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Has your garden planning reached a fever pitch like mine has? I’m manic over here. 

This morning I woke up too early because I was thinking about the 6 Shooter Sweet Corn I’m going to grow this Summer and what should the 3 Sisters in my corn-planting-triad be? Obviously I plant beans to climb the corn stalks, probably a purple Greek variety that is my latest bean crush. And then at the base, do I stay traditional and use a squash–maybe the adorably cute Ronde de Nice, or do I go for chickpeas? I’ve heard they’re a great nitrogen-fixing companion for corn and have a much more polite growth habit than the space-hogging squash. So many things to think about! 

Help in the nick of time…

Luckily I’ve also recently met seasoned gardener and designer Marc Boucher-Colbert who has created a brilliant garden design deck of cards called Design Your Eden. It’s helpful for both reigning you in (which is what I need a dose of right now) but also drawing you out, when you might be in a rut or could use some help thinking creatively. 

The Design Your Eden deck reminds me a bit of Tarot and also Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies in its use of metaphor as an in-road to new ways of seeing things. There are multiple ways to use it, but regardless, it’s thought provoking and exciting and just a lot of fun. 

Let me walk you through it.


Three playing cards featuring garden design elements.
Element Cards. Photo by plant lust.


The ELEMENT CARDS are a collection of all the physical items that compose a garden, including everything from a hammock to a compost bin to an arch. These are the basic building blocks of your garden. I have a friend who was bemoaning to me the other day that when he first started creating his garden, now full of mature palms and yuccas–a collector’s garden packed to the rafters, he failed to allot enough space to compost. He now kicks himself when he has to give his precious yard debris away to the city because he has no place to put it. To add insult to injury he has to pay to have compost to be delivered. Oops! 


A hammock hanging over a paved pathway with tropical plants in the background.
I’m so glad there is an Element card for Hammock. A true garden design necessity in my book! Amaliya Double Spreader Bar Hammock. Photo by All Modern.


Three playing cards listing value words
Value cards. Photo by plant lust.


The Value cards in the deck represent things like motivations, goals, and feelings–the principles of design that are important to you. They could include things like family, music, and tranquility. 


A dark leaved plant with dark red flowers in a lush garden at dusk with landscape light.
Lush color and contrasting foliage abounds in the night garden of JJ De Sousa. Photo by Bria Phillips.


A set of three playing cards describing a Value and 2 Elements of garden design.
Combining Elements and Values. Photo by plant lust.


But what happens when we begin to combine Value and Element cards? The fun begins! Maybe we know we want the Elements of a Path and Mood Lights in our garden but we also want to create a sense of Destination. How can we emphasize this concept with elements as Portland-based garden designer JJ De Sousa has done here, where a straight pathway leads to imposing doors which beckon to a well-lit garden beyond, a shock of red drawing the eye deeper into the space.


A gravel pathway is lined with lush plants leading to a doorway surrounded by lights at dusk.
A gravel pathway is lined with lush plants leading to a doorway surrounded by lights at dusk in the garden of JJ De Sousa. Photo by Bria Phillips.


Two playing cards featuring Garden Design prompts.
You can think of Value and Element cards as prompts to further exploration. Photo by plant lust.


There are endless ways to combine these Values and Elements. Who ever would have imagined how extra extra these already striking potted windmill palms could look when raised up in giant oversized glowing planters. WHOA!


Giant red plastic plant pots lit from within.
Giant red plant pots holding palm plants are lit from within. Photo by Bria Phillips.


Three playing cards with garden design element words.
The Design Your Eden deck also features the “SEEN AS” card which invites the concept of metaphor into garden design. Photo by plant lust.



Two modern orange fabric-covered lounge chairs are nestled into a corner with exotic plants in pots against a fence.
A lounge area for two in the garden of JJ De Sousa. Photo by Bria Phillips.


Perhaps we know we want the Element of Lounge Chairs and the Value of Connection but when we combine them with the SEEN AS card it takes on a more potent intent. How can we emphasize the idea of Connection around our lounge chairs? Here we see 2 chairs placed close together with a small shared table, inviting intimacy by proximity. The chairs are tucked into a corner of the garden creating privacy and exclusivity and garden lighting defines it as a shared sanctuary.


three playing cards describing garden design
Combining garden design elements with values in unexpected ways.


The Design your Eden deck also has a series of Connector cards which really open to mind to new possibilities. Hmm. At first glance a Table “interacting with” Cool seemed strange but quickly got my wheels turning. I do LOVE to sit outdoors as often as possible and this means figuring out ways to beat the heat. Ideas swirl. Popsicles? Those garden hose misters? Lush shade plants? Suddenly I recall a scene from a favorite TV series The Durrells.


A group of people dressed in 30's white clothing sit at a table with their feet in the shallow ocean.
Too hot to eat outdoors? Rubbish! Put your table in the sea ala The Durrells in Corfu. Photo from Sid Gentle Films.


As you can see, this really is a fun design tool. I love the tactile aspect of it and the feeling of PLAY it gives to garden design projects. While using it solo was really thought-provoking, doing it with another person would only increase the creative ideas.

Thanks so much to Marc for taking the time to meet with me and share this latest project Design Your Eden! I really do feel less overwhelmed by my Spring fever that brings on soooo many ideas. Marc’s a busy guy who is a garden educator at a Montessori school, runs a rooftop garden for Noble Rot here in Portland, and manages to share a wealth of all sorts of garden design information on social media. I’ve learned a lot from him already in the short time I’ve known him and highly recommend a follow