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, 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.



My next spring plant combination has such a sweet, cottage feel to it.  Again, I've included another ajuga, was inspired by tasty sweets, and kept it simple with just three plants.

This planting is for full sun in zones 4 and 5.  The plants in this design include:

Ajuga reptans 'Toffee Chip' / Bugleweed
Veronica  'Waterperry Blue'/ Speedwell
Coreopsis verticillata 'Creme Brulee' / Tickseed

What I like most about this combination:
  • The striking color contrast between the light green, almost white ajuga with the veronica's dark foliage and vibrant blue flowers.
  • The contrast of leaf textures...coarse ajuga leaves to the finer veronica leaves to the even finer coreopsis leaves.
  • The low groundcovers setting a nice base for the strong upright form of the coreopsis.  
  • The quaint feel of the soft yellow, daisy-like coreopsis flowers against the vibrant blue veronica flowers.  Ugh, I want to plant this in my garden right now!



I thought it would be fun to share a few spring plant combinations over the next three posts.

Three things inspired me:

SIMPLICITY: Sometimes we struggle with pairing plants, so I wanted to take a step back and just focus on three plants in each combination.

TASTY TREATS: It's so much fun picking a theme to narrow down plant choices.  There are many plants with delectable names, so why not try some?

AJUGA: This is a common, yet still fabulous groundcover.  It's easy to find, performs well in shade and sun, plus looks great with many other plants.  I chose a different ajuga for each of my three designs, then allowed that plant to direct the choice of its companions.

This planting is for full sun or part-shade in zones 4 and 5.  The plants in this design include:

Ajuga reptans 'Valfredda' / Chocolate Chip Bugleweed
Sedum rupestre 'Angelina'/ Stonecrop
Geum 'Totally Tangerine' / Avens

What I like most about this combination:
  • The striking color contrast between the purplish/green ajuga and the chartreuse sedum.
  • The contrast of leaf textures...coarse geum leaves, medium ajuga leaves, and the fine sedum leaves.
  • The pop of orange from the geum flowers (this plant always pops!).
For those wanting to learn more about plants on your own adventures...sign up for my NEWSLETTER to receive a free garden journaling sheet.



As I celebrate the planting of our new raspberry shrubs it made me think of a trip my mother-in-law made last year with my husband's aunt.  They visited a raspberry farm and tasted several different cultivars of these pretty berries.  I didn't realize how many types there were...even yellow and orange ones!  I would have loved to try all those sweet little things.



I am so excited! We planted our first raspberry shrubs!  Though it may take a couple of years to enjoy these sweet, red fruits - I'll attempt to be patient.  We'll just relish the strawberries we planted last year for now.



A couple of weeks ago my husband was looking at our vegetable gardens on Google Earth and realized they were not squared up (Neil Armstrong would have been sadly disappointed in the disarray). For those that know my husband you would not be surprised that he spent the next few nights squaring them up diligently off the existing sidewalks, streets and neighborhood structures into the evening darkness.

As silly as it is, it did get me excited about starting to grow all those vegetables again.  I really miss being able to whip up a meal from what was collected in the garden that day.