Monrovia’s 2nd Annual Inspired Garden Design Awards

Monrovia’s 2nd Annual Inspired Garden Design Awards

Monrovia’s 2nd Annual Inspired Garden Design Awards
award-winning pathway with pink rodgersia flowers and green grass

As you can imagine we at Monrovia look at lots of gardens (one of the perks of the job!) to choose the best of the best to bring to you, our readers. We love to showcase the work of landscape and garden designers throughout the year for boots on the ground advice and fresh inspiration from industry pros.  

(Above) Another view of the winning pathway designed by Susan Calhoun and featured in our story about woodland garden design. Photo by Doreen Wynja

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. Curious who won last year? Find the winners here. And remember to subscribe to the Grow Beautifully Newsletter to get your chance to vote for the winners next year. 

That's why we recently asked our Monrovia Grow Beautifully email subscribers to vote for their favorite designs featured on the blog in 2023. Categories include favorite pathway, landscape plan, container planting design, 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. 

Here are the winners of Monrovia's 2024 Inspired Garden Design Awards! 

Introducing the Inspired Garden Design Award Winners from 2023 Design Stories

Favorite Border Planting: 5 Months of Brilliant Color

The best gardens tend to evolve over time, starting with a simple idea and becoming something more as inspiration strikes. This border in the Pacific Northwest was designed by Elida Rivera as a lush waterfall of grasses and lavender on a gentle slope. The cascade of plants held the soil and created a billowy moment in the garden. Beautiful! But taking a step back, what if another color was introduced AND a few plants added to extend the season? What about attracting even more pollinators? And so this garden grew adding new layers.

Readers were drawn to the colors and textures including the high-summer mix of lavender and Japanese Forest Grass, but it's those bright Evolution™ Fiesta Coneflowers that brought the excitement. Extending the show by blooming into the fall, they provide that critical third element that is loved by the eye. The designers gilded the lily by slipping in a group of herbaceous peonies that kick off the season, blooming in mid-to-late spring. This border is abuzz with beneficial insect life for months. 

"Pops of the red flowers are nice contrast to all the green along with the fresh dirt or mulch that is there. And the wavy/curve pattern of the river rocks are a great finishing touch that helps create texture & movement, and ode to nature, very earthy. What's also nice about this design is that less is more," said one reader. 

Read the entire story here.

Photos by Monrovia: Doreen Wynja

Get the Look

Fiesta Coneflower

Perfect for pollinator borders, Fiesta offers a riot of color with spicy coral-pink flowers that age to softer shades. New flowers continuously emerge through summer. Full sun. Up to 20" tall, 18" wide. Zones 4-9.



French Lavender

Highly fragrant evergreen shrub with gray-green foliage and abundant purple flower spikes. A wonderful addition to dry, sunny borders and gardens.  Full sun. Up to 2' tall and wide. Zones 5-9.

VIBE® Ignition 
Purple Salvia

Where it is too warm for French lavender, try this flower-factory purple salvia for a similarly rich colored and fragrant pollinator favorite. Perfect for mid-border. Full sun. Up to 24"  tall and wide. Zones 7-11.

All Gold Japanese 
Forest Grass

A graceful groundcover with bright golden yellow foliage that adds color and texture to mixed borders, containers, and mass plantings. Partial sun. 18" tall and wide. Zones 4-9. 

Red Yucca

Where drought is an issue, try this compact newer selection that delivers prolific brilliant red flowers over a long season. Full sun. Up to 2' and wide; blooms up to 3'. Zones 5-10.

Nitty Gritty™ 
Red Rose

If you love this color combo but need something more shrubby, this deep-red groundcover rose delivers loads of bloom right into fall. Fuss free, too! Full sun. Up to 3' tall, 4' wide. Zones 4-9.

Favorite Path: Into the Woods

Natural. Mysterious. Inviting. 

These are just of few of the words readers used to describe this voter-favorite woodland garden path designed by Susan Calhoun on a site overlooking Puget Sound. Readers loved how this path and the surrounding garden (read the entire story here) has a timeless quality. One noted that it felt "aged or ancient, as though this path has served generations of footsteps." Several others mentioned the mixed shapes of stones, which softened by groundcovers and tumbling plantings, add to the worn-in sensibility.

To create this garden, Susan took plant inspiration from the surrounding forest, blending shades of greens in a palette Mother Nature herself would admire. Susan expands on her inspiration for this woodland garden:

I was inspired by the large, century-old trees that were at the site, and the sounds of eagles and osprey winging through the trees to watch.  This is a very special piece of forest that deserved a garden that blended with it. One of my goals as a designer is to create a space that people want to be in.... Connection with the natural world is important in our busy lives and this garden creates that connection.

We think this reader's comment says it all, "Elegant, appears simple, clean, uncluttered. Zen. Peaceful. Yet lots of variety, in plants and hardscape. Lots of color and texture, but cooling and soothing greens lend a relaxed feel. It would feel invigorating yet calm, and inspire creativity while strolling down the path."

We could not agree more! 

Design by Susan Calhoun; Photos by Doreen Wynja

Get the Look

Golden Japanese 
Forest Grass

A graceful, colorful groundcover with slender stems that hold bright yellow leaves with thin green stripes. Foliage becomes pink-tinged as the weather cools in autumn. Filtered to partial sun. Up to 18" tall and wide. Zones 4-9.

Lady's Mantle

Vivid golden yellow flowers held on stems in open, airy sprays above the scalloped, shiny, gray-green leaves. Creeping habit and form make it a classic border plant. Partial to full sun. Up to 2' tall and wide. Zones 3-9.


Deep shade-loving fern produce evergreen sterile fronds year-round, and fertile fronds that last through summer for seasonal interest. Partial to full shade. Up to 20" tall, 24" wide. Zones 5-8.


Lush mound of unique, round, deeply divided, toothy, green foliage with bronze-colored margins,. Exquisite deep reddish pink plumes in summer. Partial to full shade. Up to 3' tall, 5' wide. Zones 5-8.


Lustrous fern is particularly beautiful when new fronds emerge stiffly, then droop backwards to form a tassel. Mass plant as a groundcover. Partial to full shade. Up to 2' tall and wide. Zones 6-8.

Vision in White 

Tall, feathery, white blooms above compact, deep bronze-green foliage.  A true gem for dappled shade gardens that tolerates heat and dry periods. Partial to full shade. Up to 2' tall and wide. Zones 4-8.

Favorite Container Combination: Heat-Loving Pollinator Magnet

Did someone say "pollinators?" 

The plants in the pot are still young, so picture this container in mid-summer, when the sweet potato vine and calibrachoa are sweeping the ground and the sunflowers branch into dozens of blooms.

Hear the buzz of bees, the flutter of hummingbird wings, and the soft sound of butterflies landing on flowers. All of this is why readers loved this container combination that delivers on its promise of long-lasting color that also rings the dinner bell for pollinators. 

Created by Monrovia craftsmen at our California nursery, with hot colors of red, gold, and yellow that hold up to the more direct rays of the sun in high summer, it speaks to how sustainability and smart use of resources are no longer "trends."

Readers loved the ideas in this story about how to garden as temperatures grow warmer, the season stretches on longer into fall and we learn more about the critical importance of providing food for pollinators throughout the year. 

Interest in container gardening for beauty, utility and the chance to play with plants on a smaller scale is only growing, so look forward to many more stories from us about this topic in 2024. 

(Here is the entire story about container plantings for pollinators.)

Photos by Monrovia: Brandon Friend-Solis

Get the Look

SunBelievable® Brown 
Eyed Girl Helianthus

Award-winning annual sunflower produces over 1,000 flowers in a single season, from spring until first frost. Non-invasive, multi-branching, heat-tolerant. Full sun. Up to 3' tall and wide. Zones 10-11. 

Sweet Potato Vine

Semi-trailing habit cascades beautifully from baskets and containers from spring to first frost. Herbaceous perennial in tropical climates, annual elsewhere. Partial to full sun. Up to 14" tall, 36" wide. Zones 9-11.

Barbican™ Yellow Red 
Ring Blanket Flower

Twice the flower power with a much more dense, rounded habit, this carefree perennial has vibrant flowers that bloom nearly nonstop all season. Full sun. Up to 18" tall and wide. Zones 4-9.

Radio Red 
Autumn Sage

Spectacular crimson-red large blooms over a long season. Lightly clip to use as a low informal hedge or plant as a single specimen in borders or containers. Full sun. Up to 3' tall and wide. Zone 7-9.

Minifamous® Neo Double 
OrangeTastic Calibrachoa

Colorful annual with double blooms, loved by bees and butterflies. Blooms spring until frost, perfect for mixed containers. Full sun. Up to 12" tall, 15" wide. Zone 11 or annual anywhere.

Chapel Hill 
Yellow Lantana

Exceptionally cold hardy with natural spreading habit and bright yellow flowers. Evergreen in frost-free climates; once established may be root hardy to 0 F°. Full sun. Up to 18" tall, 36" wide. Zone 7-11.

Favorite Landscape Plan: Garden of Abundance

Far and away the clear winner as voted by readers in the category of landscape plans, this garden, designed by landscape architect Lisa Nunamaker, is about incredible edibles, yes, but more about how to sneak fruiting plants into your landscape!

This design celebrates the ornamental beauty and lushness of the edible and productive garden. It’s not about raised beds, but rather integrating edible plants as discoveries. Fruiting vines, berry shrubs and small trees weave through perennials and grasses. This garden relies on pollinator plants to attract birds, butterflies and bees to create a connected landscape.

We asked Lisa for some advice on where to start and we loved this simple formula:

You really need to decide on the shape and size of the room first, and then move on to the materials and plants that you will use to create the room you want. The plants are there to reinforce the space as the walls and the ceiling. From there you can move on to connecting the outdoor rooms with plants, adding pathways, and thinking about the way the pathways flow, and how wide they need to be based on the amount of traffic.

And she offered more tips our readers told us they plan to use to bring edibles into their gardens: 

  • Place fruit trees and vines as the important anchors in your landscape.
  • Draw visitors through the garden with informal, curving pathways. 
  • Arrange diverse pollinator plants with different bloom seasons throughout your garden to attract activity in multiple places. 
  • Consider herbs as lovely groundcovers and borders near pathways. 
  • Use ornamental grasses to soften the look and act as visual transition between bright blooms.

As always, let's let our readers have the last word on this delicious garden, "Colorful, inviting, modern meets traditional vibe, & organized. This landscape plan would make me happily take a walk daily on the pathway & admire the plants in all weather. I could easily envision the types of pollinators that would also happily visit this plan, too."

Landscape Style Guide

Read the entire story here.

Illustration by Lisa Nunamaker, plant photos by Doreen Wynja

Get the Look

1. Kiwi Magic™ Hardy 
Kiwi Combination

A fruit-producing variety and a male pollinizer together in the same container provide a higher yield of delicious fruit. Blooms with fragrant white flowers in early summer. Partial to full sun. Climbs to 25' tall, spreading to 20', with support. Zones 4-8.

2. Evolution™ Colorific™ 

Enchanting green cone at the center of blooms, framed by dense pink hued petals. Continuous blooms late spring through fall. Use in borders and containers. Full sun. Up to 20" tall, 18" wide. Zone 4-9.

3. Chicago 
Hardy Fig

Produces sweet, light purplish brown figs with pink flesh that ripen in late summer even in chillier zones. Often tolerates zone 5 temperatures with protection. Full sun. Up to 15' tall, 12' wide. Zone 6-10.

4. Steffi™ Blush 
Pink Gaura

Red stems and large blush-pink blooms grace this exceptionally compact Gaura from early spring through fall. A charming and popular choice for hot, dry regions. Full sun. Up to 18" tall, 20" wide. Zones 5-10.

5. Thumbelina Leigh 
English Lavender

Spikes of fragrant violet-blue blooms up to three times per year! Prune back by one-half after flowering for best repeat show. Ideal for containers and low borders. Full sun. Up to 18", 12" wide. Zones 5-9.

6. Evolution™ Embers™ 
Sparks Coneflower

Bright, sunny blooms for easy color from late spring through fall. Semi-double, golden yellow petals surround showy center cones. Allow dried flower heads to remain on plants for wintering songbirds. Full sun. Up to 20" tall, 18" wide. Zones 4-9.

7. Superlicious™ 

Thornless dwarf yields large, juicy berries in summer. Fruits more reliably than other, similar varieties and often produces twice in one season on second-year canes. Full sun. Up to 4' tall and wide. Zones 4-9.

8. Northwind 
Switch Grass

Compact and upright golden yellow fall fall foliage and airy flower panicles with showy seed heads. Sturdy stems stay upright, even under snow load. Full sun. Up to 6' tall, 3' wide. Zones 4-9.

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2023-12-11 14:31:00