Finding garden inspiration

By Heather Kirk-Ballard

LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

I have the great fortune in my profession to get to visit many gardens. Some are associated with land-grant universities and some are large-scale nursery producers, with many having trial gardens to evaluate new plant cultivars. In addition, I get to visit public gardens including botanical gardens, arboretums and conservatories.

At each of these places, I find inspiration and new ideas for the garden and for future research. My job affords me a front-row seat to learn about new and upcoming varieties and new ways to design and plan landscapes. I also have the opportunity to meet people — from garden staff and volunteers to fellow garden viewers — and learn more about their gardening successes and challenges.

This week, I attended the American Society for Horticultural Sciences annual conference. Our conference includes seminars and workshops on the most recent scientific research in horticultural crops. Universities and industry personnel from across the nation come together to present research on ornamentals, fruits and nuts, vegetables and turfgrass. The industry is large, and much work goes on across the nation to provide new information to consumers.

Naturally, during our conference, we visit many gardens and nursery plant producers. This year, our tours took us to the Ball Trial Gardens. The Gardens at Ball have been used to evaluate and test new horticultural introductions and improvements for more than 80 years. It began as a row trial garden for seed varieties in 1933 and has grown to more than 9 acres of display beds for annuals, perennials, cut flowers and vegetables, including the newest plants from leading breeders.

Visiting trial and public gardens helps me set new goals for my work and my own landscape. New plant cultivars that look great inspire us gardeners to get our hands on those unique, upcoming plants and use new techniques.

So, here are a few highlights and some of my favorite things from my recent tours. At one garden, we saw structures that consisted of four tall wooden sticks wrapped in burlap and filled with potting media. Slits were cut into the burlap, and flowering plants were planted vertically up and down the burlap. This gave the look of tall tree trunks with new growth on them.

In another garden, we saw an area filled with thin, vertical rocks of many shapes and sizes. They were lined up in a staircase pattern to give a layered look. Small cracks of dirt provide the only anchoring point for many types of trailing succulents, natives and other drought tolerant plants. The result was a tranquil area that was aesthetically pleasing.

At another botanic garden, we saw several examples of vertical gardens, or living walls installed with plants. In small areas, making use of vertical growth helps to free up ground space for sitting areas and other garden features. Vertical growing systems can be very simple — use recycled wooden pallets to build your own boxes with slats to hold lightweight potting media and plants.

In one gathering area, we saw several different types of flowers being dried to create an artistic twist on the art of drying flowers. Copper wire was used to hang flowers from the ceiling.

Another area displayed a zen garden where areas are covered in small rocks to create a minimalist, dry landscape. These types of gardens are comprised of natural elements of rock, gravel, sand and wood, with very few plants and no water.

You too can visit public gardens and demonstration or trial gardens for inspiration. Maybe while you are there, you can get some exercise, connect with nature and find inspiration for your home garden.


Rock garden with plants. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

Garden tower.

Unique planting forms can be made using large, wooden stakes wrapped in burlap and filled with potting media to create a visual focus in the garden. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

Dried flowers hanging from copper wires.

Dried flowers hanging from copper wires. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

Vertical gardens, or living walls.

Vertical gardens, or living walls, can be created from scrap materials and utilized to create small herb gardens. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

8/2/2022 11:48:01 AM
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