Garden Tips | May 2, 2014 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - May 2, 2014

Garden Tips

Creating the representative garden

by Jack McKinnon

What do I represent? Who am I? Who do I want to be? What do I want to aspire to? What do I want others to think of me?

These are beginner questions one can ask when designing a representative garden. If I represent environmental change, how do I make a garden that intelligently represents second- or third-generation recycling combined with aggressive open-source hybridization that will serve the community's intellectual stimulus? To say it more plainly, what can I do that is new and different that helps the environment?

What means can a garden convey that will demonstrate that grandparenting is really fun and relaxing while still productive for gourmet lunch gatherings? Where have I been the most inspired, learned life-changing lessons, had the most memorable encounters with others and how can I represent that in a drought-tolerant, low-maintenance way?

These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to new representative garden ideas. Of course, banks and corporate office complexes may want to represent the solid, secure, stable, engineered environment they represent. This too can be revisited to inspire conservative, tried-and-true sensibility for a business image that reads, "Trust the process and keep up the good work."

Of course, when those employees go to lunch the café or restaurant patio may have fourth-wave feminist furniture and seasonal flower displays that tickle and delight the appetite for life and love of everyone while being straightforward, honest, empowering and in your face.

This month's tips will seek to inspire finding your next garden design, putting ideas together and living the life you want to show the world.

1. Aristotle said that "Contemplation is the highest form of activity." Try looking at what you want to say with your garden. Rather than how you want to say it, look at who you are and what message you want to deliver. Each one of us has a message we project into the world. Contemplate what yours is. This is not simple and hugely rewarding.

2. Revisit your forming, where you were first inspired, what made you who you are and how you are now. Think about how this would look in a hardscape (stone work, patios, sculpture) and what colors, textures and foliage would demonstrate that.

3. Rename "therapy" to "continuing education" for a lift in perspective. Look at talking to a psychologist as creative revisiting of who you are. I'm not saying to stop taking your meds. If you need them, take them. You can still think, go ahead and try. This and horticulture can create some interesting gardens.

4. Get "Luminosity" and "Whack Pack" apps on your smartphone. These will stimulate your brain and help you with ideation for your garden design.

5. Design together. Start a design group, read this column and other articles on innovative landscape design at the beginning of each meeting or walk or lunch. This will activate the old adage, "Two heads are better than one."

6. Convert an engineer or programmer or nerd to gardening.

7. Be a nut case for a day, a week a lifetime. We need more nut cases.

8. Re-marry your husband/wife, partner, best friend. Design your garden for the ceremony and the new relationship. After all, it is spring.

9. If you don't know what type you are, great! This opens doors for you to be whoever you want and to create anew until you settle into what is comfortable. Start by picking some flowers to grow. If you don't like them after awhile, try cactus. After all Morticia Addams of the "Addams Family" grew roses to cut the flowers off and arrange the thorny stems.

10. And being spring it is time to have a picnic. This is where true inspiration comes from. To take an afternoon, lie out on a blanket, eat fruit and cheese, drink wine and share the outdoors with family and friends, this is what recharges our imagination. If a picnic is new behavior, good. Do it several times in order to practice and perfect your picnic technique. Look at French Impressionist paintings for examples of how you might dress. It's all fun.

Good Gardening.

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-455-0687, by email at Visit his website at


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