Really great garden centers are designed to inspire our desire. Some are so thoughtfully planned out we enjoy visiting them over and over regardless of whether we have a shopping list in hand. It makes sense to look at why we find them appealing places to linger. We’d like our own garden to be just as enticing, right?
I recently had the pleasure of visiting one such nursery, Flora Grubb Gardens of San Francisco, with my daughter and her camera. Following are just some of the design tips you can take away with you from a visit to a well-loved gardening mecca like Flora Grubb.
BOLD COLOR | The succulent wall hanging below is one of Flora Grubb Gardens’ visitors’ favorite focal points. I suspect its popularity has just as much to do with the vivid chartreuse paint on the corrugated metal wall it hangs on as it does with its well-designed succulent plantings. The wall color in the background serves as a matte to frame the succulent artwork. Painting a garden wall is an easy way to pump up the garden volume at home.
Colorful pot, colorful shelving, colorful leaves—a sure-fire recipe for constant color in the garden.
Color created with foliage rather than flowers is a design technique that is durable and dependable. Generally speaking, it’s also less effort to maintain compared to the continual chore of dead-heading spent blooms.
The bright bench below is heated—perfect for cat-napping! Note how stunning the greenery is in contrast to the bench’s modern lines and saturated color—no flowers necessary to complete this scene.
Scroll through the above photos again and if you hadn’t already done so, you’ll notice a theme to the color scheme throughout. Orange, rusty reds, and chartreuse work well with the rustic flavor at Flora Grubb and also tie the different rooms together, adding continuity to the design.
TAKE A SEAT | Another view of the succulent wall-hanging includes more colorful elements, this time in the form of movable seating. As opposed to fixed or built-in seating, movable seating is affordable, flexibly functional and can move with you to your next home. One famous study suggests visitors prefer seating they can move to fixed seating, so if you select movable seating for your garden, you have the added benefit of making your guests feel more relaxed and comfortable in your garden.
GARDEN LARGE | Flora Grubbs Garden Center feels and appears much larger than it is because its footprint isn’t revealed all at once. Garden rooms are slowly revealed sections at a time as one meanders through the available space. Areas just beyond are partially visible through taller plantings, creating intrigue, and encouraging the visitor to move forward, yet at the same time, the twisting and turning paths slow the guests down enough to “stop and smell the roses.” This can be achieved in a smaller garden by using something as affordable as a folding screen to divide up space and create two separate garden rooms.
This garden “room” has a colorful truck that functions as both a garden wall divider and a patio. If you look closely you can see the flatbed holds a table set for tea! One could use the design of the slatted wood side panels on this truck to create a garden room divider, hanging plants on both sides, doubling its functionality and increasing gardening space.
PUMP UP THE VOLUME | Use garden room walls to draw the eye upward and increase the feeling of spaciousness. Height creates volume. Here, a highly-textured wall hanging and colorful chairs hung on the wall draw the eye upward. The wall doubles as storage, the chairs double as artwork!
TEXTURE and FORM | In addition to the lovely color scheme and varied plant heights in the amazing container garden below, the different textures and forms add great contrast and interest. The same design principles hold true for any size garden!
A miniature case study in design, full of different forms, from short and round to vase-like, to upright and columnar; while at the same time full of different textures, from smooth to bumpy to downright prickly and even fuzzy in appearance!
Note the varied gravel size and color. Even this container garden has meandering paths!
An appealing display of succulents contrasts different leaf forms, textures, and colors, including lighter shades and darker colors, creating drama. The color scheme below could be applied on a larger scale.
WHIMSY | Doesn’t have to be as obvious as a garden gnome, although gnomes are cute. Charm can be subtle, too, as seen here in this table that holds a garden which is also its permanent centerpiece.
A close-up elevation view of the table’s succulent centerpiece.
SURPRISE! | You won’t see this coming. It’s interesting to watch people turn a corner at Flora Grubb and get their first look at this ever-changing design. Surprises make for memorable gardens. Plan a surprise in yours and enjoy your guests’ reactions.
Of course, many of us don’t have space to park a car in our garden, but you can get a similar effect by using smaller parts. A hubcap or grill could be mounted on a fence or wall and planted.
MAKE THAT CHANGE | Plan something new for guests to admire. Great gardens are always changing and never finished. Here’s a peak at the treasures I couldn’t leave without to add to my own garden.
Below is Graptoveria Debbie x Between Graptopetalum and Echeveria.
Here is Opuntia microdasys albaspina (Angelwings). These appear soft to the touch, but resist the urge to do so or you may need your credit card to remove the needles.
The little guy below in the bottom left corner is Sedum hispanicum v. purpureum (Blue Carpet). It works well between pavers.
It’s important to note the majority of plants featured in this post (with the exception of some annuals), are low-water users, fitting in nicely with low-water use garden designs here in drought-stricken Cali.
Next time you visit your favorite nursery center and find yourself not wanting to leave, make note of your surroundings as a take-away plan—you’ll increase the value of your time and money, both well spent!
Photos by Melanie R. Peluso | Copyright 2014