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.


Garden and food writer Robin Ripley is co-author of Grocery Gardening. Her new book, Wisdom for Home Preservers, will be released later in 2014 from Taunton Press.

Bumblebee is about her life in rural Maryland, her garden, cooking, dogs and pet chickens. She also blogs about food and chickens at Eggs & Chickens. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. Thank you for visiting.


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