you read through this book you'll begin to understand me as a designer and illustrator...and hopefully be inspired along the way. The only thing I ask in return is that you sign up to receive my email updates (which really isn't a lot...typically once a week). That's it!

You can read more about my eBook here or just sign up for your free copy by clicking the blue circle below.

I hope you enjoy this new journey into the magical world of garden design...and happy holidays!

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As I teach you my tips and tricks about garden design, it's only appropriate to also give you the skills to carry out your creations. One of these skills is knowing how to draw plants in plan view (looking from above down towards your garden). I've included two resources for you below...an illustration showcasing a sampling of plant symbols, plus I created a short video so you can actually see the process of how I draw them.

If you'd like to purchase a copy of the diagram above you can find the digital version here or the hard copy here...and below is a short video showing you how I whip up a plant symbol or two. Enjoy!

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In 2009 I began my blogging career with a goal to paint one food illustration a day for an entire year. That adventure was coined THE LUNCH BOX PROJECT.  It was a thrilling joyride to create daily, learn about the ins and outs of food (since I'm not much of a cook), and become part of the welcoming food blogging community.

While I whipped up delectable dishes each night with my paint brush, I continued to work my "full-time job" at a university botanical garden as an educator, planner, and designer, then later teaching in the horticulture department. I loved both parts of my life and continued this parallel activity for four years. I even began another blog for a short time, TOPIARY & TIRAMISU, to help fulfill that need to talk about gardening.

In 2011, when I shifted to teaching landscape design full time in our university's horticulture department, I found the career of my dreams. I was now able to share my love of garden design with talented students everyday. This joy was so powerful that I wanted to start sharing my tips and tricks with gardeners outside the university too...but it was exhausting trying to keep up with both my former garden blog and my food blog. Someone suggested I combine both focuses into one blog, which worked for awhile, but my love of garden design took over.

So this week I finally made the decision to finish THE LUNCH BOX PROJECT (after all, it really is a project that has been successfully completed). I will continue to draw food as it relates to the garden (because my husband is a crazy vegetable gardener and I can't ignore that part of my life), but my new focus will mostly be garden design. Through all of this I am still an illustrator and that will never go away. I hope my illustration background and quirky way of looking at design will pop a breath of fresh air into our beautiful, manipulated, plant-filled outdoor spaces.

Thanks to those that have supported me through THE LUNCH BOX PROJECT and a big welcome to all my new readers that yearn for a new perspective on garden design.

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People often ask where I search out new plants for my designs. Besides books, I enjoy perusing online plant databases. These are great for narrowing down choices by picking key plant characteristics. For instance I can search for a 24" tall perennial that likes sun, has purple flowers, thrives in zone five, plus has an upright form. A great way to narrow down thousands of plants to two or three.  Note that none of these are inclusive, so you'll have to use a combination of sites to find a good selection of plants.

Here are some of my favorites:

Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder

Midwest Groundcovers Advanced Plant Search

Monrovia Plant Catalog 

Perennial Resource Perennial Encyclopedia


Here are some additional database suggestions via those on my Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ streams:

Bluestone Perennials Plant Finder

Cal Poly Tree Selection Tool

Dave's Garden PlantFiles

Fine Gardening Plant Guide

Great Plant Picks (Pacific Northwest)

Jim Melka Plant Finder

LBJ Wildflower Center Native Plant Database

Learn to Grow Plant Search

Nursery Guide (Oregon)

Online Plant Guide

Plant Lust

Rhode Island Coastal Plant Guide

Royal Horticultural Society Plant Selector

San Marcos Growers

Shoot Plant Search

UConn Plant Database

USDA Plant Finder

Waterwise Database (zones 8-11)

Waterwise Santa Barbara

The database below actually helps you ID plants.  Love it!

New England Wild Flower Society Simple ID Key

This plant database is subscription-based. It has a wealth of plant information from Australia, but has spread into other parts of the world too.


Do you have a favorite online plant database not included above? Happy plant hunting!

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A couple of months ago I visited a small, yet amazing garden in central Iowa.

I learned something that day: size doesn't matter...it's all in the details.  

That same day we also visited a landscape much larger than the one below. It was beautiful, but lacked the engagement. I saw everything at once, rather than enjoying the thrill of mystery.

Always think about the details of your garden, including furniture, ornamentation, architecture, paint, and sweet plantings.  How can you surprise your visitor rather than just giving away all your views in one sweep?


If you'd like to explore this landscape more, here are the last two posts I wrote on the same garden:

A Dog Friendly Garden
Texture in the Garden

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A fun way to design a landscape is in elevation - or a straight-on view as if you were standing and looking at it (vs. a plan view that is looking down from the sky). When designing in elevation take note of how all plants have a unique form. Some are circular, oval, columnar, pyramidal, weeping or even irregular. You can read more about plant forms here.

Take a photo of your house, lay tracing paper over it, then try drawing a composition of different plant forms in front of it. Think about accentuating your entry, while also framing your house overall.  Mix different forms, plus layer them (2-3 rows of plants is much more interesting than one). Click here to see an example.

Below is a simple tutorial of how to draw a tree, so you can focus on designing, rather than worrying about your drawing skills (anyone can draw a tree, really).  I also have a slightly different format of this graphic tutorial available for purchase as a digital file here or a hard copy here.

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I was perusing my former garden blog and came across one of my favorite posts from 2011...a little ditty on garden sheds.  Here is the post as written...

Can functional structures like sheds be beautiful too? 

As we decorated ours with corn stalks a couple of weeks ago I realized how lucky we were to have such a lovely, vibrant shed in our garden. I then realized our neighborhood was filled with similar structures...some old, some new, but all stunning. They all store tools (and some even chickens), plus garden ephemera. Each one has an intriguing beauty. 

Rather than build a typical shed in your yard, create a functional masterpiece that becomes an integral component of your garden. 

Our fun orange garden shed designed and constructed by my husband.
Our neighbor's garden shed and chicken coop to the east of our house. 
A shaker-like shed and beautiful worn brick a couple of houses to the north.
The oldest and most detailed shed in our neighborhood located just to the northeast.
A big thanks to all of our neighbors for letting me tromp through your yards, move around your garden tools and allowing me to flip your light switches on and off to take these photos.

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For the past few days I've had the pleasure of taking a hand-lettering workshop through Skillshare with the talented Mary Kate McDevitt. We had to pick a quote, go through a series of warm-up exercises, then finally create a final hand-lettered composition. I created three, then plan to create a print with one of them. Let me know if you have a favorite.

You may wonder about the garden sprinkles. Sprinkles are those sweet details that you place throughout your garden to make it extra special.  These may include art, lighting, paint, furniture, wind chimes, etc.

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Let me tell you a little secret about garden design. It's important to keep your livable spaces positive.

What do I mean? Often we'll lay out beds, think about their shapes meticulously, plop them in our yard, then fill them with plants...creating a negative space for our main livable area. This main area becomes leftover space, even though it should be the main focus of our garden. The main space is often the lawn (though it could be a patio or deck too). This is very similar to rooms in your house.  Each room has a strong shape with walls that reinforce it.
Try designing this way instead...

1. Identify where you would like your main lawn area.
2. Determine what shape it should be...an oval, square, circle, kidney bean, etc.
3. Keep the bed lines clean and/or in broad strokes (not a lot of small wiggles).
4. Place planting beds and plant materials to reinforce your shape (along the outer edge, not in the middle).
5. Now you have an amazing garden where you can place garden furniture, read a book, have a picnic or play a little croquet.
A couple of thoughts...though the positive garden I'm showing you above is formal, your garden does not have to be.  This process works for both formal and informal gardens.  Also, your lawn shapes do not have to be totally surrounded by plants.  You can place them sparingly to still give the idea of a lawn shape, without totally enclosing it.

In the end, I want you to remember that garden design is about creating space.  This space is formed by plants and hardscapes, but you must always remember to create the space first.

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Making all that pesto inspired me to pull all my recent herb illustrations into one print. You can find out more about this print in my Etsy Shop.  I also have a digital version available here.



As I've been drawing food the last few years I've become more brave in trying some classic recipes. One of these is pesto. I happened to be paging through a magazine one day and came across this recipe and was shocked with it's simplicity.

I actually had most of the ingredients tucked into my cabinets, garden and refrigerator. The missing ingredient, pine nuts, was given to me by a friend (after I traded some fresh strawberries with her). I hate to admit that even though I was growing basil in the garden, I really didn't appreciate it's lovely scent until I prepared it into pesto.

My first batch was amazing, so a few weeks later I made a larger batch, then froze it in ice cube trays.  I plan to use these throughout the winter and mix them into pasta, potatoes, spaghetti sauce and whatever else needs a little extra flavor.


1/2 clove of garlic
1/4 cup of pine nuts
2 cups of fresh basil
1/4 cup of olive oil
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

In a food processor, finely chop 1/2 clove of garlic.
Add 1/4 cup of pine nuts and grind.
Add 2 cups of basil and process with 1/4 cup of olive oil.
Add 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese and process to combine.
Season with salt and pepper.

This recipe is from Whole Living Magazine.  Their recipe is written in a more flexible format so you can mix in different herbs, nuts and cheese for different tastes.

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I am infatuated with great TEXTURE in the garden...and the garden I visited last week had amazing texture plastered all over it. So excitingIf you want your garden to pop in all seasons, take note of texture combinations that make you happy.

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This week I had the privilege of visiting a stunning Iowa garden. When I swung open the ornate wooden gate I was greeted by two sweet little dogs and a third held by this quaint garden's owner. As I walked through, it was such a delight finding all the doggie doo-dads...all done so beautifully.

1. Look at this fabulous set of limestone steps that lead up to a doggie door. You don't see these tiny doors much in the cold winters of Iowa, but it works for the owner well. The plant keeps visitors off the wobbly stairs, while reserving them for those with four legs.

2. Not only is this a beautifully constructed arbor for garden guests, but it also includes little stairs for small furry friends (who should also relax in comfort).

3. One sweet little pup enjoying his favorite garden bench.

4. A serpentine fountain inspired from Welsh travels. Perfect for little paws to hop over while taking a walk along the path.

5. This fence had to be designed twice.  The first row of pickets were installed, then soon after one smart pup slid right through the narrow spaces. The sleek addition of chicken wire and second row of pickets fixed that problem. How could any creature want to escape this garden?

6. Another arbor and gate leading to the back garden. This gate is intended to keep neighborhood kids out (not the dogs). All animals need some privacy.

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