Creating your own Gardentopia – book review & giveaway

Gardentopia cover

I've know author and acclaimed landscape designer Jan Johnsen for a number of years now, so when I saw that she was speaking at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show recently, I was excited to stop by and say hello. After catching up on hugs and news I stayed to hear her talk on Gardentopia:  Design Basics for Creating Beautiful Outdoor Spaces, a presentation to celebrate her latest book of the same name. I was so impressed that I asked her to send me a review copy of her book so that I could share it with you.

As a designer myself I wasn't expecting anything new to be really honest. Yet Jan's presentation – and her book, takes what she calls "design basics" and interprets them in such a way that they are both easy to understand and easy to employ. And truthfully, may professional designers falls short of several of these "basics" to the point where I'd say these are the artistic nuances that set designers  – and gardens – apart. The good news for you is that now Jan has written the book that will help YOU be the designer and "make simple changes….that will turn your backyard into ……a "gardentopia", an outdoor space of delight and serenity."

This hardbound book is organized into 5 meaty sections:

  • Garden Design and Artful Accent Tips
  • Walls, Paths, Patios, and Steps
  • Theme Gardens
  • Color in the Garden
  • Plants and Planting

and each of these broken down into a wealth of "I can do this" steps, all beautifully photographed.

Let me share just a few examples of her wonderful, practical insights with you.

Finding the Power Spot

power spot jan johnsen

These amazing boulders were hidden by weedy growth and construction debris. The homeowner uncovered them and added some ferns at the base. Now his grandkids play in this "magical spot."

When trying to determine where best for the patio, a casual sitting area, or even a quiet spot for meditation, I will have the clients walk around their garden with me until we find the "power spot". It's a place where you just know "this is it". It's the place you want to be. It feels right. Jan talks about this and encourages you to "walk around and notice how you feel while standing in a space. Do you find yourself lingering in one particular spot longer than another? Maybe it's a high spot on the property? Or perhaps a shady glen? There is no right or wrong answer – it's your personal determination."

Meet and Greet

Meet and Greet Jan Johnsen

Jan enlarged the area in front of the door and added an inscribed granite millstone and bench to make it more inviting as well as functional.

When is a doorstep not a doorstep? When it's a gathering space. Too often this is overlooked in design, guests being forced to line up single file upon arrival at your home in order to receive their welcoming hug! Both Jan and I love to expand this zone, both at the doorstep and also at the point where the path meets the driveway, as we often walk our guests that far when saying goodbye. Jan also points out that by making these spaces large enough to accommodate at least 3 people you can then really dress up the area with a bold container planting or other seasonal display. She also suggests the addition of a bench by the front door – somewhere to set down parcels, or sit and pull off snowy boots!

Foliage Tapestry

Foliage Tapestry JAN JOHNSEN

A symphony of groundcovers and ferns includes red-leaved perilla , Jack Frost Siberian bugloss, Japanese painted fern and Goldheart bleeding heart

No surprise that this totally resonates with me!! Jan points  out that nature, if given a choice, will cover the ground with a mix of many species growing side-by-side. For example "a forest floor will have a community of mosses, lichens, sedges, and other plants so tightly intertwined that they allow little room for any weed."

Jan suggests we "follow nature's lead and plant a conglomeration of different foliage and groundcover plants that have the same growth rate (no plant thugs!) and like the same conditions. The key is diversity."

You need this book if…

  • Your know your garden is missing "something" but can't quite put your finger on it
  • You would love to understand more about landscape design, especially the artistic details and subtle nuances
  • You are looking for design inspiration
  • You want to go beyond "functional" and create an oasis
  • You don't want a text book – this book is easy to dip into, one page at a time.
  • You'd love to get inside the head of a fabulous designer!

Where to get your copy

Available now everywhere books are sold including Amazon, where you can also look inside.

Enter to win a signed copy!

Leave a comment below telling me what you struggle with most when trying to create your "gardentopia" to be entered into a random drawing to win a hot-off-the-press copy of this great book! Winner will be drawn on Tuesday April 9th at 9pm PST and notified by email. Winner must live within USA or Canada (sorry…)

Winner will have 48 hours to respond, after which another name will be drawn.

Comments left on social media posts, or on images will NOT be entered into the drawing – only those left in the comment thread below this blog post.

And the winner is….

Beth S! Congratulations – I have sent you an email!!

Follow Jan

You can also enjoy Jan's website for her New York based business Johnsen Landscapes and Pools at or follow her on facebook

Photo credits: Jan Johnsen

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  1. Chris G on April 2, 2019 at 2:44 am

    Our biggest struggle is the everpresent wildlife that comes to enjoy our gardenropia! In our yard, it seems nothing is truly deer or rabbit proof.

    • Elizabeth Anne Stewart on April 2, 2019 at 3:43 am

      A tiny downtown space that is increasingly shaded by new monster home development on 3 sides!!

    • Kathy on April 2, 2019 at 9:32 am

      Keeping color year around in the yard.

    • Cynthia Robinson on April 2, 2019 at 7:21 pm

      The front-west area at house is blank. Grass grows up to the house. House faces south.

  2. Beth S on April 2, 2019 at 4:39 am

    I struggle with shade and finding a variety of shrubs/perrennials/annuals that will thrive in the light I have.

    • Karen Chapman on April 9, 2019 at 9:06 pm

      CONGRATULATIONS BETH! You are the lucky winner from the random draw. Emailing you now.

  3. Nancy Martin on April 2, 2019 at 4:58 am

    I started over in a new state and new home. My garden here is less than two years old and it will be my last. I want it to be the best ever this side of heaven. Any and all helpful advise welcome.

  4. Belinda on April 2, 2019 at 5:03 am

    Wet soil, rabbits, deer, and the occasional beaver.

  5. Craig on April 2, 2019 at 5:18 am

    I have struggled with hosting the functional with the beautiful (the kitchen garden and pool enclosure with flower beds) for a while. I feel like adding more is not working. This book sounds like a great opportunity to revisit areas that need help. Thank you for sharing this opportunity!

  6. Cathi on April 2, 2019 at 5:42 am

    I struggle with cohesiveness and designing so that your eye has a place to land. I also have a cement sidewalk and front porch facing south that is hot and boring. It has been a constant challenge for over 20 years and I still haven't solved it to my liking.

  7. Jaminda on April 2, 2019 at 6:01 am

    My biggest struggle is focusing, editing and sticking with my plan. I want to try growing Everything and then struggle with the caucophony where I was hoping for composition.

  8. Christine on April 2, 2019 at 6:16 am

    Struggling to have a resulting garden that looks like I really had a plan instead of "she just bought one of everything".

  9. Chris on April 2, 2019 at 6:20 am

    I'm starting a new, large garden for which the base is in. The base is in but I have only a general planting plan and too many plants and ideas. I totally get what Jaminda says!

  10. susan on April 2, 2019 at 6:42 am

    Organizing a plant collection

  11. Alyson on April 2, 2019 at 6:46 am

    Steep west facing sunny hill due to construction… trying to be clever with non-thug ground cover, between the artfully placed boulders and plants.

  12. Paula on April 2, 2019 at 6:48 am

    I have a large hedge that fell over and was splayed out from our heavy winter snow this year. It had to be cut way, way down. I used to feel private and sheltered, but now I am wide open to the road traffic. I would love to see how Jan makes private areas for our gardens.

  13. Barb Husted on April 2, 2019 at 7:31 am

    We want to eliminate grass from our landscape and move toward a more natural look. Not quite sure how to accomplish this so it looks beautiful and inviting.

  14. Maureen on April 2, 2019 at 7:33 am

    I struggle with mixing variety and texture so it is visually appealing and soothing for the eye to follow … and feeling solidly confident in my design concepts! Also … shade, clay soil, and the front of my house that is literally one side shade and one side full sun – how am I supposed to plant *that*?! Thank You!

  15. Paulette Hummer on April 2, 2019 at 7:55 am

    Weed prevention and an attractive entry. We have a long driveway and lots of concrete. We struggle with making that look welcoming plant-wise.

  16. Ivan padilla on April 2, 2019 at 8:25 am

    I struggle with the abundant plant selections. What to use year round??

  17. Cindy on April 2, 2019 at 9:21 am

    I ALWAYS struggle with unexpected growth patterns—something being larger or smaller than I anticipated. I also never seem quite able to get things planted as thickly as I want!

  18. Sue Montgomery on April 2, 2019 at 10:05 am

    Your class "Secrets to Selecting Low Maintenance Plants" has been very helpful but I am still frustrated with the new hot summers in the PNW that stresses my established plants! I'm always so hopeful in the Spring but by July I'm wilting with trying to keep up and not pay a small fortune for the water bill!

  19. Ron Davis on April 2, 2019 at 10:08 am

    Moving to a new property this year and excited to design and enjoy a new garden space. Jan's book looks like the perfect resource for creating a wonderful landscape in our new home and yard.

  20. marlie graves on April 2, 2019 at 11:50 am

    The biggest struggle for me is money – enough to buy all the plants to realize my garden plan – and time, or rather procrastination. I've thought I'd try digging up the flowering weeds that cover the roadsides here in north central florida and moving them to a "wild flower section" of my landscape, but I have yet to pull on my big girl boots, grab a shovel and wheelbarrow, and get out there and do it. A book like this might be just the inspiration I need.

  21. Linda Andereggen on April 2, 2019 at 12:39 pm

    What grows well together and how to organize the lay-out.
    Also, for unfenced areas: thwarting the darn deer!

  22. Kristen Sunna on April 2, 2019 at 2:29 pm

    Our back garden is mainly a very long border along the back fence. I feel like it’s not a surprising or inventive garden, but don’t know exactly what to do to take it to the next level. The book sounds lovely!

  23. Carol Yemola on April 2, 2019 at 5:21 pm

    I have trouble deciding which plants should be grown next to each other and how to keep blooms in sight from spring to fall.

  24. Michael Crawford on April 2, 2019 at 7:58 pm

    My biggest struggle is me! I love everything without giving thought to “right plant right place”

  25. Maryann Mandia on April 3, 2019 at 6:52 am

    My biggest struggle is trying to get rid of or even just tame the wild spearmint that has taken over various ares of my gardens!

  26. Joel Karsten on April 3, 2019 at 2:32 pm

    My biggest struggle is finding space with enough sun on my property to vegetable garden. So many hostas, and they make me complacent because they just exist and look okay 80% of the season without effort.JOel

    • Clarice on April 9, 2019 at 4:04 pm

      My greatest struggle is probably a lack of topsoil. Much of our property has no topsoil at all, from being removed in previous years from building projects, etc. Most places have about a 2 inch Sod layer and nothing but solid clay beneath. We really need to haul in loads of topsoil to even have a successful lawn, much less good growing space for plants! Which means lots of $$$. This book like like a great read.