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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