Inspiration can come from any quarter. In my case, it is a new neighbor who is transforming a landscape that previously was heavy on lawn. That turf is making way for a series of planted beds surrounding a seating area complete with a large fire pit for gatherings. The process has been fascinating to watch. Makes me wish I had an opportunity like that.

Obviously we cannot all start out the new year with a completely clean landscape slate. But we do have the winter, and winter has a way of clearing out any landscape, enabling us to visualize possible changes. It gives us the time to plan for them without the distraction of flowers and foliage. It is time to think outside the box. Imagine your landscape with a frame of flowering and non-flowering shrubs, evergreen and deciduous (trees and shrubs that lose their foliage in the winter), and then picture perennials and even annuals filling in to add seasonal color.

Your vision might include fruiting trees or berry bushes for an edible landscape. Those trees and bushes provide delicate blooms in the spring and fruits later on. Dwarf or espaliered (controlled woody plant growth for the production of fruit, by pruning and tying branches to a frame or wall) fruit trees can often be included where space is at a premium. Bushes like blueberries, for instance, often contribute brilliant fall foliage as well.

Or think smaller, by working to revise a corner or small bed that can serve as a starting point for future plans, or a work in itself. One great resource is the University of Maine Cooperative Extension website on “Designing your landscape for Maine” at: The site provides information on a variety of landscape design topics, design options, plant lists and more.

Once you define the space to be altered and decide what can be done with it, the next step is plant selection. Because there is plenty of time to actually make those selections, begin with research on which plants thrive here, as well as in the conditions that your landscape affords. Full sun, part or full shade will drive plant selections, as will dry or wet conditions. Remember to figure in mature sizes when making your plans to avoid overcrowding your design. And a soil analysis will help take out the guesswork when it comes to selecting the right plants.

Then select from those varieties for your landscape’s conditions. Consult online sources as well as local garden centers for cost comparisons and plant sizes. Bigger is not always better, as smaller sapling trees often outpace the growth of larger trees once they are transplanted. This time of year, we often discover a flurry of seed and plant catalogs in our mailboxes. Pore over them, make sketches and plant lists, refine and edit and come up with a working list.

Come spring, perennials can be divided, moved where necessary to provide space for elements of varying heights of shrubs, small and large trees. Or consider the addition of an actual structure, like an arbor, for instance, around which a landscape can be developed. The rest is pretty much a matter of digging and planting and enjoying your 2018 gardening clean slate.

Purple reigns in 2018

Fear no color! That has long been my guiding principle when it comes to gardening. After all, color is often what drives our selections, right? Every year the Pantone Color Institute (which works with professional designers and brands to provide a standard palette of colors for printing and other purposes) selects a color of the year. Drumroll, please…

And this year’s color is Ultra Violet. Its name alone conjures up a pulsating vision of color. According to Pantone,  "a dramatically provocative and thoughtful purple shade, Pantone 18-3838 Ultra Violet communicates originality, ingenuity, and visionary thinking that points us toward the future.”

Historically, there has been a mystical or spiritual quality attached to Ultra Violet. The color is often associated with mindfulness practices, which offer a higher ground to those seeking refuge from today’s overstimulated world. The use of purple-toned lighting in meditation spaces and other gathering places energizes the communities that gather there and inspire connection.

When it comes to gardens, the bold and vibrant ultraviolet can be found in a number of blooming annuals and perennials, and will be a great way to spread the inspiration that this color represents. Imagine the combos that can be created — cool and comforting mixes of ultraviolet and white blooms, or the spicy kick of unconventional combos of ultraviolet and brilliant orange, for example. Use the hue to set the set the mood and make a colorful statement in your garden plantings or container creations.