Step four of the theme garden design process is a doozie.  It does take a bit of time to pull together all the physical parts of a garden.  Today let's talk about hardscapes.  

1. Pick a theme 
2. Brainstorm
3. Research 
4. Translate ideas to physical form (yes, we're still here!)
5. Create the plan

Hardscape typically encompass non-living permanent materials.  These can include paving, arbors, pergolas, walls, trellises, fences, gazebos, and whatever other garden architecture you can dream up.

Try to think in three dimensions when considering hardscapes, since you are creating a garden space.  An easy way to conceptualize this is in terms of a floor, walls, and ceiling.

Take a shape or two from the last post and try converting those to a hardscape element, plus think about how our colors can be translated to a hardscape material.

Let's start with the garden floor (paving, for instance).  For fun, let's take the idea of heavy metal posters.  I want to show how you can take one of the shapes from our list in garden STRUCTURE then translate it into a hardscape.  I'm picking a simple shape, but you can also do this with the shape of a skull, jeans, chains or anything from our list. 

Here is another example of paving using a drum as inspiration instead.  I also linked them like chains, plus used three of them to represent the trifecta of heavy metal (speed, power and precision).  Hey, why not have symbolism in layers?  It's a great story to tell your friends.
Now let's think about the walls in your garden. Walls can take many forms, but I've included just two simple fence designs.  

There are also lots of options for ceilings in your garden (including none and just enjoying the sky). I've included just one example of how we could incorporate our theme into an overhead structure.  I was inspired by the flying V guitar.
I could go on and on and on with hardscapes inspired by the heavy metal theme.  Again, take a look at our brainstorming and research lists and let me know if you think of other fabulous ideas.



Today let's move onto garden structure!  This is still part of step four below.  

1. Pick a theme 
2. Brainstorm
3. Research 
4. Translate ideas to physical form
5. Create the plan

Before jumping into the structure for our heavy metal garden, I'd like to give you a broad overview of this concept first.

If you want to look like you know something about landscape design...add structure to your garden.  This is the greatest impact you can make on your design.

The structure of a garden is how one gives form to an outdoor space. Rather than placing things willy-nilly, structure will encourage strong lines and reinforce your theme.

To simplify things, think of this structure on the ground plane.  Imagine looking at your garden from above in the winter (when the plants are no longer the dominant focus). What shapes and lines would you see?

Another way to visualize structure is thinking about the shape of your lawn or patio.  This space should be a strong space that can be easily seen.

To establish strong structure think about:

Now let's think about our heavy metal concept once again.  If we look at our brainstorming and research lists does anything stand out to you that might give our garden structure?  This is what I found as possibilities:

ripped jeans/blue jeans = straight lines, jagged lines
stage/lights = half circle or full circle
drums = circles or two circles for double bass drums
chains = interlinked spaces
motorcycles = circles, spokes
walkmans = squares with squiggly lines for wire
tour bus = rectangle, circles
beer bottles = bottle shape or circle for cap
guitar/flying v = guitar or v shape
posters = rectangle
skulls = skull shape
periodic table = grid
t-shirts = t-shirt shape
trifecta of speed, power and precision = use three of something
late 1960s/early 1970s = use a garden style from this period, probably clean, simple lines

This is a long list of possible structure ideas for our garden and we definitely will not use them all, but I wanted to show you what our initial brainstorming and research lists provide for inspiration. It really is amazing. I won't tell you what my choice is just yet. I want to think about it a bit.

Do you have a favorite above?  Or maybe I missed something you think I should add?



Hello everyone! I am thrilled to finally get to the guts of our theme garden design...choosing colors, structure, hardscapes, furniture, ornamentation and plant materials. Woo-hoo!

Let's continue with step four below...

1. Pick a theme 
2. Brainstorm
3. Research 
4. Translate ideas to physical form
5. Create the plan

The first part of this step is choosing colors for our theme garden. Our color palette will help us choose furniture, plants, hardscapes, fabrics, etc. We do this by sifting through our brainstorming and research lists, then look for clues of color choices. Some are obvious while some are not. I've decided to use this as our heavy metal color palette:
The black is from the dark and moody atmosphere, plus black leather jackets, the gray reflects chains, smoke, silver, and metal, while the yellow is my less-shiny translation of gold and flashy stage lights (it could also be the background of animal prints). I also had a suggestion of red and orange from heavy metal battle jackets...also a great idea.  For now I plan to keep my palette simple, but may dip into these two additional colors if needed.

Something you should know...in the garden world there are two neutral colors: green and white. Of course, green will always be in your garden through lawn and leaves, so just consider this a given.  You can also sneak in a bit of white for accent if you'd like. Make sure you put more emphasis on your main color palette though and don't rely on white too much.

Our next translation...garden structure.  I'll explain this more in my next post, but for now I encourage you to suggest shapes or garden styles that we might incorporate into our heavy metal garden.  Again, look at our brainstorming and research lists for inspiration (are you starting to see why these lists are so important?!).



Wow! Here we are at step four of the theme garden design process! Below are all five steps as a quick review:

1. Pick a theme 
2. Brainstorm
3. Research 
4. Translate ideas to physical form (we'll discuss this below!)
5. Create the plan

We have finally reached the most exciting step (aside from making the final plan).  This is when we get to take all those great ideas and create the garden components. This step will also take the longest because we have a lot to pick out....including:

plant materials

In the next few posts we'll take inspiration from our idea lists and translate them into the items above. 
Can you help me with the first one?  I'd love for you to read through our brainstorming and research lists and let me know what COLORS pop out at you.  Share in the comments below, on Facebook or Twitter.  

For those that would like to stay in closer touch with this process, you're invited to sign up for my NEWSLETTER too.



I have finally completed step three of the theme garden process!  Again, here are all five steps as a quick review:

1. Pick a theme 
2. Brainstorm
3. Research (we'll discuss this below!)
4. Translate ideas to physical form
5. Create the plan

I mentioned in my last post that it's important to make your idea list as long as possible, since that's what feeds the rest of your design.  The research step helps lengthen this idea list.  Research allows you to find out more about your topic....things you wouldn't necessarily know off the top of your head.  It makes your design so much richer.  You can put as much time into this step as you'd like...visit a library, interview an expert or simply Google your topic.  Ten minutes or ten hours, but it's important that you don't skip this step. It often leads to amazing ideas.

Below is my very simple research on heavy metal.  I apologize up front for the condensed version.  I could have written a 25 page paper on this topic, but for this purpose a broad, bulleted overview will do.  
I'd like  to thank www.hardradio.com and, of course, www.wikipedia.com for this information.  Visit both sites if you'd like to learn more.

Now that we have our brainstorming and research lists complete it's time to start designing!  Woo-hoo!  

I'll explain step four: translating your ideas to physical form in my next post, then I'll need your help again to bring this garden to life.



As most of know, I'm currently in the midst of designing a theme garden by following my five magical steps:

1. Pick a theme 
2. Brainstorm (we'll discuss this below!)
3. Research
4. Translate ideas to physical form
5. Create the plan
Now that we have a theme (heavy metal) it's time to start transforming it into a garden.  Brainstorming is an important step in this process.  

What is brainstorming?
  • generating a list of words/ideas around one topic
  • free-flow, no bad ideas
  • by yourself okay, but more people generate more ideas 
I can't stress this enough...make this list as long as possible.  Please don't write down three things then stop. Challenge yourself to write down 50 words!  If you're stuck, call a friend and have them add to it.  Remember, these don't have to relate to gardening...just your theme.

With all of your help I was able to create a fabulous brainstorming list below.  Please take a look.
I admit this list is a little dark, especially for me, but that's what makes it interesting.  I'm sure my happy-go-lucky style will balance out the rough and tumble a little in the end.  This will be interesting.

I'm so excited about this list and can't wait for the next step: RESEARCH.  The purpose of research is to make the above list just a tad bit longer and richer.  I'll do some heavy metal research this weekend on my own, then get back to you early next week...because I'll need your help again for step four (lot's of help, because step four is the really cool part). 



Over the next few weeks we'll be designing a theme garden together by following my five magical steps:

1. Pick a theme (we'll discuss this below!)
2. Brainstorm
3. Research
4. Translate ideas to physical form
5. Create the plan
What is a theme?  It's the idea that pulls all the elements of a garden together.

Before designing a garden I always encourage the selection of a theme.  Why?
  • To focus your design
  • To help in the selection of materials (plants, hardscapes, furniture, etc.)
  • To tell a story
Designing a garden is similar to writing a paper. Before you write it's important to choose a topic, then have the content support it. You can write about thousands of things, but the topic helps you focus. This is the same in garden design. There are thousands of ways to design your garden, but by narrowing in on a topic or theme, choices become a lot easier. Honestly, it's a lot more fun too and your creativity just spills over.

First let's look at some traditional themes:

Traditional themes are great, but I'd like to show you how to develop a garden around any theme. Our garden will focus on something nontraditional and out-of-the-ordinary. To help us get started I asked for your help on facebook, twitter, this blog and my newsletter to pick a theme. Wow, did I get some great ideas!

Here are some of them: shoes, fashion, heavy metal, pez, photographs, ceramics, music, video games, murder mystery books, jeans, wellies, Christian Louboutan red sole shoes, punk, jazz, Great Gatsby, Italy and quilts. Below are garden themes that can be created from some of these ideas.

The most fascinating themes have no relationship to gardening. When you combine gardening with an unrelated topic the design gets very interesting (I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it!).

Now to pick a theme (drum roll please...). I'd like to choose something that seems far, far away from gardening (to show that this can indeed be accomplished), be a topic I'd like to learn more about, and finally something that will challenge me outside my illustrative comfort zone (opposite of cute and whimsical). The only logical choice is HEAVY METAL! I'm a little frightened, but excited to get started!

My eleven-year-old daughter would say to me at this point...mom, how are you going to create a heavy metal garden?  My reply..."not sure, I plan to follow the process to find out."  I typically don't have preconceived ideas, I just let the process inspire me.

Please stick with me! I'll need your help with the next three steps. It's time to BRAINSTORM now. What comes to mind when you think of heavy metal? Let me know in the comments below, on facebook or twitter.

For those saddened that I didn't pick your topic, no worries. I plan to design more gardens with you in the future and tap into a couple more of your fabulous ideas.



About ten years ago I accepted an amazing position at a local botanic garden. Being in a beautiful place, surrounded by talented staff and volunteers inspired the creation of my theme garden development process. We applied it to the botanic garden displays many times, but I eventually realized it would also be perfect for homeowners too.

Over the last four years I've been sharing this process with hundreds of people at conferences and garden club meetings with positive results. New designers gain insight into creating a special outdoor space, while experienced designers say they are filled with new inspiration towards the design process.

My theme garden process steps beyond typical themes like butterfly and moon gardens (though those are nice!). This process instead shows how to design a garden about anything (really). Maybe you collect Fiestaware or have an obsession with John Wayne...either can inspire your outdoor space.

This process takes place by following five steps...with lots of fun thinking along the way. I've listed the steps below, but I've found they make more sense within context, so over the next few weeks I'd like to design a garden with you. I'll be asking for feedback through my blog, on Facebook and Twitter, then following up with posts. By the end of the five steps we'll have a new garden plan with an out-of-the-ordinary theme.

I've created a special mini-poster of this design process in my May 2013 newsletter too. If you'd like access to this little treat please sign up for my newsletter here. You'll be able to view the May 2013 newsletter once you subscribe.

We have a lot of work to do, so let's get to it! The first step...PICK A THEME. What do you think would be a fun theme for a garden? Please tell me your ideas in the comments below or visit me on Facebook.



My last spring plant combination includes a tropical twist of bright, warm colors.  Just as the first two, I have my consistent ajuga, plus included two additional tasty plants in this simple arrangement.

This planting is for full sun in zone 5.  The plants in this design include:

Ajuga reptans 'Mahogony' / Bugleweed
Thymus x citriodorus ‘variegata’/ Variegated Lemon Thyme
Kniphofia ‘Mango Popsicle’ / Dwarf Poker

What I like most about this combination:
  • Has a tropical feel, if you're needing that in the Midwest U.S.
  • The contrast of leaf textures...coarse ajuga leaves to the medium kniphofia leaves to the fine thymus leaves.
  • The low groundcovers setting a nice base for the strong upright form of the kniphofia.  
  • A unique warm color combination of the oranges and yellows to the mahogany.