A comfortable temperature, clear skies, and extended sunlight—there's nothing like a day spent outdoors. When Mother Nature's elements align so seamlessly, we waste no time preparing our exterior spaces. Well-appointed patio furniture? Yes, please. An outdoor fireplace? Of course. A kitchen al fresco? If your footprint allows it, absolutely.
Getting these outdoor fixtures into tip-top shape as the weather warms is, of course, a key seasonal priority—and offsetting them with beautiful gardens and landscaping is, too. After all, lush florals and verdant shrubs, when paired with the proper hardscaping, can turn a backyard into a personal oasis. And, according to landscape architect Janice Parker, putting extra effort into your garden really does elevate the final result. "The landscape plan, when designed with a clear intent, can guide visitors through the property, and can also transform the garden into additional 'rooms,' adding to the liveable space of the home," she explains.
But where to start? To help, three leading landscape architects shared the best ways to find garden inspiration—as well as their go-to tips that everyone should follow as they design and execute their outdoor spaces. That way, you can spend less time brainstorming and more time enjoying your beautiful backyard.
Create a Blank Canvas
When it comes to designing your outdoor space, your creativity might be easily clouded by its preexisting elements. But instead of honing in on that decrepit dogwood or an outdoor swing you don't particularly love, Parker recommends starting from scratch. "Try to look at [your] home and land in a fresh way—with a 'new pair of glasses'—before starting the process of designing a garden or landscape," she says. "In your mind, erase everything that is there. Imagine a theater—and your land is the stage. The house and the outer buildings are props, and the garden elements are scenery. Start to compose different arrangements. Think about how stage sets move, and props come in from the side, up from below and down from the top."
That said, just because you envision your backyard as a blank canvas doesn't mean you have free reign over your space. Just like your home's interior, you will be faced with some restraints—be it structural, financial, or environmental. "Understand what is possible on your land and what is not," she adds. "Planning enduring landscapes is about creating beauty within the natural constraints of the site." To get started, research and identify your space's level of light and shade as well as its soil and water conditions. As Parker puts it, these key factors will offer "a strong structure to plan within."
Search Your Local Surroundings
The good news is that inspiration is all around us—you just need to look closely. "Local, natural environments help us create a sense of place for your home and garden that is appropriate for your region—and reveals which plants will grow best where you are," says Amy Smith, Marmol Radziner's landscape studio director. "Local public gardens can be a great and accessible way to learn about plants that grow natively or are well-adapted to your climate, and how to arrange spaces and plantings in a way that is appropriate for home gardens."
While public parks and your neighbors' backyards are great ways to find inspiration, Parker also recommends checking out nurseries and botanical gardens. Another option? Mixing the business of design inspiration with the pleasure of socializing. "Sign up for a local garden club: They often host tours of private landscapes, and many will host day trips to local public botanical gardens," she says. "Use the information on different websites—organizations like The Nature Conservancy and The Garden Conservancy are wonderful."
But no matter how you find inspiration, you'll want to prioritize your and your space's needs above all else. "It is important to consider the climate, water use, sun or shade exposure, and a level of maintenance that is practical for your lifestyle," Smith says. "The garden should be shaped around who will live [alongside] it and how it will be used."
Scroll on Social Media
Chances are, you have a number of saved posts and pins for interior inspiration and delicious recipes—so why not add landscapes to your growing list? "Pinterest and Instagram are by far the go-to sources for design eye candy," says Michael McGowan, KAA Design Group's landscape architect. The downside, McGowan points out, is that not everything you see on social media will transition seamlessly into your green space, so it's important to practice patience.
"My suggestion is to keep a running file—digital, monologue, or both—of what you like and what inspires you," he says. "This can be images, sketches, found objects, writings, [and so on]. Over time, distinct patterns will emerge in this accumulation. Copy the coalesced inspirations, then evolve them to fit your space."
Tune in for Inspiration
Of course, your smartphone isn't the only screen that can deliver top-tier inspiration. As Parker points out, there are plenty of webisodes and television programs to enjoy from the comfort of your couch. While her favorites include Gardeners' World, anything backed by Monty Don, and a series from The Cultural Landscape Foundation called What's Out There Weekends, she's also partial to Martha Stewart's sage gardening advice. (So don't forget to check out our founder's tips for flower bed formations, go-to tools, and so much more.)