Years ago I lived in a townhouse that had green common areas but no place for individual gardens. So I filled every square inch of my tiny patio with hanging baskets of colorful annuals and vegetable-filled containers to satisfy my need to play in the dirt.

Blooming narrow bed

I get lots of ideas from my local botanic garden. Here, swathes of colors and varieties of flowers are repeated throughout this long narrow bed. It’s a planting that’s easy to repeat at home.

Photo Credit: Jodi Torpey

Container on pavement

Large containers arranged along a sidewalk add depth to the planting area. Steal the idea to add depth to your own beds and patio.

Photo Credit: Jodi Torpey

Bed of sage

If you’ve just moved and don’t know how to garden in your new region, check out public areas. Here, drought-hardy plantings combine sage, ornamental grasses and other flowering perennials in a lovely way.

Photo Credit: Jodi Torpey

Hardy turfgrass

Hardy turfgrass planted in front of an outdoor amphitheater has to be tough enough to accommodate large crowds. This means it should hold up well under normal family wear and tear.

Photo Credit: Jodi Torpey

Every day I’d walk through the neighborhood and admire the landscapes of single-family homes that featured large shade trees, carefully manicured lawns and blooming perennial beds. All were lovely, but I was particularly fond of the front yard with a small turf area surrounded by ornamental grasses and colorful desert plants.

That yard served as my inspiration once I had my own space to garden in. I blatantly copied the idea and made it my own. That’s when I decided that imitation was the sincerest form of gardening.

I truly think it’s a compliment to the homeowners that I copied their landscape work, and I’ve since borrowed other ideas from my neighbors. I’ve also pilfered planting ideas from local parks, botanic gardens, Xeriscape demonstration projects and industrial parks. I’ve even stolen ideas while on tours of other gardeners’ gardens.

I’ve duplicated the look of large containers filled with ornamental grasses, appropriated ideas for adding architectural details to the garden, and imitated colors and combinations of flowering plants.

And I don’t feel any guilt about it, either.

Nabbing ideas wherever I can find them gives me a head start on seeing what works and what doesn’t work. I’m able to learn how the pros handle challenging spaces like garden corners, small areas or plots with awkward shapes. Many times a design sparks an idea that allows me to stretch my creativity in a new direction.

Garden design magazines are filled with beautiful photos, step-by-step instructions and plant lists. But for me, seeing is believing. I want to know how the finished design will look in the early morning and in the late afternoon. I want to see it in the first blush of spring and during the heat of summer.

The next idea I plan to pinch is replacing my old Kentucky bluegrass with the same hardy turfgrass that’s planted near a local outdoor amphitheater. If it can withstand the hundreds of feet that trample it on the Fourth of July, surely it will stand up to the wear and tear from one rambunctious dog.

So the next time you see a garden design you like, go ahead – take it. Build on someone else’s gardening success, and make it your own. (It really is the sincerest form of flattery.)