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Cultivating Garden Style: Getting inspired

by Timber Press on October 17, 2014

in Design

Mood Board 02

Cultivating Garden Style author Rochelle Greayer shares her strategy for design inspiration.

Who wants a cookie cutter house anymore? No one I know. It is much more fun to let your character and taste shine through. We express our personal style every day in the choices we make: clothes, home decor, food, and products we buy. As far as I am concerned, a garden is just another room of the house, another place to define and dress however you see fit. There are many ways to gather and organize motifs, moods, and samples in order to get in touch with your taste and personal style. Here are some of them.

Mood boards
I used to make mood boards by cutting images from magazines, but now I curate boards online. There are several social media websites that allow this kind of image gathering, including Pinterest. I use an online picture-organizing tool both for my own projects and as a way to get on the same page as a client and quickly share ideas with them.

The best way to get started on your project is to go to whatever website you are using and do a few simple searches of words such as “garden,” or a term associated with a style you like (for example, “bohemian”). When starting to gather, forget about organizing ideas or designing your garden—just “like” images. Liking is freeing; you can do it instantaneously and avoid overthinking the decision. You want to go with your gut—no questions asked, no further thought.

Mood Board 01

Next, go back and take a look at your likes. Do you see any common themes? A color, a mood, a mix of materials? A shape or a type of planting? A good designer can help you find yourself in these images, but you can do it on your own, too. Once you have a whole bunch of things you like, start organizing the ones that go together (most sites will offer online boards where you can place your likes), and you will begin to see a theme emerge. I put a few key words to these themes (as I have done here in the book) to help shape the design and guide me as I fill in the blanks, creating a unique and personal final project.

Garden tours
Garden tours are fantastic for assessing the possibilities in your area. Neighbors who open their gardens put their hearts on their sleeves when they share their personal spaces. Take them up on their openness and ask them where they buy their plants or why they grow certain things and not others. Talk to them about their trials and tribulations. Not only will you learn something, you will find that universally (at least in my experience), garden makers are among the nicest and most generous people around.

Image: Cszmurlo

Image: Cszmurlo

Botanic gardens
Local botanic gardens almost always have displays to help you learn about plants that are native to your area or that do well in your climate. They are planned by professionals and can be great catalysts for new ideas and for learning detailed information about issues specific to your region.

Image: Ryan Somma

Image: Ryan Somma

Each nursery has its own unique personality. Some carry more shrubs and trees, others primarily stock annuals; some promote chemical-intensive gardening, others help those seeking organic options. Natives, alpines, large specimens—whatever the specialty, it is worth taking the time to step away from the big box stores, visit a range of nurseries, and learn about the distinct selection each offers. You will undoubtedly find one that suits you and your garden goals.

Image: Ahmiguel

Image: Ahmiguel

If you struggle to know what your garden style preferences are, you need only start with the clothes you choose (or wish you could choose). Fashion is a place we can look for color possibilities; it can also reveal a sense of the styles that appeal to us. Do you prefer crisp, clean cuts in straightforward colors, or more avant-garde shapes in offbeat hues? Being drawn to a feeling that fashion conveys offers direction for how we might capture the same in our garden design.

Image: Russavia

Image: Russavia

Much like fashion, art gives us a bird’s-eye view of someone else’s inner expression. If we are drawn to an expression and we find personal meaning and significance in it, that will help to guide and shape our own expression. When you love an image or a piece of art, try to sort out what is drawing you in. Is it the material, the texture, the shape, the emotion, or something else? This will help you understand your own preferences and spark your creativity.


The most obvious place to look for garden inspiration is actually inside—to extend what we love about our interiors to the outdoors. As a designer, I cringe to meet new clients who have just moved into their house and haven’t had a chance to personalize the space, because there is no better way to understand what someone is all about than to see something they’ve created. If you have remodeled or decorated your home in a way that you love, there is no reason to think you can’t extend that same style right through the back door.


Image: keresi72


greayer_rRochelle Greayer is editor of Pith + Vigor, creator of the popular blog Studio ‘g’, co-editor of Leaf Magazine, and weekly columnist for Apartment Therapy. A graduate of the English Gardening School in London, she spent ten years designing gardens for international clients and earned a coveted medal from the Royal Horticultural Society for her garden at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower show. You may also be interested in the author’s own Web site, studiogblog.com.


Click image for a look inside this book:


“Offers needed guidance for designing outdoor space in a way that helps gardeners bring unique personality to their living, growing outdoor décor.”—Publishers Weekly

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