The Inspired Gardener

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Troy B. Marden

Troy B. Marden Travel

Everywhere I go, my designer’s eye is looking at the details. Be it the architecture of a building, the layout of an interior space, or the combinations of plants in a well-cared-for garden, I am constantly searching for inspiration to file away in one corner of my mind or another for a future project. Thankfully, today’s world of digital photography and always having a phone at my fingertips helps with that filing—and with my inspiration.

For decades, a great deal of my design inspiration has come from English gardens like Great Dixter, the garden laboratory of the late Christopher Lloyd, and Sissinghurst, the estate of renowned British writer Vita Sackville-West and her husband, Harold Nicholson. Exuberant planting and meticulous planning make these quintessentially English gardens seem loose, comfortable, and effortless. Only the gardeners know how much effort it truly takes.

As a child, I remember borrowing Lloyd’s and West’s books from the library—books like In My Garden, The Well-Tempered Garden, Some Flowers, and More For Your Garden—and being completely enthralled by the thrilling descriptions, not just of the plants growing there, but of the making—the creating—of each of these world-class estates. They became bucket list gardens for me long before “bucket list” was an everyday part of our vernacular.

These were, and are, gardens that took every detail into consideration, beginning with the soil and its components, its health, and its care, right through to the layout and design of the walkways, walls, architectural features, and hedges, and finally, to the exuberant and often cutting edge plantings those spaces featured. It was in these books that I found my first garden inspirations. They and numerous others, like Rosemary Verey’s The Making of a Garden and Beth Chatto’s Green Tapestry, became my textbooks long before college horticulture textbooks came into my life.

Decades later, I am fortunate to be able to travel and study in so many of these gardens in person and to take others along for the experience, as well. For those of us who are visual creators, seeing pictures is great, but being immersed in our subject is entirely different and much more inspiring. To experience these places in person allows detailed study not just of the visual attributes, but how these estates and gardens were built, from the engineering and beam construction of centuries-old manor houses to the way the bricks were cut and mortared or the walls were dry-stacked in the garden, every detail becomes accessible. Light and shadow dance on walls and walkways, bold color combinations ebb and flow into quiet, restful pastels all masterfully applied by artists who use nature as their palette and the land as their canvases.


Inspiration can come from anywhere and, when combined with creativity, can be applied anywhere. From friends’ tiny high rise balconies to the grandest gardens of Europe, I have been inspired to create new spaces, new gardens, and new planting combinations. Once you learn to look at things less and truly see everything around you more, inspiration is everywhere.

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