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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I'm a serious plant-aholic. In other words I'm usually covered in a layer or two of soil, I drive everywhere with a large tarp for impromptu plant purchases and I'm truly passionate about sharing the joys of gardening.

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