Garden Design Thief

When it comes to garden design, I’m not too proud to admit that I don’t have too many original ideas. I like to steal. Yup, I steal ideas and make them a reality in my garden. Sometimes I steal a whole idea, sometimes just a piece of an idea. When summer rolls around, I’m in thievery delight as I pick up ideas from neighborhood walks or visits to design centers and public gardens. This method of inspiration is augmented by design books and Internet pictures, but there is really nothing like heading out to a local garden to see the beauty for yourself.

Last year I took a trip to Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Illinois. Cantigny is a really unique park nestled in the western suburbs of Chicago. Within the park are many sights: the historic Robert R. McCormick Museum, the First Division Museum, Idea and Formal Gardens, including a rose garden, a golf course and more. I particularly enjoyed the Idea garden, but stole ideas from all locations.

Every year I also delight in new display beds at a local garden center (Hornbaker Gardens in Illinois). In display gardens like these, I discover how plants behave in different environments. I know that places like this have much more money to invest and more youthful staff to contribute to the display than I have, but the results are always inspirational.

Of course, nothing beats a neighborhood garden walk to see how real people with similar resources develop their gardens. Several years ago I got to steal ideas from participants of a Pond Tour. This was particularly helpful because I just could not imagine what I wanted my pond to look like! I certainly came away with a better vision for my garden.

Specific Plants

Sometimes you see a plant that just speaks to you. When you find such a plant, gather what information you can. Start with a name. Most garden centers and public gardens will have items marked. If not, find a helpful staff member to assist in the identification. Note in what soil and light conditions this plant grows. Be sure to discover other growing factors such as irrigation and support. When you are home, research the plants bug and disease susceptibility as well as other plant needs.

Plant Combinations

I’m amazed sometimes at plant combinations. When you see a combination first-hand, then you really can understand design terms such as color and texture. All of these combinations are found at Cantigny Park.


Often you might have fallen in love with a plant but really don’t know the ideal place to put it. If you have the right sun and soil conditions in several places but you just need that “right” spot, gather ideas from others.

Garden Art

This is a tough category because there are so many tastes out there. From the subtle to the whimsical, there is something for everyone. When you see a display garden using art, you can take note of the way it is paired with plantings or left on its own. Your mind begins to churn with ideas for your own yard.


Most of the time when I see structures in a display garden, I can only dream about how wonderful it would be to have these. Some day I’d like to report back that I’ve installed a version or two of what you’ve seen here.


Ponds are springing up everywhere. From the small to large, the variety is astounding. I knew I wanted to add water to the garden, but how? I considered options, but was not really sure until I took a pond tour. There were many types of ponds. Some I Iiked, some I just did not care for.


“Good luck in stealing the BEST ideas for YOUR garden.”