For me, there’s nothing like seeing the real thing to learn about plants.

That’s one of the reasons I make visiting botanical gardens, parks and flower shows a high priority when it comes to travel and my free time. Aside from the enjoyment of being outdoors or seeing all the wonderful new combinations, I can see the three-dimensional version of the plants in a natural setting. I can see their real size and color. I can smell, touch and feel the plant.

When I look at the flowers and plants in magazines and catalogs all seem to run together after a while. The photographers make them all just lovely. And how can you really judge color or size in print? Forget about smell.

When I’m visiting a park or garden I will sometimes photograph a particularly striking arrangement with the plan for making a similar arrangement at home or just to add to my photographic idea book.

Here’s an example. On the left is a container arrangement I saw at the Dixon House and Gardens in Memphis last May. I was particularly taken by the holly, primroses and parsley packed into the beautiful pot. The unusual shape of the holly made a dramatic statement in the container arrangement and added some vertical interest.


On the right is a version of the same arrangement I made at home with flowers I found at the local garden center, including a sky pencil holly and some miniature petunias. I didn’t have the fabulous container they had at the Dixon gardens, so a simple terra cotta container had to do.

Could I have gotten such an arrangement idea from a book? Sure. But by actually seeing and copying an existing arrangement, I had a much better idea of the outcome to expect.

I haven’t had nearly the same success with packages of plants sold to create specific effects. White Flower Farm has some spectacular arrangement collections and photographs that make me salivate. They are drop-dead gorgeous. Still, I’m not buying them anymore though because I can never recreate the same effect in my garden. It’s frustrating to spend a lot of money on plants and then be disappointed in the outcome. I’ll save my money for seeds, fabulous pots and plants I can be confident will do well here at Bumblebee.

Of course, not all of the arrangements here at Bumblebee are copies. But I think copycat gardening is a good strategy for learning about plants until you’re ready to fly solo.

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  • Kylee says:

    Robin, I like yours better! Seriously! Very pretty. :-)

    Gee, thanks! Actually, it provided nice color all summer long. I’ll definitely do a version of this again next year.

    Robin at Bumblebee

  • jodi says:

    Yes, I like yours better, too. You’re right that it can be a great way to learn about plants, and you can interpret and put your own spin on a design so that it’s not identical. Not that anyone would be likely to say, “Oh, look, that’s just exactly like the planting at the public garden in Liverpool”, but we do like to put our own flare into things too.
    I’ve never bought a collection of plants like we see advertised in garden magazines etc, because I figure I can do my own selection and planting and have them look as good or better than those designs. I think also that people sometimes expect the design to look full and robust the first year, when it may take three or four years or longer for it to fill in and look ‘just like the picture.’ This is something I’ve run up against with beginning gardeners wanting instant perfection; have you encountered this in your gardening experiences?

    Hi Jodi,

    You probably do a lot more in the way of advising people than I do, but yes, I’ve seen people frustrated with new landscaping because they have a hard time envisioning what something will look like in a few years.

    One of the biggest mistakes I made early on was not giving some plants enough room. When the nursery tag said the butterfly bush would get to be 8′ x 10′, I thought “surely not.” Well, guess who’s digging up a well-established butterfly bush this spring!?!

    Robin at Bumblebee

  • Now why didn’t I think that of that! I always go to public gardens and get all inspired but then forget a lot by the time I get into my own garden. Duh! I should take reference photos! How silly am I? 😉

    Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage

    Yep – A good number of the photos I take are for documentation more than for beauty shots. Glad you found this helpful!

    Robin at Bumblebee

  • Kate says:

    This is a really helpful idea. I feel the same way you do. Clever way to accomplish it!

    Hey Kate! Let me know how your design is coming along.

    Robin at Bumblebee

  • Kim says:

    I agree! And at work (I’m in marketing) we call it R&D. No, not “Research & Development,” but “Rip off & Duplicate”!!! :)


    I saw this comment late last night and have been laughing about it all day. Having worked a number of years in an ad agency, I can definitely say there’s a lot of R&D going around!

    Robin at Bumblebee

  • kari & kijsa says:

    Love it! Happy Valentines Day from our hearts to yours!

    kari & kijsa

    You too!

    Robin at Bumblebee

  • meems says:

    Hi Robin, I agree with Kylee – your container is actually nicer which I guess is part of the idea… not to duplicate but to imitate.

    I don’t do this where gardening is concerned but I do arrange fresh (and silk) flowers so whenever I see an arrangement I like in a model home or retail display – I take photos – so I can copy the idea.

  • You’re right. You did a beautiful job! :-)

  • I think (I hope) I can speak for public gardeners everywhere — r&d (I’m hereby adopting Kim’s term) equals success! You’re our raison d’etre. Visit, take ideas home and improve on them. Thank you for this post. I hope to see you sometime at Blithewold – you can take it with you.

    Thanks Kris! And thank you for the E is for Excellent award over at Blithewold. What a nice surprise to find when I visited yesterday.

    Robin at Bumblebee

  • […] a faithful reader but her comment on my last post led me to Bumblebee again this morning. I found this post -and others- recommending that you get out to public gardens and flower shows and bring home […]

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