5 Places To Find Landscape Design Ideas

by Ben Bowen

Where do great landscape design ideas come from?

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
— Jack London

Have you ever stared at a blank patch of earth with the desire to make it into something? Or have you inherited a flawed mature garden and tried to see what it could be? 

If so, you know that inspiration can be hard to find. What you really need is one great idea, a unifying theory, that the new landscape design can be anchored to.

Where do these ideas come from?

I am sure that every designer has there own process. All I can do is share where my inspiration comes from.

5 places my landscape ideas come from:

  A well pruned Pine tree could be all the inspiration you need.

A well pruned Pine tree could be all the inspiration you need.

  1. Previous Landscape Projects. I will often search in mind for a similar landscape project from the past. How did we solve challenges on that site? Is there a seed that can be taken from that design to bring this one to life? 
  2. Other Landscapes I Admire. There are gardens here in Portland that make me think, "I wish I designed that!" It's too late for that, but they can still serve as inspiration. I also find project portfolios, most often on Houzz, that I really admire. These get bookmarked so I can mine them for ideas late. For example, the 'Magnolia Residence' by Banyon Tree Design Studio of Seattle just blows my mind!
  3. Nature. Here in Portland there are hikes in Forest Park or the Hoyt Arboretum that can serve as a physical and mental workout. A moss covered log or a fern wedged into a crack in a boulder may be just what is needed to pry a great idea loose.
  4. Garden Design Magazine. There are a zillion gardening magazines, but very few garden design ones. Garden Design magazine has gone through a couple transformations, but remains a great source for fantastic ideas. I love looking at a fantasy garden, the kind that I (and most other humans!) could never afford or even get the chance to design, and taking little pieces of it to integrate into your landscape.
  5. My Family. Quite often I am designing for a family. Yes, the property has a say in how the design comes together. But really the key elements are the parents, children, dogs, cats, chickens, goats, and whatever else that are going to be using that property. I often find myself imagining my wife or sisters or boys and thinking "What would they want it to be?" It's a form of empathy that can be very fruitful. Designing for people you really know gets the ideas flowing!

Ideas and inspiration are a bit of mystery. Sometimes the challenge is coming up with the first idea. Other times it's knowing which of your 15 ideas should be the idea. But if you keep thinking, working, and seeking- it will come.

Where does your landscape design inspiration come from?