Search: to done list

7 Reasons Why Making A ‘To Done’ List Will Help You Be More Creative In Your Garden and Life

– Posted in: Garden Design

You may see the ‘TO DO’ lists in your life and garden as a necessity.

The problem is that the majority of the time they make you feel lousy.


The ‘productive you’ writes a list of everything you plan on getting done each day.
If you’re like most people, your list is way too long.

cuttinggarden 1
A Playful and Naturalized Garden


You rarely complete what you set out to do. You feel unproductive, negative, and frustrated….and immediately go to that critical place in your head where you’re ‘not enough’. Doing this effects your quality of work, creativity, and enjoyment in the garden.

Think about it.

If you’re always rushing to get to the next task, how can you possibly be in the moment?

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Benefits of Becoming An Essentialist In The Garden

– Posted in: Garden Musings
Leonitus leonorus with Salvia

Leonitus leonorus with Salvia

***Please note: this post was published last summer. I thought it worth another look-see in these hot days of summer to re-evaluate how you live…in and out of the garden.

Are you a gardener who’s in a perpetual state of overwhelm?

Do you constantly feel pressure to complete your never ending ‘to do’ list?

Do you rarely feel like you’ve mastered anyone aspect of your garden or gardening skills?

If you answered yes to any or all of the above questions, don’t worry. You’re not alone!

With our culture’s emphasis on productivity,  our ‘more is better’ mentality and non-stop 24/7 lifestyle,  it’s practically impossible to experience equanimity, balance, and a sense of self-confidence and mastery as a way of life.

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10 Tips on How to Ignite Your Creativity and Productivity in The Garden

– Posted in: Garden Musings

Would you love to learn how to ignite your creativity and productivity in the garden this coming season?

If so, then listen up.

Now is the time of year when we’re bombarded with messages that repeatedly tell us that in order to be successful this year, we should immediately take charge, be productive, and make sweeping changes in our lives.

My response to that is hogwash!

I’ve always felt that the focus on making resolutions and committing to action just because the calendar says it’s the New Year is ridiculous.

Our culture has done an excellent job at brainwashing us into believing that resolutions are a necessary ritual.

To the contrary.

Rather than scurrying around trying to get your spring garden plans and purchases in order, I suggest another approach.

It may feel counter-intuitive when practicing the ideas below because you’ve never approached your garden making this way. But if you give it a try, my hunch is that you’ll be more than pleased with the results.

 10 Tips on How to Ignite Creativity and Productivity In The Garden 

1. Be Still.

I can think of nothing more rejuvenating than taking time during your day to be still. Whether it’s 15 minutes of meditation in the morning, or having your cup of morning coffee or tea and gazing out at the winter landscape, just sit quietly, take some deep breaths, and let your mind be.

2. Get grounded.

This phrase may sound a bit dated but it isn’t at all. You can only get grounded when you slow down—really slow down—and start thinking about what truly matters to you.

3. Dig deep and own your values.

Spending time thinking about your values and how you want to live your life will reap significant benefits. My suggestion is that you actually keep a notepad where you can jot down whatever comes to your mind over the next few weeks.

For example, some values that are important to me are: integrity, kindness, compassion, creating beauty, connection, authenticity, generosity, and consciousness.

There are no right or wrong answers with this exercise. Write down whatever comes to your mind—this list is for you and you only.

4. Link your values to your garden-making.

You may be thinking “What is Fran talking about?”

What I’m suggesting is not difficult to do. It’s really quite simple.

If nature and gardening are an integral part of your life, then it makes sense to contemplate what mindsets you internalize and actions you take in the garden that represent your values.

Does your garden represent your commitment to creating beauty? If so, how?

Continue to ask questions in order to deepen your perspective on what’s motivating you and what possibilities are awaiting you this spring in your garden-making that you’ve never considered.

For someone like me who values integrity, how would that be conveyed in my garden making? Perhaps it would be the integrity of the materials I use to create the garden; the integrity of my soil, or the integrity of the specimens I choose to plant in my garden.

5. Visit art museums.

I’m not a person who spends large blocks of time in museums. But even spending an hour, quietly perusing through one or two exhibits, is nutrition for an artist’s eye and soul.

You have no idea how the colors or subject of a painting or sculpture can impact decisions you make in the garden months—or even years—from now.

Try to visit museums at least 3 or 4 times over the next couple of months.

6. Change the narrative about your garden.

We tend to spend a lot of our time thinking and feeling from a scarcity mindset; feeling that we never have enough. In the garden, that can translate into thinking “ If I only had”…then my garden would be more beautiful or “I can’t because…”

Try something different this year. Write down what it is that you love about your garden; it may take a few weeks to come up with a list that feels complete to you. Once you do, close your eyes, visualize what you’ve written down and sink into and experience whatever feelings arise.

For example, in one of my past gardens, I remember how much pleasure it gave me to sit on a periwinkle bench looking down onto my front property from a back hill in the garden.

In another garden, I loved coming out on my rooftop early morning and observing dozens of sunflowers with their smiling faces slightly bobbing in the morning breeze.

Taking on a mindset of abundance, focusing on what you’re grateful for and what you love about your garden, will have a dramatic effect on your creativity in the garden.

7. Think about what you ‘deeply desire’ in your garden.

This is not about what you ‘think you can do’ this year, given your time and financial resources. Oh no!

This is about letting loose and coming up with ideas that you would want to implement if you could—with no restrictions. It doesn’t have to be logical or make sense: As a matter of fact, in most cases, it won’t.

In other words, you could garden on a small urban lot but dream about having a field of lavender like photos you’ve seen in magazines depicting the South of France. Add that idea to the list.

Once you open up the door to possibility, you’ll be surprised at how it fuels other innovative ideas that you’ve never thought of until now.

8. Practice efficiency and effectiveness.

So many of us, including me, are sloppy in our decision-making as gardeners.

A good example is seed buying. I don’t know about you but when I flip through the pages of seed catalogs and see all of the incredible offerings, my “I’ve got to have it impulsive brain” runs wild and I imagine that all of the glorious varieties I want will make for a smashing cutting garden.

The truth is that in any given year there is only room for about 25% of the seeds I’m convinced that I need.

Over the years, I’ve become more restrained in making purchases. I’ve also learned to take a thorough inventory on what seeds from last year can be sown prior to buying any new ones.

We live with the illusion that if we could have whatever we want, with no financial restraints, then our gardens would be a stunning mirror of our creative souls

Not necessarily so. When it comes to creativity, studies have shown that limitations are beneficial. They tighten up our boundaries, organize our thoughts, and get our neural pathways opened up and get us thinking in new ways.

9. Make bite-size changes in your garden this springif your time or commitment challenged.

Passionate and committed gardeners can be successful at making sweeping changes to their garden in one season.

But these folks don’t represent the majority of gardeners.

A lot of gardeners start off with grandiose ideas about what they plan on getting done: But after a few weeks when things don’t turn out as envisioned, they become frustrated and lose interest.

Those are often the people who end up telling me that they ‘can’t garden’ or that they have a ‘black thumb’—neither of which is true.

Studies consistently show that folks who make very small changes in their life on a daily basis have a much greater degree of success than those who start off in a flurry of excitement trying to make big changes.

So, if you’re a gardener limited with time and commitment, be realistic and do daily tasks in the garden  that can be broken down into 15 minute spurts. For example, you can set a timer to do 15 minutes of weeding in a garden bed and continue to weed it throughout the week, 15 minutes a day, until the job is completed.

This may not sound like a lot of time but once you start adding it up, you’ll be surprised at how productive limited time spent in the garden but done on a regular basis can prove to be.

10. Commit to making well-thought out choices.

When it comes to selecting plant material and creating a garden design, I’m a big advocate of taking your time, working on a garden design plan that offers both beauty and efficiency, and being thoughtful when selecting plant material .

We have so much information at our finger tips today that not to research out plants before buying them, or checking out a design to see if it holds up under scrutiny before implementing it is negligent.

The days of walking into a garden center and buying a slew of bushes or perennials just because you love them and think they might work are over.

The ideal situation is this: You have a list of plants that you’ve researched,  know you want to incorporate into your garden, and then search out a source from which to buy them.

But if you happen to walk into a garden center (and who doesn’t?)  and find a plant that you fall in love with, don’t impulsively buy it: Rather, take a photo of it (and get all other necessary information), and then return home and envision how it will look in your landscape.

You can become spontaneous once you have the basic design and plants in place. Then play to your hearts delight with annuals, containers, seeds, and selected bulbs.

Follow these 10 tips and you’ll experience your creativity and productivity in the garden sky-rocketing this spring.

Wishing you a magical, playful, and joyful 2017!

With love, xo


P.S. Your time is almost up to take advantage of the FREE 1000 Digging Deep Book and Course Giveaway. We are almost out of stock and are closing the Giveaway on January 10th (if we have any copies left). To have a copy of Digging Deep sent to you and get immediate access to my 3 part course on “How to Transform and Ordinary Life into an Extraordinary Life”, click  here.

You can also find Digging Deep at Amazon, other online retailers, and at Barnes and Noble stores.

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6 Reasons Why and 5 Tips on How To Experience Awe In The Garden, Nature, and Life

– Posted in: Garden Musings
Peony close up in FSorin garden

Peony close up in FSorin garden

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” Marcus Aurelius

With so many of us stressed out and leading jam-packed lives without a minute to spare, it’s easy to forget how important it is to slow down, observe, and sink into the beauty that envelops us in nature…and in our everyday lives.

How many of you have memories from your childhood of laying outside on a summer night, staring up at the stars, or on a summer day watching the waves on the ocean and experiencing a feeling so transcendent that if someone asked you to describe it back then you wouldn’t have had the words to do so?


How many of you remember feeling goosebumps as kids on the 4th of July watching fireworks as they zipped through the black skies?

What you were having then and thousands of times throughout your childhood were awe-inspiring experiences.

My Childhood Memories of Awe

Although I’ve been a passionate gardener my entire adult life, I wasn’t as a child.

I was raised in a middle class household in Dallas, Texas and Rochester, New York where we kids were expected to do chores: gardening was one of them. That translated into digging up dandelion weeds in the lawn, pulling them out of the garden, and helping my Mom transplant specimens a couple of times a season.

When I spent time in nature though, I had awe-inspiring experiences.

From a very young age, I was mesmerized by flowers. If I close my eyes, I can literally see myself as a chubby, curly headed little girl pushing my face up close to peonies so I could gaze at their beauty and feel the texture of their soft petals. Or taking in the luxurious scent of lilacs and being dazzled by the number of teeny flowers that made up one flower stalk.


I was captivated by anything that had to do with nature. I could sit for hours on the front walkway of my aunt’s house, when spending summers with my cousins in Cleveland, playing with potato bugs and observing the industrious nature of the ants parading around. How I loved the smell of those damp boxwoods that lined the front walkway!

When our huge willow tree in the front yard in Rochester started swaying and making whooshing sounds because a storm was brewing, I would run outside to catch its undulating dance before I heard the rumbling sounds of thunder. Running my fingers down a thin branch lined with leaves touched my soul in ways I didn’t understand back then.

“There are in life a few moments so beautiful, that even words are a sort of profanity. Diane Palmer

What Is Awe?

In Western culture, we use the word ‘awesome’ in casual conversation, like “How awesome!” or “I had an awesome experience!”

But the actual definition of the word AWE from is:

“An overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, and fear produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like.”

The good news is that awe can be found in our daily lives.


If you spend a lot of time in nature, you most likely are having interludes with awe several times a week. But even if your ‘awe muscles’ are being used on a regular basis, it can’t hurt to become more mindful of the benefits that you are accruing.

And if you’re not a regular ‘awe practitioner’, once you read how transformative awe-inspiring experiences are, my hunch is that you’ll feel galvanized to jump-start a practice of bringing awe into your daily life.

6 Reasons for Experiencing a Sense of Awe

1. Awe promotes altruism and loving-kindness

“The May 2015 study, “Awe, the Small Self, and Prosocial Behavior,” led by Paul Piff, PhD, from University of California, Irvine was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The researchers describe awe as “that sense of wonder we feel in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world.” They point out that people commonly experience awe in nature, but also feel a sense of awe in response to religion, art, music, etc.

In one experiment, the researchers induced awe by placing participants in a forest of towering eucalyptus trees. ”

 Source: Psychology Today

2. Awe enables us to be more present and live in the moment.

In a 2012 study done at Stanford University,  the researchers found “that awe has the ability to alter the subjective experience of time. Experiences of awe bring people into the present moment, which underlies awe’s capacity to adjust time perception, influencing decisions, and make life feel more satisfying.”

In modern life, time is a scarce commodity. A recent poll of over 1000 Americans found nearly half (47%) felt that they didn’t have enough time in their daily life (Carroll, 2008).

3. Awe increases kindness, compassion, and generosity

“In two unpublished studies, it was found that awe makes people more generous and more helpful to others. In one study, nearly 300 participants were randomly divided into three groups and watched one of three video clips. A group that watched nature scenes edited to evoke awe tended to agree with statements like “I feel insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

The participants were given a test to measure generosity called a dictator task. They were told they would get 10 lottery tickets for a prize drawing and would be assigned a partner who wouldn’t get tickets and didn’t know about the drawing. When asked how many tickets they wanted to give their partners, people in the awe group said they would give away approximately 25% more.”

Source: Wall Street Journal

4. Awe promotes curiosity and wonder

In an opinion piece written by Dacher Keltner, author of Born to Be Good, Professor of Psychology at The University of California and of Greater Good: The Science of A Meaningful Life  for Slate Magazine, he describes how sleep-deprived parents can still observe their baby’s and toddler’s immense curiosity and wonder of everything in the world.


I witness both of my adult children and their spouses in daily states of awe with their baby and toddler.

And guess what? Not only am I in awe of my grandchildren when this happens but I’m in awe of my children and what loving, kind, and generous parents they embody. Awe is the gift that just keeps on giving.

5. Awe drives people to paradigm-shifting discoveries and new technologies

Dacher Keltner’s studies at Berkeley “are finding that simply watching short videos of expansive images of the Earth leads people to generate more unusual exemplars of a category (e.g., “furniture”), to find greater interest in abstract paintings, and to persist longer at working at difficult puzzles when compared to appropriate control conditions. ”

Source: Slate Magazine

6. Awe opens up the portals to creativity

“A 2012 study from Tel Aviv University found that “expansive thinking” could lead to boosts in creativity. According to the study’s lead researcher, “outward” rather than “inward”-focused thinking helped children to consider different perspectives and see beyond their present situation.

In the study, one group of children was asked to look at a series of photos, beginning with local objects such as a pencil sitting on the desk in front of them, and progressing to vast or faraway things, like the Milky Way galaxy. The other group of children was showed the images in the opposite order, from expansive to immediate. The children in the group that progressed from local to expansive images performed significantly better on a test of creativity directly after looking at the images than the children who looked at nearby images last.”

Source: Huffington Post

5 Easy Tips on How To Experience Awe

1. Spend Time In Nature

I’m singing to the choir for those of you who are already getting your hands in the dirt.

But even for those of you who aren’t gardeners, you can enter the portal of awe by watching a worm wiggle its way through moist soil, observing the sunlight streaming through the dappled shade or listening to the rustling of perennial grasses in the breeze.

Miracles are plentiful in nature. All you have to do is awaken your senses. And get outside…..without your cell phone.

2. Slow down, sit on a park bench, and observe

Rather than rushing back to your desk or out to lunch with friends during the work week, take your lunch, find a park bench where nature and people abound (if you work or live in the city this is a no-brainer) and just observe.

Being open and observing creates opportunity.

You may hear music, see a group of kids playing, dogs romping about….who knows what!

3. Look Up At the Sky

People are so busy on their phones as they walk down the street that it’s no longer common place for people to make eye contact with each other, let alone look up at the sky.

Make time for gazing at stars and watching a glorious sunset. Not only are you taking in the beauty of the earth but you’re enabling your consciousness to expand.

I keep a small 3D placard of the Milky Way on my desk so that throughout the day I can pick it up and gaze at it.  I try to make the time, at least a few times a week, to go on NASA’s website, especially their multi-media gallery.

4. Meditate or Contemplate

I have an early morning ritual of meditating to the voice and thoughts of Dr. Joe DiSpenza. You can buy meditations on his website. After the initial 5 minutes of warming up, I imagine myself flying in space to different galaxies and experiencing ‘the best of me’ in parallel universes.

By the time I finish my meditation (it’s less than 25 minutes), I feel as if I’ve traveled to another time and space.

Have I had an interlude with awe? You bettcha!

5. Listen to Classical Music Or Jazz

I love several types of music but there is something in the tonal quality of both classical and jazz that, I think, induces feelings of reverie, wonder, and awe.

I use You Tube a lot to watch or listen to performances of Lang Lang, Evgeny Kissin, and Yo-Yo Ma, a few of my favorite classical performers.

Do yourself a favor and don’t multi-task when listening to the music. Give yourself time to sit or watch and listen quietly.

And of course, if you can see a live performance of your orchestra or a guest artist, go for it. Most cities now offer last minute discount tickets.

A Quick Exercise To Do Right Now

Close your eyes and remember the times when you had an interlude with awe….it could be in nature, gazing at a piece of art, playing or listening to music, observing or participating in sports or dance, or even tasting something delicious….just to name a few things.

You needn’t spend more than a few minutes on it

Leave a comment below on how you feel after doing this exercise.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it with others on social media. It’s good karma and you’ll be spreading the word on how someone can improve their life. With love, Fran

Gardens Here ?

– Posted in: Garden Photography, Garden Plants

Here in California, there have been some rumblings about gardens wasting water. Can we afford water for gardens in an era of limited resources?

California chaparrel and annual grasses habitat in summer at Mt. Diablo state park

California chaparrel and dry summer landscape

Isn’t our native habitat beautiful enough? Do we want to have gardens here?

Southern California spring landscape with Lupine wildflowers and oak trees. Los Padres National Forest, Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County.

California spring landscape with Lupine wildflowers and oak trees.

Well of course, I am biased. I am a gardener.  And yes, we certainly do want to have gardens; indeed, we need gardens for so many reasons. Not only are gardens urban and suburban oases that provide habitats, living soil, and carbon exchange, they provide so much peace for so many.  Gardens are important.

Deck garden room under California live oaks (Quercus agrifolia) in afternoon light

Deck garden room under California live oaks in afternoon light

So yes, we do want to gardens. Not only do we want gardens, we must have them. But in this summer-dry climate how do we sustain them?  Dry summers are not drought, it’s normal.  How much water can we afford to allocate to gardens in the summers when the plants need it?

Oak trees (Quercus lobata) on Mt. Burdell State Park, Novato, California

Summer-dry, spring green – Oak trees in California hills.

Californians have been suffering through years of drought, and while this winter we have had good rains (when we typically store water in the snowpack for the reservoirs), we need to be mindful that it only rains in the winter and we cannot waste water in the hot days of summer.

Fortunately, there are many plants that are adapted to dry summers. Not just our California natives but plants native to other summer-dry regions of the world such as the Mediterranean and Western Australia. In order for these plants to look good in gardens throughout the summer, many of them do need some supplemental water but the little bit they need is a fair use of our water resources.

Summer-dry, drought tolerant Australian native plants by stone wall in California garden using Chamelaucium, Westringia, Melaleuca, Callistemon

Summer-dry, Australian native plants by stone wall in California garden

There is an entire database of photos and plant descriptions for summer dry gardens at, of all places, the Summer-Dry website.

Agriculture uses 80% of California’s stored water, and is certainly a vital and key element of the economy, but I hope no one questions the need to allocate water for gardens too.  We do want gardens here.

There are many styles of garden that can fit comfortably and aesthetically with little water, assuming we choose plants adapted to summer-dry climates. However, not all of California can be classified as summer dry.

Joshua Tree succulents, Yucca Palm (Yucca brevifolia), Walker Pass Road, Mojave Desert in Southern California

Joshua Tree, (Yucca brevifolia) in Mojave Desert in Southern California

Much of southern California is desert with less than 10 inches of rain a year. There can certainly be beautiful gardens in the desert (hooray for succulents) but it is an entirely different aesthetic from the coastal regions of California where most people live.  Desert gardeners should not rely on the plant palette of the summer-dry regions.

Dasylirion wheeleri (desert spoon, spoon flower, or common sotol) in succulent border backyard garden with Aeonium 'Mint Saucer' blooming yellow and Lithodora and Echinocactus (Barrel Cactus)

Dasylirion (Sotol) in succulent border in California garden

I am a member of the California Native Plant Society and advocate for using our beautiful natives in gardens. I think these are our first choice for gardening, so long as the gardener chooses a native that is actually native to their region. Redwood trees are California natives to the north coast, but while they may be technically summer-dry, they receive significant moisture from summer fog.

Oak trees are native throughout the state and I am a huge fan of these most sustainable of trees.  A well sited oak tree can be the signature of a good garden. In this garden of native plants, the oaks were precisely planted in the garden to frame the views.

Outdoor stone patio sitting area under Oaks next to modern glass hilltop home with California native plant garden, Santa Barbara,

California outdoor stone patio sitting area under Oaks with native Carex lawn

In this next garden, a small bog pond planted with reeds and rushes creates a lush oasis under the native oak.

Lounge chairs under shady oak trees in back yard habitat California native plant garden with bog, Schino

Lounge chairs under shady oak trees in California native plant garden with bog.

Next, native shrubs are pruned in a somewhat formal fashion that provides privacy in this front yard garden in southern California.

Small patio secluded by drought tolerant shrubs in Southern California front yard native plant garden

Small patio secluded by native shrubs in Southern California front yard garden.

I think the most adventuresome gardens mix plants from the summer dry regions of the world. One of my favorites is the nurseryman David Fross’ garden (Native Sons Nursery) who has advocated for summer-dry, adapted plants for many years.

Live Oak tree (Quercus californica) in California meadow garden with wild rye (Helictotrichon sempervirens), rye (Leymus condensatus) David Fross

Live Oak tree in David Fross’ California meadow garden

And there are plenty of bold choices to using non-native plants. This red flowering Grevillea is from Australia, the beautiful Leucodendron against the wall is from South Africa, and the magnificent Agave is an American desert native.

Grevillea 'Bonfire' red flowering shrub in California summer-dry garden with Agave and Leucadendron salignum by stucco wall; design Jo O'Connell

Grevillea ‘Bonfire’ in California summer-dry garden with Agave and Leucadendron

Many wonderful Mediterranean natives are splendid in California gardens and we could hardly do without such herbs as thyme and lavender.

Lavender 'Provence' in xeriscape drought tolerant garden with grass Stipa gigantea.

Lavender ‘Provence’ in xeriscape summer-dry California garden.

And of course anyone who knows me knows I love the grasses, here next with lavenders under native oaks.

Flowering grasses, Miscanthus sinensis, Lavender, Lavatera and Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' in border garden under native oak

Flowering grasses, Lavender, and Lavatera in California summer-dry garden border

I have done two entire books about grasses, The American Meadow Garden with John Greenlee and Grasses with Nancy Ondra, so I best not to get started touting grasses for California gardens, but there is no doubt they fit into the aesthetic of summer-dry gardens.

Ornamental grass Stipa arundinacea - (aka. Anemanthele lessoniana) Pheasant's Tail Grass with Stachys and Phormium in colorful drought tolerant garden

Ornamental grass with Stachys and Phormium in colorful California summer-dry garden.

So yes, gardens can certainly be adapted to California. I do think they require some supplemental water, but everything any of us do in California requires supplemental water. If we can use plants that are adapted to summer dry conditions, then the gardeners’ share of the water resources is just as important as farming and flushing. It sustains the beauty of nature we all need.

Gardens, here ?  Oh yes !


Gardening Gone Wild has been nominated for a prestigious garden blog award by the folks at Better Home and Gardens. I hope you will consider voting for us. You need to go to their website  to the section about garden blogs, and once you’re there you will find the smiling face of our fearless leader Fran Sorin; and you can vote every day until March 7th.  😉