Stimulate Your Creative Juices!

When you’re looking at your garden/balcony/outdoor space wondering what you should do to make it more beautiful/useful/practical, you can start with asking yourself some basic questions.

So for those who want to make some–or a lot of–changes, here’s a questionnaire to stimulate your creative juices.


This analysis is designed to give an overall concept of your property, family lifestyle, and the design elements that need to be considered for the conceptual landscape plan. Don’t do this fast, think about it for a few days.

  1. List family members and hobbies – interests which might influence property use
  1. Are there any allergies or other medical problems/conditions which should be considered?
  1. Do you have any pets that might require a special area or run?
  1. Do you want or need a fence? Height restrictions?
  1. Do you live in a development with any covenants you should be aware of?
  1. Entryway:

a. Would you like it open, or more enclosed and private?

b. What type of walkway exists? Is it wide enough (welcoming)? Is shape pleasing?

c. Do you see the need for other major walkways or paths?

d. What paving material (stone, brick, gravel, pavers) do you prefer?

7. Driveway – vehicle access:

a. Is it adequate in size for the cars in the family?

b. Is there adequate parking for guests?

8. Utility:

a. Where will you place your garbage cans?

b. Do you need an outdoor storage shed? Woodpile? Compost?

c. Future outbuildings (on rural properties), greenhouse, barn ?

9. Children’s area:

a. Do you want a specific play surface?

b. Do you need room for play equipment?

10. Entertaining – Outdoor living:

a. Do you entertain large crowds? small? informal? formal?

b. Would you like (more) decking or a large patio?

c. Permanent outdoor seating–built-in benches?

d. How much of this area do you want in the shade, sun ?

e. Outdoor cooking area?

f. Swimming pool or hot tub?

g. Special game area or sport court?

h. Outdoor lighting?

11. Edible Gardening: Do you want specific areas for vegetables, flowers, herbs, fruit trees?

12. Maintenance: How many hours a week are you willing to work on your property? Will you be hiring out the maintenance chores? Irrigation system?

13. Do you have specific plant preferences and colours? Plants or colours to avoid?

14. Do you want any of the following decorative features / accessories?

bird attractors / water features / large boulders / gazebo / pergola / arbor /garden sculpture / container plants ( pots) / garden furniture/ other?

  1. Circulation: In considering typical outdoor activities of your family, are there areas where you foresee a path, or traffic-tolerant surface needed?
  • SITE– do you have a site map / plot plan? (available from builder or county)
  1. Approx. size of property __________________________( provide specific dimensions of property lines if available)
  1. Site character (wooded, open meadow, steep, urban lot, rural…..)
  1. Problem areas- steep slopes, poor drainage? erosion? shallow soil?
  2. Considering your lifestyle, what feeling or mood do you want to establish? ( natural, formal, oriental, English country……) Does this tie in with architectural style of house?

5. What are the most frequently used rooms of your house? What do you see from those windows?

6. Are there any natural features on the property that you would like to emphasize? or change? boulders, woods, stream, slope/ hillside (site contours), view…

  1. Where is drain field, or septic tank location? Can you locate the lines?
  1. Are there easements or deeded restrictions that you know of?
  2. Are there areas of micro-climates (total shade, protected or enclosed areas…)?
  3. Are there street lights, noises, or views outside the property that cause problems or need screening attention?? Drainage or traffic patterns that influence site?
  4. Do any existing plants, trees or structures need to be removed or relocated?
  • Priorities:

List your five highest priorities.






List your five least-liked aspects of your outdoor space:






Wow! After reading all that, take a breather and don’t look at it again for awhile. But let the ideas generated percolate a bit, and you’ll find yourself designing in your head. You might even start designing on paper.

More Tips for Container Gardens

When I posted 6 Tips for Container Gardens, I neglected to mention one of the most important considerations: Annuals or Perennials. 

For some reason, many people are intimidated by perennials. Do they seem to be more work? Is there a fear they won’t come back? Are they too expensive? Is there not enough all-season flowering?

Here’s a very basic primer on plant longevity.


…are plants that in our region usually die off completely at the beginning of winter. They may live forever in South Africa, but in BC, not so much. So the Gloriosa rothschildiana (Climbing Lily) I just bought would come back year after year in Atlanta, but in Burnaby I’ll just get one summer from it. (All images clickable incidentally.)

Pardon the price tag that I couldn't get off the bulb package!

Pardon the price tag that I couldn’t get off the bulb package!











…are an unusual group of plants that grow lots of leaves the first year they germinate, then die back over the winter, and in their second year they make flowers, set seed, drop their seeds all over the place, and then die. And because they drop their seeds all over the place, there will always be new first year plants. Hollyhocks, foxglove, forget-me-nots are all biennials.










And finally Perennials…

…these are plants that are hardy in your area–wherever “your area” is.

If a plant comes back every year for more than two years, it’s a perennial.

“Herbaceous perennials” will appear to die, or disappear, come winter, and then reappear the next spring. “Evergreen perennials” don’t disappear–like hellebores, for example (Lenten Rose or Christmas Rose–aren’t those the most delightful names?)








OK, now a few more semi-accurate generalizations about annuals and perennials:

Annuals are very hungry and very thirsty, no matter where they’re planted. Perennials much less so, but will still need more feeding and watering in containers than planted in the ground. 

Annuals’ chief advantage is that in general (hence the “generalizations” in the heading), they flower most of your summer season. Some will find the heat of summer more than they can take and languish until it cools down in later August, but they will pick up again as the nights cool down. Delphinium is one of those.

.Delphinium, maybe "Pacific Giant"?








Perennials in general have a shorter flowering season, but have a lot more foliage interest than most annuals. (Exception is the coleus I mentioned in the last post–Ahhh, the beautiful coleus…) And some perennials’ shorter flowering season is still really long, like the Black Eyed Susan, Rudbeckia. Blooms for at least 5-6 weeks.








Annuals are usually cheaper to buy, but have to be cared for through the growing season, and have to be replaced every year (unless you want to get into overwintering, which can be a lot of fun, and the subject of another post…) 

Perennials are more expensive, but it’s a several year investment, since they’ll come back at least two more years, as long as you treat them right.  

So are you an instant gratification kind of person, or does the idea of seeing a favourite plant that “died off” last Fall resurrect in the Spring fill you with delight?







Let me know! Leave a comment here, or share to Facebook. And definitely let me know if you need help to create your masterpiece.