Inspiration....Garden Designers Roundtable

I am fortunate that as a landscape designer I’m never without inspiration. Unlike a fine artist that is typically working from an inner, personal calling to create, I always have a set of parameters that help jump-start my designs. Each new client is unique, as is their property. As I gather information about their needs and desires, and the realities of the existing site, the wheels in my brain start churning to the tune of “What if we did this?” “How would that work?” “Is this the best solution?”, and I’m off and running. My designs always start as a “form follows function” process of problem solving.  Working to satisfy my clients and develop the best possible outdoor environments for each of them has kept me interested and inspired as a designer for thirty years now!

However, once in a while I get stuck. Here are a few things I do that inspire me and keep my eyes and mind tuned to good design:

Look at fine art:  Although I like many genres of art, I find that color field painting, a school of abstract expressionism, suits my innate preference for minimalism. Take a quick look at this batch of images, I’ll wait. Cool, huh? Those huge, simplified shapes of paint wash (or stains, as they’re sometimes called) say a lot about positive and negative space, proportion, and balance.  This is the kind of visual information that I can learn from and translate into ground plane designs – planting beds, paths, patios, lawn areas, etc. Most color field paintings are also very large, and when viewed in person tend to envelope and absorb the viewer. That’s how I want my clients to feel in their gardens, like they’re part of a very special place.

A gardener's garden, Denver

Look at patterned graphics in paper and textiles: Whereas paintings of the abstract expressionist school can appear very chaotic, i.e. Jackson Pollock, printed patterns have a clearly defined structure and rhythm. This design stability allows me to really focus in on the use of color. Specifically, how various hues – sometimes quite numerous and diverse - are combined, and in what proportions. I apply this inspiration to the design of lush flower gardens, mixed borders and container gardens (read more about that here). Complex printed patterns reinforce my belief that complex plantings belong in a fairly structured and simple framework.
Colorful cottage style garden for a Denver client

Look at the natural world: When I’m walking through open space, hiking in the foothills, or driving through a larger landscape I try to identify which aspects appeal to me, and why. Is it open, or enclosed? What is the light quality? How does it make me feel – peaceful, calm, free, tense, cool, hot, etc? What materials make up the “hardscape”? What are the specific plant materials, or their overall effect? I keep this information in my visual bank of memories so that later I can recall it and apply it to specific design situations. The challenge is in creating a comparable setting within a small, built environment.

Naturalized grasses at a local park
small scale meadow garden

Look at the work of other designers: I am always looking for new ways to think through and solve problems.  When I talk shop with other landscape professionals – like we’re doing here today – I get new insights into materials, plants, maintenance techniques and other trends that I might be completely unaware of. I also look at interior and architectural design to get a fresh perspective on how other experts are working with color, texture, proportions and balance in creating three dimensional spaces.

  Kendrick Lake Park, Lakewood, Colorado  Designer: Greg Foreman
These are all things that you can do, too.  Visit art museums, art galleries, and your local library. Go on garden, home, and architectural tours. Take an art appreciation or design class. Choose a design based hobby to pursue, like photography, ceramics, woodworking, printmaking, etc. Mine is textiles:

Chilvers' garden and fiber wall hanging, Xylem and Phloem

Pull out the crayons! It’s all about training your mind to see, understand, and interpret what you’re looking at.
Have fun!

For more insights on finding – and cultivating – inspiration, click on these links to read more from members of the Garden Designers Roundtable:

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