How to Create An International Garden

No need to grab your passport or to even pack a suitcase when you use travel as your inspiration in your garden. A garden that reflects international sensibilities is more about the places you have been and the signature design styles of those places that remind you perhaps of a special time in your life. Whether on a cross-country tour of the US or an international leisure trip, gardens inspire us to reflect when we embrace their beauty. No matter where we are, gardens command our attention and require us to pause and “smell the roses.”

In my garden, you will find a variety of inspirations, from the ruins of Mexico to the tree-lined streets of Paris. When I return from traveling abroad, my suitcase may be full but my mind is overflowing. Snapshots of the details of these great destinations are ingrained in my memory. Nothing excites me more than being able to recreate even the smallest detail from another culture in my own garden oasis.

While my garden is ostensibly a traditional English garden, it has a global appeal. From Italy to France to Asia and the Caribbean, there are whimsical vignettes strategically placed throughout. Achieving this garden design concept does not require a travel agent, only an open mind and a vision that encompasses the world and embraces the vast array of cultural beauty.

September is the perfect time to plant or expand a garden. With most garden centers and professional contractors whittling down their inventories and services, this is the ideal time to get the most from your garden budget. For example, I love to buy the following items at the end of the summer to take advantage of clearance sales:

  • Patio furniture
  • Fountains
  • Grills
  • Plants, shrubs and trees
  • Fire pits
  • Garden ornaments and Accessories
  • Hammocks

September is also the time of year when many landscape professionals are looking to extend their busy season into the fall, so this is also a great time to negotiate a new patio, a stone wall, a terrace, porch or pergola (all of which I happen to have on my property.) And no, I did not put these all up in the same year but they were each coordinated to be executed in the fall, helping me to get the best price possible.

When it comes to an international garden one needs to focus on the country or countries that you love and the design elements that you would like to reproduce in your own back yard. When you feel inspired by a garden or garden element you have seen abroad, reproducing just a small piece of it will immediately transport you to that wonderful place and time. It does not mean that your garden has to scream “France!” in one corner, and “Shanghai!” in another; it’s about sometimes subtle details that are meant for your own pleasure. No one else has to immediately conjure up a vision of Ireland when they look at your patio — as long as it does it for you then it’s perfect. In fact, travel is not a prerequisite for design inspiration. For many of us, simply looking at a travel magazine, watching a travel show or surfing the net can trigger our imaginations. This is an important aspect of how a dream can come true.

Here’s your passport to the inspirations behind Rosebrook Gardens, and no visa is required.


When I think of Paris, I not only think of the gorgeous food but I also think of the Champs Elysee and the perfectly manicured Horse-chestnut trees that line this beautiful boulevard. In spite of the fact that these trees can grow to be very tall, they are meticulously pruned to be flat on all sides. The leafy tops are, in fact, almost perfectly square. So, rising high above the sidewalks and the passersby, one sees a tall thin trunk and then a massive square of green leaves. It is a partnership between Mother Nature and some very experienced arborists whom I have grown to love despite that fact that we have never met. I honor their work by similarly maintaining my own tree- lined curb right in front of my home where a pair of Aristocrat flowering pear trees are pruned in exactly the same manner and are perfectly square. When my arborist asked me how I would like them pruned, I simply said, “Just like the trees on the Champs Elysee.” Now every time I leave my home or look out the window, I am reminded of that glorious trip to Paris.

If this is a bit too extreme for your tastes, here is another inspiration that I saw in France. You know I love Boxwoods. But in France they prune the Boxwoods to a conical or cone shape and then several inches of foliage is removed from the top making it flat. Any evergreen that you buy that has a conical shape can be trained and pruned into this design. It’s simple and attainable for all of us — and created a subtle detail that elevates the space.


When in Rome, do as the Romans. When in the US, do as the Romans and build a water feature into your garden design. Large or small, nothing beats the relaxing sound of trickling water. The Trevi Fountain in Rome is one of the most magical fountains in the world and holds many precious memories for me. As a widower, when I hear the sound of water from a fountain it takes me back to my last visit to Rome where we said goodbye to the Trevi Fountain knowing it would be our last trip together. Today, a small wall fountain hanging on my garden studio captures that essence and all of the memories that are attached to it.

The Caribbean

When one thinks of the Caribbean, one usually thinks of the crystal clear turquoise water and the splashes of tropical color that abound everywhere. If you, too, desire this look, I have two great options for you. You can infuse your garden with lots of brightly colored flowers or use brightly colored accessories to accent your garden furniture. I love a splash of color and having recently visited the British Virgin Islands and Antigua, color is uppermost on my mind these days. To achieve this look and feel, I use brightly colored and patterned fabric for pillows, napkins, placemats, and even for decorative throws. This gives you the option of changing out the fabric from year to year, keeping up with current trends and styles. How about using colorful sarongs or pareos as tablecloths? They are inexpensive, colorful and festive. If you’re looking for a longer commitment now is the perfect time to plant a colorful garden for next year.

Perennials such as roses, peonies, poppies and Lupin to name a few, are available at the end of summer hugely discounted because there are no longer any flowers. Do not be dismayed. They will flower next year, but this time in your garden. Bulbs, although in high season now, offer the biggest impact for a spring garden. It’s the first thing you should think of but the last thing that you plant. Grape hyacinths, tulips, and daffodils come in a variety of price points based upon packaging. Your garden will explode with tropical colors. Been there”_done that!

One also thinks of rest and relaxation when thinking about the Caribbean. This means a hammock to me. And so it goes. A strategically placed hammock in my backyard gently rocks me back to those tropical sunsets and cool breezes. It’s all good, mon!


If pressed, I would have to admit that my garden is most decidedly a traditional English garden. And since I try always to be a perfect gentleman, it suits me. From the high gloss black paint on the doors and shutters to the ivy-covered outbuildings, my garden would have familiar appeal to the stuffiest English aristocrat. The walkways are brick-lined, there is a parterre garden in the back, over 500 boxwoods, several arbors, and trellises not to mention the pergola, all of which are covered with English roses, clematis or wisteria. So, I do England and I do it well.

In an English garden, one would find tutours, armillaries, statues and other garden ornaments. Mine is no exception. Even with less than one-quarter of an acre, I have created a garden that will transport you straight back to the UK. Truth be told, English gardens require significant attention because they must be trimmed, pruned, dead-headed and maintained throughout the year. This type of garden is not for everyone but as an avid gardener, I thrive on the maintenance and the exercise it provides me.

Some of the traditional English elements in my garden are found in the ivy-covered surfaces, pom-pom shaped Boxwoods, spiral shaped evergreens, and a cedar-shingled folly. To achieve this theme or even a bit of it, simply put Boxwoods into your garden design and plant climbing perennials such as climbing hydrangea, trumpet vines or wisteria. When all else fails, plant ivy. Topiaries whether in a small container or planted in the garden are an additional enhancement.


Recently I was in Vancouver, British Columbia, known to tourists as a rainy place, but known to botanists as a great place to enjoy the west coast rainforest. My garden features beautiful, lush green ferns that fill in — and love — the shadiest parts of the garden. And although the beaches can be sandy, they are more rugged and rocky than those in the south, so I have reflected that in my stone and pebble walkways, which have the added bonus off drying off quicker than paving stones after a shower. Vancouver gardens are known for their glorious showing of rhododendrons in June — in every color. When my rhodo’s start blooming it always lets me know summer is not far off. And of course cedar is a dominant tree — luckily it is already my favorite roofing!

And those are the tour highlights! So although my garden tends to lean toward a traditional English aesthetic, I am intrigued and inspired by the gardens of many different cultures. What else adds inspiration?

Japanese gardens, so tranquil in their simplicity and balance of energy; the lush tropical gardens of South East Asia and Thailand; and the rolling fields of lavender in the South of France. All of them provide a glimpse of opportunity for both the avid and the beginner gardener. Import the gardens of the world and transport yourself into a whole new world of horticulture. 

And there you have it.