Steal These Garden Design Ideas

I was lucky enough to tour some of the most beautiful gardens in Virginia last week as part of the statewide Historic Garden Week (if you want to plan a trip for next year, the event will happen from April 22-29, 2017).

Jewelry designer Elizabeth Locke's gorgeous 1816 Federal-style home in Millwood features a breathtaking 19th century-style glass conservatory that houses her orchids and palms.

Named one of the Top 10 Great Flower Shows and Garden Events by USA Today, Historic Garden Week is an 83-year-old event that bills itself as "America's largest open house" and crisscrosses the state, from the tony, equestrian enclaves ringing Washington DC to the Chesapeake Bay.

A dramatic black urn in a Fredericksburg, Virginia garden looks great when filled with colorful flowers and really pops against this bright white fence.

I am a big fan of garden tours. This weekend's Atlanta Botanical Garden's Gardens for Connoisseurs Tour May 7 and 8 is one of my favorites. But what makes Historic Garden Week unique is the opportunity it offers to also tour home interiors. So if you are as much of a voyeur as I am, thrilled to peek at genius kitchen and mudroom (if only I had one!) ideas—as well as inspirational garden design you can import to your own space—then put this tour on your bucket list. You won't be disappointed.

Containers themselves, devoid of plantings, can be a garden feature of their own when grouped together.

In April, the tulip seems to be the official flower of Virginia horse country. These stunning multicolor tulips graced the downtown beds in picturesque Middleburg, Virginia.

From cozy Culpeper family homesteads with spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains to grand Middleburg horse farms sporting lawns draped with museum-worthy sculpture, my time in Middleburg, Winchester, Millwood, Culpeper and Fredericksburg, Virginia was a festival of riches and loads of inspiration, especially when thinking about my own container garden design back home.

This topiaried lavender makes for a wonderfully whimsical container plant.

What makes for great container design varies. Sometimes it's a balance between a simple, rustic container and a knockout, colorful flower. In the case of many containers, it was all about placement. Two identical planted-out containers flanking a fence or pergola or entryway made all the difference in lending an air of symmetry and elegance to many of the outdoor spaces I toured.

Several of the gardens of the Garden Club of Virginia's Historic Garden Week used rain boots as planters: a great idea for a garden party centerpiece.

I also saw some clever upcycling of unexpected items into plant and flower vessels: a bicycle's basket; a rustic wooden bowl on a kitchen island planted-out with herbs or a vintage cart turned into a lovely garden moment when heaped with geraniums.

The lovely patina of this repurposed wooden vessel makes a wonderful garden container for the kitchen island in Elizabeth Locke and John Staelin's Millwood home.

At the Culpeper, Virginia estate Deer Ridge, the owners have upcycled a charming vintage cart into a container for geraniums.

This fun welcome to the Fredericksburg, Virginia garden tour used a bicycle basket as a planter. Better still, the bicycle is still functional, if you decide to ride around town spreading floral good vibes.

A flower as bold and authoritative as a geranium doesn't necessarily need a super-fussy container. This simple, homespun pot is just right.

Virginia garden club members in each Historic Garden Week town fill the tour homes with fresh flowers, many from their own gardens, lending the arrangements a locavore angle. I saw many clever uses of plants, edibles, vines and tree branches I wouldn't normally associate with cut-flower arrangements, including dogwood branches, ivy, kumquats, artichokes, asparagus and euphorbia. 

Euphorbia and tulips mingle in this stunning arrangement gracing the mantle at Elizabeth Locke and John Staelin's Millwood, Virginia home.

Many of the garden club members who created the arrangements for Historic Garden Week used branches and blooms from their own gardens to ornament tour homes. Search in your own yard and garden for items to use in flower arrangements. And remember to work with the unique character of the room where the arrangement will appear: this simple arrangement doesn't compete with the toile wallpaper behind it.

Edibles continue to be a hot trend in floral design, and this Fredericksburg home features a vase ornamented with asparagus and kumquats created by one of the members of the Rappahannock Valley Garden Club.

One of the biggest lessons learned was how wonderful a taller container can look when placed in a garden bed: a few well-positioned containers add verticality and a design feature or pop of color. 

Who doesn't love a wreath? This beautiful wreath ornamented with fresh, local flowers was created by the Rappahannock Valley Garden Club to ornament the exquisite, meticulously preserved ca. 1786-1792 private home Federal Hill, one of the home tour highlights during Historic Garden Week in Fredericksburg.

When a parterre garden is this formal, a simple, nicely weathered container is often enough to punctuate the design. This historic container commands prime real estate at the historic Virginia home, Oatlands.

A special shout out to Tori Brock and Karen Cauthen Ellsworth who were my escorts during my Historic Garden Week visit. Thanks too, to the charming Ole Miss alum and Rappahannock Valley Garden Club president Tricia Garner who parted the sea of people at every home on my Fredericksburg garden tour so effectively I felt like Elvis sashaying into the Las Vegas Hilton ("she's with HGTV, she's allowed to take pictures," was Tricia's battle cry), as only a woman carrying a basket of flowers and wearing a Colonial bustle and gown can.

Not every garden property can boast an orangerie, but the exquisite Millwood, Virginia home of Elizabeth Locke features not only an orangerie for her citrus plants and indoor pool, but an ice house, conservancy, parterre gardens, a chicken coop, edible gardens and a black walnut tree that is one of the largest in the Commonwealth.

Jewelry designer and journalist Elizabeth Locke adds a personal touch to her Millwood, Virginia home Clay Hill with this design painted on her screened-in porch floor.

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