Inspiration – our approach to this month’s Garden Designers Round Table Postathon

| December 14, 2010 | 18 Comments


Well, if we never say anything worse we will be doing well!

 We’d opened a magazine which minutes earlier had plopped through the door.

And there it was: our idea, created by another designer.

In a garden which definitely didn’t belong to any of our clients!

On the phone to our lawyer?

No, because we knew that our idea had been seen by no one!

It was an original idea, which we will not detail because it is still fresh and we think has a lot of mileage. We’d seen it nowhere else. We had not yet used it. It was stored in a battery of ‘we’d like to do – this is a good idea’ exercise books, which we keep as a resource which can be plundered each time we take on new clients.

We’d not been burgled. And anyway I have not heard of garden designers breaking and entering for ideas! The thing is that inspiration is all around us and it’s free. We just need to be open to it. But we all mine the same world for influences and ideas. They do say for example that there is nothing new in fashion now. So we mustn’t think no one else can get to the same new idea!

What do we store in our inspiration file? Thoughts, sketches, clippings, all in date order. Some are a spin off from designs we have already done. Some are pattern, could be shapes on a fabric or an Arabic tile. Perhaps a geological feature seen in a magazine. Photos rather than the items – that would be bulky! One which comes to mind was just the angles and lines created by the arms and legs of a girl band as they stood singing on the stage. Anything in fact that we look at and think: Love it!

 These books never contain the work of other garden designers. That we see in magazines and file elsewhere – we know the work of most influential designers &, while we may be influenced mentally, we do not copy. So it is not there that we turn first. It is to our ideas files.

Periodically one of us looks back through the running file and scans the key ideas and trends to a picture file on hard disc which we can flip through really quickly.

But there is of course a sense in which the files are most useful as an activity rather than a resource. It is the recording which is the crucial bit. A bit like doing the marketing list and not consulting it in the shop! You are thinking shape, line, volume, texture, light and atmosphere And then when you hit the right time:


 – it is there in your brain and comes out down your arm and through the pencil as you design.

Our idea, an alternative way of doing things-far out in fact-was of course still filed. We just had not yet hit on the client for whom it was appropriate.

Pity!  We all need publicity and starting a trend is kind of good publicity. Well, its a nuisance, but it happens.

And hey, it is customer satisfaction which is key not the name in lights!

And there are loads of other ideas in the books.

Our Garden Designer Round colleagues will all have their own ways to get inspired.

Find our their secrets here:

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

Carolyn Gail Choi : Sweet Home and Garden Chicago : Chicago, IL

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA

Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA

L and R

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Category: Design Bites

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Comments (18)

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  4. This is a brilliant idea as it’s a valuable technique for both pros and hobbyists alike. Having a system of storing inspirational ideas also keeps one open to actually looking for them!

  5. Ivette Soler says:

    I LOVE this post!

    My husband is an art critic, and he is always saying that work based only on ideas can be problematic and “one note”, because we are all working with a very finite pool of ideas at this point. It is the methodology, the way of working, the filtering of that idea through your layers of experience that creates something idiosyncratic and interesting. I have no doubt that when you finally do realize this idea, it will be awesome and TOTALLY your own!


  6. What a fantastic idea! On my computer, I have folders of inspirational photos that I look at periodically, but to have actual books filled with all aspects of design would be even better and so much more gratifying. Imagine, years and years from now, how wonderful it’ll be to pore through these books! Wonderful idea – thanks for sharing with us!

  7. Robert says:

    Thanks, Jocelyn. It works for us in the sense that it is a bit like a diary. Recording our visual obsessions and sometimes working them into design on the next page. I am sure it is a bit like musicians practicing and painters always having a sketchbook with them. It feeds the process.
    thanks for your comment
    Best Wishes

  8. Robert says:

    Actually you are right. Although the idea has been done the designer has not made a really good fist of it and i know we can do it better! You are also bang on about the methodology and creating something that is your own.
    Thank YOU!

  9. Robert says:

    Yes, I think the two work together. The books are an exercise. the scanning lists them briefly in a very flickable way and enables their speedy access. but it is also great to sit and flick and surprise yourself with the books. The record of taste is interesting and the recurring obsessions too!
    Thanks for your comment
    Best Wishes

  10. Pam/Digging says:

    I admire your discipline in working from your own stash of ideas. I am much more free about borrowing ideas and making culturally/regionally appropriate changes of aesthetics and plants and hardscaping materials. It’s interesting to hear how you file away abstract concepts to refer to later. Great idea!

  11. Robert says:

    Oh I am quite sure there are a heap of other subliminal influences. We get magazines, we see nature on holidays and trips, we see other gardens, we go to shows. I am sure we could not shut that out and wouldn’t want to. But I do think this feeding with abstract pattern and shape and colour is a huge, educating influence and I would rather look at that abstract resource and deliver from that as a primary source, sometimes in a quite unconscious way.
    Thanks for your comment

  12. I’m VERY impressed at how organized you guys are in recording your inspiration! I keep an inspiration file too, but it’s nowhere near this big. I think it may have to do with my aversion to collecting hard copy. You’re right, though, in that I think a large part of it is the recording of said inspiration, and I could certainly stand to make note of the things that inspire more often. I believe I shall resolve to do so, inspired by your post.

  13. Whoa. I would never think to do this. It’s a really cool idea that takes much more inspirational discipline than I have, but oh! what a resource to have on hand.

  14. Robert says:

    Yeees, I suppose it is a bit ott really, but it is as you say the doing and is the work of minutes. Just ripping something out of a magazine, or scanning an image and filing it. I am sure you are right about paper. I am old fashioned – lost without a computer but still liking a file that I could read in bed if chose.
    If we have inspired Sir Smackdown we are pleased indeed. Best Wishes and thanks for the comment.

  15. Robert says:

    There is so much to be inspired by that just some sort of handle on it all is vaguely comforting.
    Just ‘I thought that on that date is a help.’
    But I think its like gymning.
    Its not the machines, its the body you’ve got at the end of it that is the thing!
    Thanks for your comment

  16. I’m taking a little guff for saying discipline can be a part of the inspiration process, but your approach requires so much more! I used to file pictures from magazines away, but admit I’ve lost the motivation in recent years, which is a shame, because it really can be a wonderful source of inspiration. I always enjoy your posts. You seem to have achieved the right balance between art and craft.

  17. Robert says:

    I think you can get guff for what people really wish they did but know they won’t.
    Think the leg work is worth doing to keep on top of the mountain of paper and make it useful.
    The abstract resources, I find real fun and I feel keep my eye in for shape and so forth.
    The convoluted shape of the raised bed at the hospice garden we did was inspired by a kiddies toy.
    I think thats a blast!
    Thanks for your last two sentences.
    Praise from your peers is always valued!