I often get asked by people where I find my inspiration for the gardens I design. It’s a very interesting question and one that has about as many layers as an onion. I will attempt to peel a few layers back and give you an insight into where and how I start when designing my client’s gardens.
One thing to remember, and I can’t and won’t hide this fact – I openly admit I have the best job in the world and love going to work. I am a professional landscape designer, and by this I mean that designing gardens is how I earn my living, and I feel truly blessed that my work is also my lifestyle.
As a professional landscape designer, I often have to put away what and how I think and feel about different styles, products and plants, as I have learned over the years that no matter how much of my heart and soul I pour into any specific garden, ultimately, these gardens are not mine. They are owned by my clients and the clients have to be the ones that are truly happy with what their garden becomes in the end. To illustrate this, my first two points of reference for the garden design inspiration are based around the client.
The first place I like to draw inspiration from is the house. Often the architecture of a house will scream at you. It is always wise to listen!! Being sympathetic to the architecture of a house will create the bones for what will become a seamless transition between house and garden. There are ways you can blend, hide or fix minor imperfections but selecting a garden theme that is not sympathetic to the architecture of the house is going to stand out like a pimple on a pumpkin. You can also instantly date a house or garden with this mistake.
Using colours, textures, materials and even shapes from the architecture can help the garden fit with the architecture of the house or building.
This can sometimes be a difficult task as it can conflict with the second main point of inspiration – the client’s design brief.
Listening to what a client is looking for in their finished garden is about the biggest tip I can give anyone trying to design gardens. Remember, this is not your garden. You may think you have the best idea for this particular site – one that will revolutionise garden design as we know it – but if it doesn’t match what the client is looking for, either walk away from the project or keep the idea for the next garden. You may be able to use it someday when the client appreciates your revolutionary ways. If you listen intently to your client, they will plant the seeds of inspiration. All you need is one idea and the garden design will fall in behind that. How good the finished result of the garden is will come down to how detailed your thought process about the garden has actually been.
When talking to your clients they often hand you photos or notes of where their inspiration has come from for their garden, or just random photos of things they like. The old adage of ‘a picture tells a thousand words’ is very true in most cases. It is interesting when a client hands you 5 photos and all the gardens are different yet, if you look closely, there is generally a common theme running through the gardens in all the photos they hand you. The common theme may be a colour scheme, set out style of the plants, even a specific paving colour that joins all the photos together.
Inspiration can also be found from things clients dislike. It is a very handy idea to not only clarify what clients like, but also clarify what clients don’t like. I could tell you how many times I have asked the question “What flower colours do you like”? In which the reply is “I love everything”! I then asked, “What colours don’t you like”? “I HATE ORANGE in the garden”…
When it comes time to work on private projects, or even show gardens to an extent, I find inspiration comes from random places. I think more of my own personality starts to come out in these gardens when there isn’t a specific clients to work for. My gardens become play things for me, and a chance to try ideas I haven’t been able to find homes for in clients’ gardens. Often one idea begins a procession of ideas that lead to the design of a garden pouring out.
When designing show gardens I generally have ideas kicking around in my head from random pieces of inspiration for weeks trying to figure out how to make things work. These ideas bounce around until the point where I have to get them out of my head and onto paper so I can make some room to think about other things.
If you slow down, open your eyes and look around there is inspiration everywhere. We may be twisting and rehashing ideas from great designers that have worked before us but sometimes, just sometimes those little flashes of inspiration turn into a master piece.