Growth and Inspiration

– Posted in: Garden Design

In working on a follow-up post to A Garden You Can Bank On, I’ve been reviewing photos of the gardens from the past several seasons looking for successful plant groupings. There has been a particular evolution in the gardens between 2006 and 2008, and in me as a designer.

Garden design is a process of trial and error which results in refinement of the garden over time, so it’s not surprising that the gardens at BOS are vastly different now than when they were first planted. Today, more complex plant groupings are favored to the large panels of single cultivars from seasons past.

Datura innoxia (foreground), Salvia farinacea ‘Evolution’, and Pennisetum setaceum ‘Red Riding Hood’

Datura innoxia (foreground), Salvia farinacea ‘Evolution’, and Pennisetum setaceum ‘Red Riding Hood’

As a designer I have become more comfortable taking risks. Bold tropical foliage punctuates a sea of annual color, ornamental grasses, perennials, and natives. Each vignette of plants supports the one adjacent to it while working collectively to support a grander visual statement. I recommend risk-taking. The beauty of gardening lies in the opportunity for change next season.

Often I am asked about my design process and sources of inspiration. I am embarrassed to say! My design process is not formulaic, a certain percentage of foliage to flowers. I map out structural elements on a base plan, review site photos, and ruminate. Typically the best ideas come to me as I lie in bed at night with my eyes closed, visualizing the site.

Eryngium yuccifolium (foreground, native plant), Canna ‘Striata’ (background)

My inspiration comes from a variety of sources. Travel is one, particularly my route on the interstate between St. Louis, Missouri, and Springfield, Illinois. The roadside is peppered with natural areas and prairie plants. Observing nature always leads me to creative solutions. Trips abroad like the one we took last winter to Singapore and Malaysia inspired the use of lush tropical foliage in the gardens.

I also find inspiration at public gardens in my area. Missouri Botanical Garden, as well as the Lurie Garden at Millennium Park, the gardens at Ball Seed, and the Chicago Botanic Garden are valuable resources.

Books and magazines are also invaluable for inspiration. I keep a pretty extensive garden library including works by (some of my favorites) Noel Kingsbury, Piet Oudolf, Ken Druse, Nancy Ondra, and James van Sweden. Subscriptions to Fine Gardening, Garden Design, House & Garden, Gardens Illustrated, and several trade publications keep me current.

As I design a garden, I place structural plants on the base plan and build outward, selecting new plants based on their compatibility with the adjacent plant or plants. Experience has taught me which plants work well with one another. But if I need to double-check the visual compatibility of specific plants, or possibly seek out ideas for new combinations, I find that the web sites of garden photographers are invaluable. There are several with helpful search features, including,, and

[Thanks to all of you who welcomed me with comments on my very first post. It may take me a day or two to respond to any you leave on this one, but I promise I will get to them!]

Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff has practiced garden design since 1995. He trained as a Botanist at Eastern Illinois University. Woodruff attributes his unique design aesthetic, naturalism with a twist, to early college exposures to a diverse range of plants and environments (collecting trips in local prairies, field excursions to bogs in Canada and treks through forests of the Northeast). He also maintained the campus greenhouse, where he fell in love with tropicals. In recent years, influences on his designs include travels abroad to Europe, Asia and the Yucatan peninsula as well as observation of the work of great plantsmen such as Piet Oudolf and Roy Diblik. Woodruff’s designs often combine grasses, prairie natives and perennials with lush tropical foliage and seasonal blooms. This harmonious blending of plant material that is not conventionally grouped together is the ‘twist’ that makes his style unique.
Adam Woodruff

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6 Comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Nancy Bond December 21, 2008, 11:36 pm

I, too, have found others’ sites to be an invaluable source of creative ideas. 🙂 I’m no designer, but the photos are most helpful.

Hi Nancy. Thanks for your comments. I hope you find inspiration in the sites I listed. Happy Holidays!

LindaLunda December 22, 2008, 3:03 am

Merry Christmas to you!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you as well!

Sylvia (England) December 22, 2008, 6:13 am

Gardening blogs have been a great inspiration to me, sometimes the plants will not grow in my climate, other times they are just not available in the UK ( yet). But plants can often be substitute with ones that will grow and will give the same/similar effect. Now I do like the Pennisetum above – can I buy it/afford it – research needed I think.

Happy Christmas Adam and hoping you have time for some more posts in the New Year! Best wishes Sylvia

Hello Sylvia. Happy Holidays to you as well. Thank you for your comments. I dont know if Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’ is available in the UK. It is an annual here in Zone 5. The deep burgundy foliage plays well with hot and cool colors. Rubrum’s graceful tan to brown seed heads sway in the wind adding movement to the garden. It is one of my favorite plants!

Gail December 22, 2008, 11:12 am

Adam, Mobot is one of my favorite botanical gardens! St Louis is my home town and whenever we visit family we stop by to see what is new in the garden…it’s inspiring!

My own design process is not a visual process…I wouldn’t mind having some visual skills, but this gardener is kinesthetic!…Still visiting other gardens (lots of photos to help me see), garden magazines, books and a visual garden coach…help me create a space I love. Btw, the combinations you’ve shown are fantastic! Where do you garden…I missed that! Happy Christmas.
Gail, Zone 7~~Nashville

Thanks for your comments Gail. I am located in Springfield, IL and St. Louis, MO (Zone5). I design and garden for clients in both locations. The Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Gardens is a valuable local resource. I posted photos on my blog back in September of stunning annual display beds. They were designed by an intern. Tropical foliage and annuals were grouped in monochromatic vignettes. Follow the link to have a look: Happy Holidays!

Cameron(Defining Your Home Garden) December 22, 2008, 11:29 am

I think your comfort with taking risks is producing extraordinary vignettes! I love the examples that you’ve posted.

Sometimes the large, professionally-landscaped gardens can be overwhelming, so I’ve learned to look for the small vignettes that can be translated into my garden… perhaps just the textures, or the colors, even when I can’t grow the same plants.

Thanks for your story.

Happy Holidays!


Thank you so much for you holiday wishes and compliments! Happy Holidays to you as well. I am anxious to spend some time with your blog when I return from vacation. Looks like lots of great info! I’ll bookmark you.

Lola December 22, 2008, 8:40 pm

Merry Christmas, Adam. Have a wonderful prosperous New Year.

Best wishes to you in the coming year. Happy Holidays!

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