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Design Terror!

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I have worked with a lot of clients in the last month that are absolutely terrified of designing gardens. I understand this because it represents a lot of money and commitment for the client and many of them have almost no experience in the area. While there is no easy way to get past this fear, there are some things you can do to make it a little bit better.

  • Design with annuals for a few years first. When you have plants that are going to die in six or seven months you can feel free to have fun with it! No matter how badly you do a design, it will be gone and you will have a chance for more practice with a fresh bed.
  • Dead plants are teachers. Every plant eventually dies, but if one dies prematurely it gives you the opportunity to learn more about that plant and what works best for it.
  • Design and maintenance are really the same things and it is best to not try and separate them into different activities.
  • If you are spending a huge amount of time on maintenance you may need to go back and redesign the area. See previous point.
  • Do a little research. Okay, do a lot of research! Remember to also research how available plant varieties are as well.
  • Start small. Don’t plant or plan so much that you are overwhelmed.

I do sometimes feel guilty that I do not have the same fears as others, but I was fortunate enough to have some great design experiences in college, and started working for a company where I did hundreds of flowerbed designs each season directly after graduation. With that high level of pressure to design I had to get over my fears quickly.

I certainly made mistakes, but I also made some happy discoveries about what would work well. For instance I found that dusty miller and red impatiens not only go very well together, but they can even grow in the same bed if the sun is just right. I also learned that mixing colors that are nearly the same is either not noticeable or it just looks funny. One of the most interesting things I learned it that you can plant a flower bed in a formal style, but make it look more like a cottage garden once it is grown in by choosing the right plants and letting them spread out naturally.

All of these things I learned because I just designed and was willing to take the risk. While most folks will not have an opportunity for such a fast learning curve, they will learn by doing and by overcoming their fears. I know that is not comforting to some, but there is a bit of a silver lining to things. Once you are designing for yourself, it is yours. No one else will design the same way as you. Even if someone intentionally tries to copy you, there will be differences that will make it your very own.


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