Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Idea Bank

Inspiration can be found anywhere and everywhere, as long as you don't just look but also see, as well as constantly maintaining an open mind that is receptive to new ideas even if it comes from the unlikeliest of places. And even better if you have a camera at hand to capture these images as you see them!

On my laptop there is a folder called 'The Idea Bank' where I store mostly photos and images I have taken myself; of places and objects I have seen that I find inspirational for a certain look, or a good idea for a future project in our garden. There are also several images there that I have saved from various websites I have visited in the past that I consider to be inspiring or have great ideas that may be applicable to us. 

I regard this folder as a personal reference file, a collection of images that I dip into every so often whenever I find myself in need of ideas and inspiration, or simply just to refresh our memory of notable things we have seen before. It is extremely useful especially when planning for new projects or designing and thinking about ways to be creative in the garden.

Not all of the images in 'The Idea Bank' are immediate things of beauty. Some are photos of places and objects that were taken to capture the overall essence of the subject matter, with the form and aesthetics fully appreciable in each individual photo. Whilst others are detailed shots, functional in purpose that are meant more to help in creating something similar which will hopefully lead to something good.

There are numerous photos in that folder, almost a hundred but I never let it expand any more than a manageable size,  by culling some of the older images as I gradually add some more, sometimes even trying to remove more than I have added at times. Even in a computer folder clutter is not a good idea, and unlike a real bank quantity is not always a good thing either. Quality over quantity, what you're banking on are ideas and not just the number of images.

In preparing this blog post I had to revisit these images again, which I found an enjoyable experience in its own right. Some of the photos have served their purpose already and have been referred to in previous projects (and may remain there for nostalgic reasons); some have become totally inapplicable and are candidates for culling; whilst others will remain there long term for possible use in the future.

The following images (only the ones I've taken myself) are just a few of the images in our Idea Bank, a sneak peak of what's inside there...

Exotic plants on a white background, looks familiar? We've pretty much decided on this combination until we saw this display in the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew Gardens which reinforced the idea. I do like the trellis on the wall and was an influence when putting up trellises on top of some of the fence panels. Instead of lush, green foliage plants we used glaucous leafed instead (on one raised bed at least).

Taken inside the tropical biome of the Eden Project, it is one of the inspirations when we were still constructing the jungle hut near the bottom of our garden. We played with the idea of using galvanised sheets and putting up a metal 'shipping' sign at the front of the hut. Galvanised sheets are widely used in the tropics for jungle huts and rural outbuildings, thus in their own right would look authentic if used as such here. However, we opted against using them in the end as its aesthetics are more likely to be misconstrued by others rather than appreciated. So out with the galvanised sheets, but the influence of the shipping sign remained but has been substituted by several vintage metal 'Coca Cola' signs instead.

A wooden raised bed/planter like this might look good on the top patio nearest to the house if we decide to give it a makeover.

Agave attenuata or any other succulent sat on the mouth of a big urn looks great! This photo was taken at Reid's Palace Hotel in Madeira. It's easy enough to replicate this at home by filling a large urn with polystyrene, leaving just enough space so the pot of agave will be concealed and only the foliage will be visible. You can then easily lift off the pot in the autumn for storage under glass before the winter chill.

I saw this metal pole pergola in one of the gardens at Madeira and thought it looked effective, sturdy, and easier to assemble than an all wooden pergola. However, unless you buy this as a kit (and kits tend to be expensive) then it has to be custom made which makes it also expensive and I have doubts about its longevity in a British climate. And will it be aesthetically pleasing or just look functional? It depends on the overall construction of course but I'll never find out. A good idea in Madeira but not so good in our own garden.

I loved this feature, so simple yet so effective in creating a soothing, moving water sound in the garden and the planting was just right and looked natural. This sort of feature can be easily replicated by a simple set-up and you don't even need a big pool to achieve this. And you can customise it with your own planting! Maybe something we can replicate ourselves in the future.

I saw this potted display in Cambridge Botanical Gardens a few years ago and did something similar shortly after with my collection of little succulents in small pots. Much the same as above, I filled big pots to the rim with sand and placed small pots of succulents in groups on top of them so they were displayed on different levels. I only did this display for one year and haven't done it again since. Most of those succulents are either gone now or have grown and in big pots themselves.

This pathway looked good and is easy enough to replicate yourself, time consuming yes but potentially an inexpensive hard landscaping option.

A living wall that I absolutely adore and has a sense of permanency which most living walls now do not have. Ok, it's not a living wall as such but a stone walling that has deliberate random gaps where appropriate plants can be inserted, establish themselves and hopefully thrive. It looks natural, similar in principle to old stone walls where plants manage to find its way in between gaps and thrive there with little human intervention. Such a 'living wall' has limited choices of plants that can be used as there's no irrigation and very little organic matter will make its way in between those gap. But it becomes a very low maintenance living wall that looks great too. I don't think we have anywhere in our garden we can do this now, but who knows, maybe in the future. A long term investment in our 'The Idea Bank' but if you find this right in your garden now then I think it will look great.

So how do you finish off a tiled roofing? A close up shot was needed to give us an idea...

A chunky wooden bench, so simple yet so effective. And seems easy enough to do one yourself and is at home to any style of garden.

One of the newer additions to our 'The Idea Bank', a reclining urn with plants spilling out of it. Maybe one to add in our garden this year.

A climber doesn't only have to climb walls to look good. You can include obelisks and pillars within your borders and train choice climbers to cover them as part of your display. Instant height too! Or like the one in this photo you can put one in a pot for an instant tall display.

A charming water feature in one of the Cornish gardens we've visited before. Simple in principle, a plantless pool with reasonably clear water and something similar can even house a few goldfish as an extra interest to this water feature. I'm not too keen on the frog sitting on top but the rest of the stone water return looks great.

So there you go, a little preview of what's inside our 'The Idea Bank'. Highly likely you have something similar already on your computer even if you call it something else, if you do then it would be good to hear about (or even better see them in a post on your own blog!). Inspiration really is everywhere and it's free, use it your own advantage and you'll reap lots of pretty rewards.

Mark :-)


  1. You gave me some inspiration with a couple things here. It will be interesting to see what you do after your current project too.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  2. I wish I had read this yesterday when I walked past a new idea that needed capturing. Still there is always tomorrow. There are some great ideas here.

  3. I love the title! I used to be constantly cutting out pictures from magazines and filing them away like this. Oddly I haven't really done this much on the internet, although I know a lot of folks are using Pinterest in much this same way.

  4. Hi Cher, looking forward to seeing your updates after you've finished the work in your garden :) Lots of ideas here but will rest for a bit after the pond has been done.

    Sarah, I hope you find some of the photos of use to you. Best to take a camera with you most of the time, you never know what you'll see :)

    Loree, Pinterest is new to me and have only explored it last week. I have yet to use it properly though! I still occasionally clip photos from magazine but find internet more convenient :)

  5. Fascinating post - great pictures and some inspiring photos. Its a great design principles to take inspiration and adapt for your own site. Love the independent climbers idea.

  6. Excellent reading on a cold winters night. I have a similar Bank which is called the recyle bin which is never emptied. It can give me hours of pleasure just reading all the junk. I am still wondering who James from Wandsworth is:-)

  7. How come I have never thought of this!!!!!
    ............ off to rummage through all my photos to sort into an idea bank.

    That living wall is amazing, wonder if I can persuade Mark to have the grotty wall rebuilt??????? Doubt it lol!!!

  8. Thanks Ian! I think we'll be incorporating that climber idea this year, using a couple of obelisks in one of our borders.

    Don, your sense of humour never fails to make me smile :) Now tell me more who that James is...

    Libby, better get persuading as that living wall would look great in your garden :) Looking forward to seeing the living wall you're doing now though!

  9. Great idea, my idea bank consists of far too many folders which need Spring cleaning and sorted out into a single one like yours. Love the chunky wooden bench, simple enough for me to achieve.

  10. Those are indeed inspiring photos. Wish I could do all of them in my garden, but not possible. First, not a big garden that we have. Secondly, many of these will look really nice in tropical, sunny climate like California or Florida. If we do it here, it will look nice during summer and during winter it will be a mess, perhaps not even come back after a year!!

  11. My wife uses Evernote notebooks (?). I just show her what I like and she does the filing and the culling. Lucky me! I'll be showing her this post tomorrow. She'll need to add it to her garden notebook. We're currently building up our own "idea-bank" at the request of a friend who is going to help us design our yard.

  12. Alistair, there's still lots of charm in taking magazine clippings and storing them in a folder. I do a little bit of that too :)

    KL, I find so many inspirational things out there, I wish we could use all of them but alas, time and space is limited as well. It's all about picking and choosing, and lots of modifying too to suite ones conditions :)

    Bom, I hope this post will help and give you lots of ideas you can use in the redesigning of your yard. I'm looking forward to the progress pics! And I expect lots of lovely tillandsias in your new yeard too :)

  13. Great idea! I need one of these, because I always think I'm going to remember! HA! I admit to having stolen two pictures off the internet and using them for a while as my computer's background. Seeing the same picture every day makes me really study it and figure out exactly what I like about it, why the design works, what I can take out of it, etc. I end up deleting the photos, because they're not mine, but it's kind of like a mini idea bank, I guess.

  14. Mark, they are all beautiful, i am like you for having these kind of photos. I just don't call them Idea Banks, i am not as creative! The good part with you is that you can really do how you visualize them, unlike here where they all get rusty in my head. Of course you know how it is here in terms of time and funds. Go on Mark, i am happy for you and will be waiting for all that you are assembling there. More power to you and Gaz!

  15. Hi Holley, I suppose everyone has their own interpretation of the 'idea bank' but it's always good to keep a record of a good thing, one way or another :)

    Thanks Andrea! Not all of them are feasible for our garden, especially all in one go but maybe gradually for a bit of variety. The horticulture show you've just been is a fantastic source of good ideas too!

  16. Love the concept of the Idea Bank - I too collect images, but in a much more haphazard manner making them harder to use. Lots of food for thought there...

    PS That pebble path is so effective, and you could do a little bit at a time to stop it taking over. Or mayne just have panels of it within a paved section of patio or path. Though I really should stop landscaping a garden I haven't even found yet...

  17. Janet, I really like that pebbled path and as you've said you can do it a bit at a time. Something to keep in mind at least until you get your new garden, hopefully soon :)

  18. Just catching up on this post. Nice ideas there! I particularly like the living wall - it really softens that corner and is such a good use of space.

    The pebble path is nice too. There are plenty of similar paths locally here (we live on the edge of a heathland that is made of the things, and our soil is full of lovely round pebbles!)


  19. Great post! I loooove this idea! I have been using Pinterest in this way like some others. But I think I might start an Idea folder like you did! Thanks for the great idea and I like the direction your minds work!

  20. Thanks Ben, I think I may have taken that photo in Cornwall or Madeira :)

    Thanks Candy! I find saving photos on a separate folder easier but pinterest sounds good :)


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