Before we jump into another year of showcasing fantastic garden designs, lessons, and designer interviews, we wanted to pause and appreciate the most inspiring designs we had the honor to feature on the Be Inspired blog in the past year.
That's why we recently asked our Monrovia Grow Beautifully email subscribers to vote for their favorite designs featured on the blog in 2022. Categories include favorite pathway, fire feature, water feature, outdoor room, and border. Our email subscribers have a great eye for style, plus they sure do know their plants! So we knew the choice was in the right hands.
The people have spoken and there were some clear winners in each category. We love their top choices and there are so many fantastic design ideas and lessons to be learned from each of the award winners.
Without further ado, here are the winners of Monrovia's first-ever Inspired Garden Design Awards!
Introducing the Inspired Garden Design Award Winners
Favorite Pathway: Vibrant Waterwise Tapestry
This vibrant and drought-tolerant pathway planting was part of designer Tish Treherne's (Bliss Garden Design) lawn-to-waterwise landscape transformation in Southern California. Tish used a variety of drought-tolerant plants including agave, blue fescue, and Blonde Ambition Blue Grama Grass to create a meadow-like look in a drought-prone environment. You can see Icee Blue® Podocarpus lining the back fence, as well.
Voters loved the variety of plants Tish used in this design and appreciated how the colors and textures worked together to create an inviting pathway that draws you in, beckoning you forward with visual and textural interest. When asked about the design shown in this photo, Tish agrees that the diversity stands out,
This photo captures the variety of plants in this garden - which is more than I would typically choose and to create cohesion, I leaned on a repetition of foliage color and form to quiet the wild array as well as repeating a few key plants in the garden. I also mixed in ornamental grasses and other soft-looking plants as a counterpoint to the hardscape and sculptural succulent and agave forms.
Our subscribers also appreciated the sense of place and noticed how fitting the planting was for the dry climate.
When asked her secret to creating such a lush and vibrant low-water garden, Tish explains,
The grasses. I love the combination of big, structural succulents with the softness of grasses. It really stands out. There are so many others that work: fountain grass, muhly grass, switchgrass and New Zealand flax achieve that look. And then using some of the softer perennials like catmint, which is a really lovely, easy-going perennial. If you want it to look lush, bring in those drought-tolerant plants that look lush—there are a lot of them to choose from. Because we wanted that meadow look, I started with a lot of drought-tolerant perennials that are at home in meadows, like yarrow and agastache.
Tish also does a great job of reminding us to find joy in how our gardens grow and change, "All gardens evolve. That's the joy... I feel like I'm just setting the stage. It's like performance art."
We couldn't agree more!
Design and photography by Tish Treherne of Bliss Garden Design
Get the Look with These Plants
New Zealand Flax
Outstanding foliage with dark plum centers and creamy pink outer edges. The sturdy, stiff leaves stay upright for less flopping. Use to add dramatic interest as an accent, specimen, or container plant. Partial to full sun. Up to 4' tall and wide. Zones 8-11.
Blue Grama Grass
This rugged, cold hardy, native grass features blue-green foliage and striking, flag-like, golden summer flowers on stiff, weather-resistant stems. Tolerant of many soil types, this is a perfect choice for low-maintenance landscapes. Partial to full sun. 3' tall and wide. Zones 4-9.
Icy blue foliage holds up through the heat of summer and buff-colored plumes emerge in late summer to create an eye-catching contrast. Full sun. Up to 12" tall and wide. Zones 4-11.
Deep red bracts surround attractive cone-like flowers top the branches from late winter into spring. A unique and colorful frost and drought-tolerant accent for minimal-care, low-water landscapes. Full sun. Up to 5' tall and wide. Zones 8-10.
Fire Feature Favorite: Warm Elegance
This elegantly cozy design was a run-away winner in the favorite fire feature category. Voters were drawn to the "living room atmosphere" and comfy seating in this outdoor fireplace room. They could envision themselves sitting next to the fire with friends for a fireside chat or cocktail hour. Many also noted the trellis ceiling, which offers protection from the elements and adds to the enclosed outdoor room feeling.
This design is featured in our story about Outdoor Fireplace Design, which includes a treasure trove of design ideas and tips from top designer, Scott Shrader.
You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who can design an outdoor fireplace setting more elegant than Scott, so he's just the perfect person to learn a few tricks from. This particular outdoor fireplace design is actually part of a larger dining room, designed to be the perfect place for hosting large events. Scott says:
The client wanted a space in the garden to hold fundraising events where people could get up and talk and be comfortable. This is a really good example of an outdoor room that has the ability to seat 20 or more people. You can start with appetizers by the fire and move to dinner at that big custom-made dining table. Or move the furniture and set up a nice bar by the fireplace.
This design was very focused on the architecture of the house, and connecting the outdoor space with that. I wanted the backdrop of the fire to connect people to the garden from the main part of the house.
Scott used his signature field-grown olive trees to surround the room as the natural walls of the outdoor sitting and dining room. The trellis forms the ceiling, and has Madagascar jasmine climbing the posts. Dwarf olives and flax surround the space with a simple, sophisticated plant palette. A container filled with succulents offers the perfect finishing touch.
Landscape photos by © Lisa Romerein/OTTO, landscape design by Scott Shrader
Get the Look with These Plants
Clusters of fragrant, pure white, tubular flowers contrast nicely with the dark green, leathery leaves. This handsome vine will twine upwards with a trellis or fence support and is an excellent container plant. Partial sun. Twining stems can reach 15' long. Zones 10-11. Grow indoors in all zones.
An extremely versatile and easy-care dwarf selection with lush blue-green foliage and small violet flower clusters followed by attractive purple berries. Slow-growing and clump-forming, hardy and adaptable, tolerates salt spray and drought. Partial to full sun. Up to 24" tall and wide. Zones 7-11.
Haas Improved Manzanillo Fruiting Olive
Distinguished by its large spherical olives with smaller pits, yielding more flesh than the popular Manzanillo. Evergreen foliage is more finely textured, with dense, arching branches on a more compact, rounded form. Full sun. Up to 20' tall, 15' wide. Zones 8-10.
Favorite Water Feature: A Soothing Shady Stream
This serene stream setting designed by Christian Douglas was a winner thanks to its natural tranquility. Many voters mentioned how calming it looked, and how soothing the lush and shady planting full of ferns and mondo grass looked. Others also pointed out how the different levels and pathways were an invitation to wander and enjoy the garden.
A voter summed it up nicely for us, "The natural setting, the natural rock-lined stream, and surrounding landscape invites you to explore or just to sit and enjoy the peaceful setting while perhaps being able to glimpse the wildlife that no doubt also find this inviting."
No matter what it is you like about this design, we can all agree that this would be a lovely place to relax and let the stress of daily life wash away.
We asked Christian what makes this serene, shady stream garden so magical. Here's what we learned:
"Along with the staple offerings of sound and movement that a regular water feature has to offer, the stream adds an interactive, multi-functional element to the space. It’s built tough enough for the children to splash around looking for frogs and newts under rocks and exploring micro-scale hydrology with twig dams. It also doubles as a drink station for our busy pollinator friends — hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. We have found them all sipping from the shallow banks before heading back to tangle with the stamens of our favorite fruiting species."
See the full article here to take a tour of this gorgeous property and learn all about beautiful edible landscaping from award-winning designer, Christian Douglas.
Landscape photography by Adam Potts; design by Christian Douglas
Get the Look with These Plants
A beautiful tree with brilliant red-coral bark on young branches and deeply cut, pale-green leaves with red margins. Thrives in dappled shade in warmer regions, or full sun in cooler zones. Filtered to full sun. Up to 25' tall and 20' wide. Zones 5-8.
Upright fronds that range in color from dark to light green form a striking vertical clump that makes a bold and textural statement in the shaded garden. Partial to full shade. Up to 36" tall and wide. Zones 5-8.
This unique species was brought to Monrovia from Taiwan by plantsman Dan Hinkley. It slowly spreads to form a small, dense patch of fine-textured light-green foliage. Full to partial shade. Up to 6" tall, 3' wide. Zones 7-9.
Favorite Outdoor Room: Upscale Relaxation
This tranquil outdoor room pulled double-duty in 2022; we used it to illustrate how to create the ground plane or floor of an outdoor room in Lisa Nunamaker's article on how to create outdoor living spaces, and you can also find it as the illustrating image for the "Upscale Relaxation" trend in our 2022 Landscape Style Guide (sign up for our Grow Beautifully Newsletter to get more style guides and landscape plans delivered to your inbox).
Voters loved this space for its privacy, relaxed setting, and refined aesthetic. There were many mentions of the design bringing the indoors out, and a widespread appreciation for the comfortable, neutral, and stylish furniture. One subscriber wrote, "This garden space is like an elegant but comfortable 'great room' outdoors with comfortable chairs to lounge in for conversation and refreshments as well as the dining table and seating in an adjacent area."
Many also noted that it felt cozy and private thanks to the natural enclosure that comes from the ivy-covered fence and unique living wall full of verdant ferns and lilyturf at the back. The shade, structure, and texture of the river birch tree act as a stately anchor to the outdoor room. It's also a great example of a hardscaped geometric floor, with square tiles and a patterned outdoor rug. Using materials like these for your outdoor room creates a living space that becomes an extension of the house.
Photo by Scott Frances, Design by Nesi Brown Design
Get the Look with These Plants
A vigorous and easy-care fern that is more tolerant of brief dry spells than most ferns. Silver-green fronds with deep purple midribs add texture and cool-tone color to woodland gardens. Partial to full sun. Up to 3' tall and wide. Zones 4-9.
A superior selection with foliage that maintains its dark green hue through winter. A hardy choice that is resistant to crown rot and has good cold and drought tolerance. Flowers are an intense purple. Up to 24" tall, 30" wide. Zones 5-11.
A gorgeous, multi-branched tree with textural, colorful, and peeling bark that provides striking year-round interest. An adaptable and heat-tolerant tree. Full sun. Up to 70' tall and 60' wide. Zones 3-7.
Favorite Border: Modern Pollinator Meadow
Color, color, color! That's a word we kept seeing over and over as our subscribers explained why they loved this border.
This modern meadow border was a voter favorite thanks to the vibrant color palette and plentiful blooms. One subscriber summed it up nicely, "it provides a vibrant and lush pollinator palette which has not only visual interest but the potential for a summer full of various pollinators, which will further delight."
Bursting with color and nectar, the planting features a lively combination of a large variety of pollinator-friendly favorites including coneflower, agastache, pincushion flower, yarrow, coreopsis, allium, Joe Pye weed, daylilies, and gayfeather.
As we learn in the Modern Meadow design story, "the secret to creating a refined look with big color and lots of blooms is maintaining a simple color palette. Choose a color family and stick with it. This gives you the freedom to use a diverse selection of plants (which birds and pollinators love). Without having a scattered or overwhelmed feeling." Check out the full story for more tips on how to design vibrant, pollinator-friendly gardens.
Photography by Doreen Wynja
Get the Look with These Plants
Gayfeather is a butterfly magnet, and you often see large swallowtails visiting them in the summer. This compact cultivar forms low grassy clumps and produces recurring spikes of showy pink blossoms. Full sun. Up to 2' tall, 1' wide. Zones 4-9.
Lush foliage and sturdy, upright stems form the backdrop for these enchanting flowers. The green center cone is framed by dense petals in a palette of pink. Full sun. Up to 20" tall, 18" wide. Zones 4-9.
A carefree, drought-tolerant perennial with prolific coral-pink flower spikes that attract hummingbirds. This compact hybrid has increased hardiness, improved disease resistance, and will tolerate wet, cold soils. Full sun. Up to 20" tall, 16" wide. Zones 5-10.
Daylilies are some of the most adaptable, easy-care perennial beauties around, and this selection features abundant raspberry red flowers with yellow eyes held above grassy foliage. Full sun. Up to 16" tall and wide; flowers reach up to 18" tall. Zones 4-11.
Large, red-eyed, molten gold-colored blooms smother this easy-care, well-behaved plant's green, feathery, mildew-resistant foliage, providing a long season of vibrant color. Full sun. Up to 24" tall, 30" wide. Zones 4-9.
The largest pincushion flowers to be found! The 3" wide blooms are honey-scented and a cool, violet-blue. Full sun. Attractive, easy-care, pollinator-friendly, and hardy. 20" tall, 15" wide. Zones 4-9.
Get more garden design help with these resources:
- Find your local garden center to ask if they carry the featured plants.
- Sign up for the Grow Beautifully newsletter to get first access to exclusive digital design guides, webinar invites, and helpful stories like these delivered straight to your inbox.
- Browse stories with lessons from garden design experts
Free Digital Design Guides:
- Backyard Habitat Guide
- Landscape Style Guide Lookbook
- Simply Beautiful Design Guide
- Plant Palette Color Guide
- Drought-Tolerant Gardening Guide