I’ve gardened on the same piece of land for a quarter of a century.

It has been quite a journey, creating a garden. Magical, spiritual, and humbling.

Scattered with failures and successes.

When I began, I read every book and magazine I could get my hands on.

Fran Sorin garden - from the meadow looking onto front yard

Fran Sorin Garden – from the meadow looking onto front yard

I was convinced there was a right way of ‘doing it’.

As I became more confident and developed skills, I realized this wasn’t true.

That following rules make for a boring garden.

And that breaking the rules is ‘a must’ …

If you want to create an authentic, soulful garden.

A unique one that reflects who you are.

Here are some things that I’ve learned over my 3 decades of gardening.


We all have one. It’s part of our souls. All you have to do is tap into it.

I love going for solitary nature walks. With no agenda. I automatically slip into a state of wordlessness and let the beauty sink into me.

There’s no one way to access your imagination. It might be listening to music, going for a run, or working on a research project.

Doe Run Garden - Brandywine Valley, Pa.

Doe Run Garden – Brandywine Valley, Pa.


Most Americans think that front yards should look a certain way.

Lined up with a slew of evergreens, shrubs, and trees. How dull.

Years ago when I visited Anne Hathway’s house in Stratford-Upon-Avon, I was grabbed by its intensely planted front yard cottage garden. For the first time, it dawned on me that a suburban front yard could be transformed into a glorious garden.

One thing that stood out for me when visiting the garden was the beautiful bench situated in the front yard. It was a beautiful wooden bench with the hedge surrounding it. I spent days after looking for a similar looking one to go in my yard once I finished redecorating it, and came across one on the charming bench company website, however they don’t ship to my area, I was devastated, so the search continues.

My front yard went through several reincarnations before I gained the courage to dig up everything and design the garden of my dreams ~ a romantic, heirloom rose – perennial garden .

Fran Sorin Garden - front walkway

Fran Sorin Garden – front walkway

It has a gently winding pathway that leads to other gardens on either side of the house. It’s filled with native junipers, boxwoods, rows of yews and a series of rose arches.

People are blown away when they visit. For most, it’s a revelation.


Some of my greatest plant combinations happen when I feel inspired. Contrary to conventional gardening, a tall plant can make a great exclamation point placed towards the front of the border.

By doing this, the rhythm of the garden is broken up. It jolts the eye and keeps thing fresh. A little repositioning of plants goes a long way.


This is a tough lesson to learn but a ‘must’ for creative and joyful gardening.

Most of us have been raised with a passive attitude of ‘wishfulness’. “If only I had” or “When I become”.

Embrace the property where you live.

Don’t wait until you purchase a perfect piece of land. Create beauty now.

For years I gardened on a difficult property….steeply sloping and diamond shaped. I spent a couple of years living in the zone of ‘when I have my perfect piece of land.’ Not a good place to be.

It was only when I accepted its limitations that I was able to focus, dig in, and do some serious work. I begin to see the land with new eyes.

Guess what?  I ended up designing and planting an exuberant, feisty, and tightly packed garden. Practically everyone who visits (including large garden tours) are inspired. They spend a lot of time questioning me, walking around, gazing, and taking pictures.

So much for convention.


Observe the land.

Listen to the sounds of nature.

Be flexible. Live with ambivalence.

Persist. Work hard.

When you’re stuck, walk away. Do something else.

Resist the urge to design a traditional garden.

Surrender. Get out of the way.

Invite your creativity to whoosh in and take center stage.

The results?

A jewel hidden under all of the layers of convention ~

***This article was originally written for The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Magazine. Since then, I’ve left that garden and am in the process of creating a new one ~

If you want to learn more about using the creative process in the garden as a conduit for living a more creative life, check out my book: Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN. Share an experience where you’ve broken the rules ~ have had a blast and ended up with great results.

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