Criteria For Garden Ideas And Inspiration


Bits of tinsel have settled into and mixed with the dust bunnies in the corners and behind open doors. The streamers, noisemakers and glittery hats have been put away. The black eyed peas, pork and sauerkraut have been eaten to insure good luck will be had for the rest of 2011. Enough cleaning has been done so that the connections of brain waves to typing fingers can flash and snap appropriately, clearing the pathways of the gummy gunk that slows down the flow of ideas and inspiration.


A fresh start in the way the garden is perceived, tended and loved is the goal for the beginning of a new year. Even though there are chores yet undone, cutting and mulching, pruning and graveling, this is the time of overview. It is time to think about what worked, what didn’t and where to go from here. How to proceed? Let us make some criteria for the new way of garden thinking that is desired.


For me, less maintenance is number one. How can the optimum beauty be achieved with the least work to keep it so has been the object of study for several years now. Filling the need, make that addiction of collecting new plants must be blended into the overall design philosophy. If there are extraordinary tasks that are necessary to keep any new plant healthy after the initial settling in period, if it is really not meant to be grown in these conditions, it must be deleted from the wish list. Being on sale, or even offered for free is no excuse to allow it within the gates.


Low maintenance may be number one, but wildlife friendly is the co-captain of this design ship, equal in importance in the list of criteria for garden additions. There must be absolutely NO SPRAYING of poisons in the Fairegardens. Our stance has stiffened on this over the years to the point that a pest infested plant will simply be removed rather than treated. In fact, we plant many larval food plants just so they will be eaten in order to encourage the butterflies that result from the holey leaves. Berries, seed heads and habitat will be considered for our feathered, winged and crawling friends.


Natives are to be encouraged and protected from aggressive exotics. Native plants are automatically programmed to grow here with less maintenance. They survive and even thrive with our weather conditions, as weird as they may be in some years. The pollinators adore them, it is part of Nature’s grand design. Many will self sow, adding serendipity of placement along with free plants.


So now the criteria have been set. From whence is the inspiration to come? Travels, even as mundane as a trip to the grocery might spark a brilliant idea when a certain combination of foliage in the yard of neighbors or wildflowers along the roadside is spied and starts the bells and whistles ringing inside our minds. The key is to keep that mind wide open to all possibilities, don’t be boxed in by convention of what is or is not acceptable, pretty or doable.

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Looking at the photos taken over the years of gardens, vacations, our own private space can trigger thoughts of where do we go from here. Books, magazines, and of course blog posts add to the flames as the bonfire of plans for your gardens ignites. The lightning bolts shoot ideas from every direction. Be sure and write them down as soon as you can, while they are still white hot from the core of creativity. Onward!

Frances

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23 Responses to Criteria For Garden Ideas And Inspiration

  1. liz says:

    Hi Frances,

    I love your criteria, they are pretty much the same as mine – except I am not so hot on the natives but I do aim to use mainly natives but the odd none-native does make its way in (usually because they’re highly attractive to wildlife).
    Low maintenence sounds good to me, I don’t like fussy plants which need lots of attention and care.

    Best wishes for 2011 πŸ™‚

    Hi Liz, thanks for adding to the conversation here and the best year ever for you and yours in 2011. In the US, natives are the most pollinator friendly plants, but we too have plenty of beneficial exotics. Finding those natives that are attractive to the overall design can be a little tricky, especially since the open pollinated natives are not what the nurseries want to sell to us. They prefer named varieties with a patent for more profit.
    Frances

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I have my “idea” book up and running. This time of year makes one’s imagination rev. I too am looking for less maintenance.

    Hi Lisa, thanks for stopping in. Yes, it is that time of year when all is possible. As I contemplate what needs doing in the garden right now, that less maintenance thing rises like cream to the top of the list! HA πŸ™‚
    Frances

  3. easygardener says:

    I favour low maintenance too and it would be easier if I stopped growing unsuitable plants. I see you are not going to be troubled with this weakness ..now that you are going all firm and decisive in 2011 πŸ™‚

    Oh EG, you are so funny you nearly made me spew my coffee all over the laptop screen! Let us just say that the intentions are there, anyway. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  4. Sylvia (England) says:

    Frances, I am also trying to make my garden need less maintenance, especially the front garden. One way is I am not going to grow any flowers from seed this year – well try not to! I am hoping a few vegetables and herbs will keep my addiction under control. I am also trying for less variety in the front garden, more of fewer species of plants. But I need more practice and less ideas from blogs!
    PS Happy New Year!
    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

    Hi Sylvia, thanks for being a part of the conversation here and happiest of new years to you! I do think growing fewer things, concentrating on your faves and the ones that seem to do best in your space makes lots of sense. Masses of the best of the best, with form and texture in mind, not just flowers. I hope you get lots of practice in the coming year! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  5. Layanee says:

    Inspiration come in many forms as you say and funny you should mention the grocery store. A few years ago they had the most unbelievable wisteria growing on an arbor in the parking area. Unbelievable. Someone had the bright idea to take it down and plant …well I can’t even remember what is there right now. Keep one’s eyes open!

    Hi Layanee, thanks for joining in! Grocery shopping is the most frequent quest that takes me away from the garden. What a shame about that Wisteria, but I can imagine the pruning would be a nightmare for untrained grocery folks.
    Frances

  6. Very nice Frances..your criteria are mine…I want to enjoy my garden with less maintenance and don’t spray. I too have pulled plants that attract pests. Last year, my Cleome were infested with the Harlequin beetle. I pulled out all the plants, but the garden just wasn’t the same. This year, I will hand pick the buggers. I know this goes against the low maintenance criteria that I hope to impose, but I do love Cleome. Seriously, what is a gardener to do? H.

    Hi Helen, thanks for adding your thoughts here. Those dadburned Harlequins nearly destroyed my garden year before last. I was much more vigilant about them last year. Early squishing can be considered preventive maintenance. I also did not plant any kale, which was sad but those seemed to attract them the most. It seemed to work, the squishing and no kale. It is a never ending battle!
    Frances

  7. It must be the time of year, Frances. I’m working on a post about inspiration, too. Looking out my window, it’s probably the unrelenting shades of brown and grey that inspire me. ;^)

    Hi Helen, I agree, the view outside stirs relentless thoughts of how can this be improved. And a little more free time to contemplate the whole thing. We could be cleaning the house, but why? HA πŸ™‚
    Frances

  8. Dave says:

    I’m trying to do much the same here in our garden. Plants that require little tending and give big bonuses. Getting tired of winter already, how about you?

    Hi Dave, thanks for stopping by. It is really all about finding those perfect plants that meet all the criteria and are gorgeous! Not too much to ask of a plant, right? I have been working outside the last couple of days, and am so thankful it is just warm enough to do so. I was having gardening withdrawal!
    Frances

  9. One says:

    Makes a lot of sense. Low maintenance is key for me too which is why I started off with fruit trees. Now I have added a fair bit of flowering plants to brighten up the garden. Nothing exotic. Thank you for your inspiring posts and photos.

    Hi One, thanks for joining in here. It sounds like you have a good plan in place, well done! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  10. commonweeder says:

    No one could argue with those criteria – except possibly the young who don’t worry as much about maintenance, or even understand what maintenance entails. My problem is that it is the low maintenance part, which is one of my criteria, is so elusive. However, I am not getting any younger.

    Hi Pat, thanks. Why is it that are not getting any younger when we, or me anyway, are just now getting the hang of things? HA The challenge is finding those plants that willl meet those criteria and still make our hearts sing. It is possible, we just have to keep trying! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  11. Donna says:

    I love your criteria. I wish I did not have a city lot so that I could explore the possibilities of creating a more natural garden here at 664. Plus a husband who will not move.

    There are natural gardens in the city of Buffalo, and they keep getting citations and end up in court for the ‘weedy mess that they present in their neighborhoods’. I admire their courage and sound ecological reasoning, but feel sorry for the turmoil they have to endure with neighbors. One neighbor even mowed a man’s garden down when the gentleman was away!

    My garden is pretty low maintenance, a once a year trimming of the boxwood as the main chore, but no real natives live here unfortunately. Many great perennials to attract butterflies, but even the yarrow is a hybrid. And I too do not spray. The damage is low because all the other neighbors do spray and have services to come regularly. Therefore, not many butterflies either.

    Your methods are very admirable and I wish I could join your party too. I crave all the natural beauty you have in your garden, plants and wildlife. I am lucky though, I go to the farm or Niagara gorge for my fix. And I can plant what I want at the farm. πŸ˜€

    Hi Donna, thanks for adding to the conversation here. It sounds like you are lucky to have the farm and gorge. I have lived in neighborhoods like you describe, where everyone uses the mow and blow service that is so wasteful, not to mention harmful to the environment. What a racket they make! I did think the Buffalo gardens were magical and inspirational. We have to keep working on changing minds about how a garden or yard should be. It is hard when the chemcompanies keep flooding magazines and tv with ads about how you need their stuff. We need to join our voices together to be loud enough to counter that. I do consider hybrids and named varieties as natives too, especially when allowed to reseed, they will often revert, like the fancy Echinaceas do.
    Frances

  12. Ginny says:

    My New Year’s wish is that more people adopt your criteria! Especially NO SPRAYING.

    Hi Ginny, really! If we could just make one difference in the world we live in, stopping the poisoning of our environment by people who think they are helping it would be number one!
    Frances

  13. You have a GrEaT list of criteria for your garden. I agree low maintenance to be number one. Being open minded yet particular(even on sale or free) on what you allow in your garden is a good point for me to remember! Also, your garden is quite an inspiration to many!

    Hi Amy, thanks so much for stopping by. Your kind words make me very happy. There are a few plants that were given to me by a helpful and generous gardening neighbor that I should have said no thank you to. We will never be rid of that Vinca major! If I only knew then what I know now, could be used to describe many things. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  14. Gail says:

    Frances, Low maintenance is a goal here. That and a relaxed approach to winter cleanup makes sense in my native garden! I feel fortunate that no one in my neighborhood cares enough about what’s going on behind Hedge to complain about seedheads, dried grasses and leaves. You’ve reminded me I need to locate my NO Spray sign so the city doesn’t zap my yard with poison fog this summer! xxoogail

    Hi Gail, thanks for joining in. A NO SPRAY sign sounds good, and necessary. Hope they obey it! We are lucky in that the neighbors don’t seem to mind, that I know of, about the way my front yard looks either. The Wildlife Habitat sign helps too. I need to move it down to the street. We are in the midst of the winter cleanup here. It is only once a year, but a lot of work that one time. I am making notes to self, cut some of the stuff sooner, and all the way to the ground, don’t leave tall stems that have to be cut yet again.
    Frances

  15. Rose says:

    I totally agree with your criteria, Frances. The trick for me is remembering this as I go plant-shopping–too often I’m infatuated by a pretty face and forget to think about how fussy it might be in my garden. This year I’m planning on adding more shrubs and grasses for beauty without much fuss.

    Hi Rose, thanks for dropping by. It is hard to pass up wonderful looking new plants that might not work in your space. Grasses really fit the bill of criteria, and many shrubs. Happy hunting! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  16. That last phot is a beaut! Looks like we are all striving to get off of our knees. Happy New Year!

    Hi Ricki, thanks for visiting. Knees, hips, wrists, backs, you name it, we are trying to baby it! Gardening can be a real workout! HA May 2011 be the best year ever for you and yours. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  17. Lona says:

    Low maintenance is becoming more of a priority for me as I have gotten older. As much as my mind still thinks I can do it all my body is telling me it takes much much longer to get the jobs done now.And Fibromyalgia flares do not help. I have been adding in some natives around the woodland bed for the little critters and knowing that if they are native they will have a better survival record in the garden helps.I kill enough plants as it is. LOL!Have a wonderful week Frances.

    Hi Lona, thanks for joining in here. I am so sorry for your Fibromyalgia, it must make everything harder. I am glad to hear of your addition of natives, we have found them to be the toughest survivors here as well, especially the ones that were already here when we started this garden and that I have been trying to get rid of for ten years. If you can’t beat ’em, let them live long and prosper! HA You too have a great week. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  18. joey says:

    Good stuff, Frances! Coming and going so much throughout the gardening year, it’s been a necessity to scale back/hone in over the past years but, try as I may, it’s still an awesome undertaking. Organic and pesticide-free for many years is not an issue but when spring comes, I just can’t contain my ‘must-have’ needy self …

    Hi joey, thanks for adding your ideas here. The goals have been set high, I like a challenge! HA Resisting those sweet new plants is the hardest thing on the list for me as well, the emotional pull must be offset by steeling the heart! I will now experience the back and forth between gardens too. We shall see how it works out. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  19. Lola says:

    Low maintenance is the way to go here. Health makes that paramount. I do so like to put those lovelies in & around this barren garden.
    It’s hard to see one that won’t make it.

    Hi Lola, thanks for stopping by. It seems anything high maintenance is for those with hired help, like those gardens we visitied in England that had large staffs to do just that. We too like to see things thrive, without much effort. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  20. You sing from my song sheet Frances! I am giving up on lilies after they got infested by lily beetle again last year. Too much effort for the reward. I” have more than enough to take care of with the new allotment, so I have never been so grateful for how low maintenance my own garden is. Mind you, it is a fraction of the size of your own! Good luck balancing inspiration and love of plants with your joint number one goals.

    Hi Janet, thanks for adding your voice to the chorus! I am sorry to hear about your lily problems. But severe pest infestation calls for removal of those plants in my criteria. Maybe in a few years those dastardly beetles will move on and it will be safe for lilies once again. The older I get, the larger my garden becomes! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  21. Cinj says:

    Writing everything down is for sure key to me too. If I don’t take notes on every brilliant idea I have I will forget what I was even thinking about within a matter of a couple of hours.

    Hi Cinj, thanks for joining in. Your reason for writing stuff down sounds exactly like my own! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  22. I like your firm no-spray stance! I agree that the wimpiest plants are rarely worth it (maybe the cucumbers).

    I like your New Year’s meal. Around here it is black-eyed peas and collards.

    Hi Eliza, thanks for jumping into the conversation here. It makes little sense for us to spray, there are a kajillion bugs out there but we all breath the same air. I love growing stuff, but decided to only grow in my very small food path things that grow with ease. Our local farmer’s market has plenty of cukes and I like to support the locals anyway. Our New Year meal is a combo of Oklahoma, black eye peas, and Pennsylvania, sauerkraut, for we are a mixed marriage. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  23. Is that hyssop with the blue spikes? I’ve tried hyssop several times here and failed – though it used to grow fine when I lived on the eastern side of the country.

    Happy New Year, Frances

    Esther

    P.S. We were planning to take our decorations down yesterday. Instead, I’ve filled the living room with bags of things to be sorted. It doesn’t feel like the right direction.

    Hi Esther, thanks for visiting. The blue flowers are Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria’, but we do grow hyssop. It is supposed to be hardy here, a native even, but we often lose it over the winter. It is replaced, because the bees simply swoon over it. We are going through things here as well, streamlining in necessary. May you have the best of years in 2011! πŸ™‚
    Frances

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