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!

If you're interested in more articles like this one, plus would like to receive a free copy of my theme garden eBook, please sign up for my email updates here.



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.

If you're interested in more articles like this one, please sign up for my email updates here.



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!

If you're interested in more articles like this one, please sign up for my email updates here.



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

If you're interested in more articles like this one, please sign up for my email updates here.



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.

If you're interested in more articles like this one, plus would like to receive a free copy of my theme garden ebook, please sign up for my email updates here.