Interviewers always seem to ask fiction authors “Where do you get your ideas?” and I suspect they then have to come up with an answer than doesn’t make them look like a loon. Because the truth is that, although inspiration can come out of the blue, once you start writing on a regular basis ideas come thick and fast – there just isn’t enough time or energy to turn them all into stories. Or that’s my experience anyway, writing non-fiction.


My ‘process’ (I wouldn’t normally call it that) is simply to shove information into my brain. It bounces around a bit, like a mental washing machine and then ideas pop out, a bit like bingo balls. Some are utterly bonkers, some less so. I like writing the bonkers ones, actually, but the more sensible ones can be prompted by conversations or something I’ve seen. A cosmic bingo caller says something that causes disparate pieces of information to clump together into an idea, and it emerges. This frequently happens at inopportune moments, which is why writers are never far from a pen and paper, or some other way to record ideas.

And now I look like a loon. I should have come up with a more sensible answer 🙂

Minty washing machine drum planter
Mint growing in an old washing machine drum

For some people, gardening is a similarly creative process. For others, a seasonal list of tasks and plant species, something that they have learned by rote and which continues, with slight variations, year on year. There’s no right way to go about it – gardens are as individual as their gardeners.

But, at least for me, garden ideas come the same was as writing ideas, and the question isn’t so much where they come from, as what you’re feeding your brain. Inspiration requires source material, even if the ideas that spring from it bear no obvious relation to it.

Fortunately, these days there’s no shortage of information with which we can feed our brains. Even though gardening (and particularly kitchen gardening) doesn’t get the TV air time it deserves (and, I don’t find the shows we do get to be particularly inspiring), there are plenty of things to make up for it. Indeed, taking a more active approach may prove to be more inspiring then simply drinking in what the goggle box has to offer.

The Great Outdoors

Down the lane
A Cornish hedgerow

For gardeners, a primary source of inspiration has got to be nature itself. There’s nothing better than spending time outdoors and seeing how the ultimate Master Gardener does things. The colour combinations, the gentle sounds, the differing textures and even the wildlife that go into making up a natural space (although nothing is truly wild now) can remind us what we want our gardens to be like – even if what you want is very unnatural! I was inspired by Cornish hedges in spring, for example, but as yet that influence hasn’t found it’s way into the garden. Or has it?

Garden voyeurism

Apple Arches
Heligan’s apple arches

Moving on from Mother Nature, there’s nothing quite like taking a peek over the fence into other people’s gardens. In fact, we Brits have turned it into a national pastime. We have whole institutions that revolve around visiting public gardens, including the National Trust, the RHS and one-off attractions such as the Eden Project. We like nothing more than a stroll around, taking notes of pleasant plants, and then recharging the grey matter with a cup of tea and a slice of cake.

We even have the National Gardens Scheme, with its yellow guide book of private gardens that open on a few days a year for anyone to visit and make notes. And buy plants, and eat cake.

Garden shows, gardening books and magazines

Urban Herbs stand
The Edible Garden Show

And we’ve made garden shows a national industry. The show season has already started this year, with the Edible Garden Show and the first RHS shows in London, but the big shows being with the Malvern Spring Festival in May. The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is in May, and Gardeners’ World Live is in June. On the one hand they’re giant trade shows, encouraging us to spend money. But they have show gardens, and introduce new plants, and are full of garden ideas we can take home for free.

There are also potato days and seed swaps, local flower shows, and produce shows in late summer, and a general outpouring of national pride in our gardening prowess that’s hard to entirely escape.

If you’re more into quiet contemplation than crowds, then of course there are the seed catalogues that plopped onto the mat earlier in the year (and will keep coming… and coming…) and new gardening books and magazines published every year – although many of them seem to cater to the gardening-by-rote mentality rather than those of us with more adventurous, creative gardening urges. But here you can ‘armchair visit’ the featured gardens, and snoop around without being self-conscious, although you do have to provide your own tea and cake.

Websites and social media

Emma Cooper's Twitter feed

Of course, you’re reading this, so you have access to an almost limitless supply of gardening information with which to feed your brain and generate garden ideas – the internet! Social media provides an endless stream of content, from blogs to Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of it all, but it’s all searchable, so you can find anything you need.

If you’re a visual person then it’s great for scrapbooking – with sites such as Pinterest giving you ideas on everything from a new garden mirror to a tree house, they’re great for some inspiration. You can even find ready made garden ideas that you can borrow.

So what are you waiting for? Go out and feed your brain! The garden ideas will then come flooding out. Or do you already have the too-many-ideas-not-enough-space problem?