Creative Technique For Becoming A Productive Gardener

by / 21 Comments / 428 View / September 3, 2014

I invited my friend Susan Sherayko, author of "Rainbows Over Ruins" to share her creative problem-solving wisdom on EdenMakers as part of her book "blog tour."

As the Line Producer on the Home & Family Show, Susan has the huge task of supervising the financial bottom line of a daily, Emmy-nominated, national talk show.

When I met Susan a few years ago, I had no idea what overwhelming obstacles she overcame to land her dream job and maintain the positive disposition that is her signature style.

There is a compelling story behind her dimpled smile and confidence.


Susan gave me a copy of her book, which offered me a glimpse into her life, and more importantly, the thinking strategy and tools that form the cornerstone of her success and resilience.


Enjoy Susan's guest blog post, and leave a comment below to enter a drawing for a free copy of her book, Rainbows Over Ruins!



Guest Blogger, Susan Sherayko

Looking at the beautiful spaces that Shirley highlights here on EdenMakers Blog, I lament the state of my own gardens.


We live at the edge of the high desert in California where water is becoming ever more precious.  

Our well is no longer producing water so we have to truck it in every two weeks or so.  

I’ve made efforts to use drought tolerant plants, but even they need some regular watering.  




At the moment, the Texas Ranger (Leucophyllum) is blooming at its best ever.  

The rock rose (Cistus), prostate rosemary and purple cacti are holding their own, as well as the plants that “volunteered” to live in our garden spaces.  

After 9 years in this environment, I welcome all comers.

If they can grow in our yard, they have earned the right to stay here. 




I’m not trying to make excuses for the sorry state of the gardens.  

Instead, it occurs to me that the creative thought process I share with others might work well here too.

What if someone applied these techniques to improve their gardens?  



Visualize What You Want Your Garden To Look Like

The most important questions to answer first are:

What do you want your garden to look like?

What is its primary purpose?  

How will your yard be used?

Do you have favorite plants that will thrive in your specific climate?



Visualizing what you want is fun.

Since I like to journal early in the morning, it is the perfect time to imagine the things I want.

If I were answering these questions, I would see the gardens of my childhood.


My parents lived on the east coast and had gardens filled with roses, irises, azaleas, rhododendrons, daffodils, ivy, a pear tree that survived a hurricane, snowball plants, a lawn, and did I say roses?

They planted roses everywhere, in small gardens around the bird bath and climbing the fences that surrounded the house on all sides.  



Compare Your Real Garden To Your Dream Garden

Now, take an inventory.

How do your existing gardens compare?

Do you see a contrast?


The difference between what you have and what you want to have is called a gap.  

When you think it’s huge, it’s likely to stop you from making any attempt to work on your gardens, if you let it.  

It feels easier to make a long list of all the reasons (excuses) you have for doing without your dream garden.  

However, that isn’t the way to succeed at anything, let alone gardening.  


The better approach is to catch yourself when you start any negative self-talk and take a different approach.

Ask yourself “Why am I able to improve my garden?” and then make a different list – a list of pro-active positive suggestions that might help.  


Make A List of Positive Suggestions

You don’t need to know all the answers right now; however, if you keep asking that question, ideas are bound to come to you.

Then, you can choose one action out of all the potential ideas to start creating a better space.

They don’t have to be massive projects.  




In the beginning, it may be all you can do to visit Shirley's blog to get ideas.

Maybe you’ll write a comment and ask for suggestions.

That’s how the creative thought process works.  


Keep asking positive questions that point you in the desired direction and you’ll be surprised how many resources show up in response. 

Funny, that sounds like a suggestion I can take myself.  


Do You Have A Garden Suggestion For Me?

Since the low water situation is having such an effect on my gardens, perhaps you would be willing to share what you do in your gardens when you have a water shortage.  

What plants do you recommend to bring color to my high desert, water-thirsty garden?

We experience extreme temperatures: very hot dry summers and cold winter nights.


I would love to see the suggestions you have for me.  

Thank you in advance for the help.

To Your Success in the gardens, 



Rainbows-Over-Ruins-Book-Cover written by Susan Sherayko

Susan Sherayko is the author of Rainbows Over Ruins, a guide to those who seek to unleash their creative power.

She is the Executive in Charge of Production and Emmy nominated Line Producer for Home & Family on the Hallmark Channel.

Susan is passionate about guiding others to discover how to change their thoughts and attract more successful results.

To find out more about Susan and her book, Rainbows Over Ruins, visit: www.RainbowsOverRuins.com


21 Comment

  1. Although I am on the east coast one type of plant came to mind that we grow here that may do well there.  We have sedum her that does quite well in rock gardens in full sun.  It may survive there.  I admire your determination and wish you luck in filling out the rest of your garden. 

    We recently moved and I am starting over with flowerbeds that have gone to weed many years ago.  Each  section of bed is a challenge and ultimately a triump when completed.  

  2. Oh Shirley help, I live on 1/2 an acre an most of it is hill side, I have ivy on the front hill and I am taking it all out. I want to plant native plants and trees and limit water usage without degrading the hill. I want to encourage birds, bugs and wildlife with my plantings. Where do I start?

    Lost in the Dirt

  3. Kimberly – a pleasant surprise that you have already found my book.:)  Thank you.

    Jane –  I believe I have been reading your regular articles in the Country Journal for several years. Perhaps I should complete a questionnaire.  That's part of the creative process too – to help organize a workable plan that can accomplished step by step.



  4. Shirley, is it possible for you to post that picture I had sent to you of all of the statue heads with plants, succulents, cactus growing from them?  I'd like Susan to see that , most look to be drought resistant. I didn't see anywhere to post the picture on here.


    Thanks & Hugs


  5. Looks like a big project. We had recently removed our entire front lawn, plants, etc, in preparation to re-do it all, but now with the drought we are changing our plans. Instead of a half lawn and half English garden type area, we are now going to have half of the front in plants that look nice but are more water misers and drought tolerant, while still being lush looking. The bottom half of the front lawn area will now be covered in weed cloth and we'll plant a couple of shade trees and some plants that don't need tons of water. Also, we'll put bark in the open areas between the plants. Being in California, we have extreme cycles of wet and dry years, so we decided to plant annuals for the dry years and add perrenials during the years with more rain. I look forward to seeing what you do with your yard. Good luck!

  6. Wow …talk about a blank canvas to design on!  I'm use to my Midwest gardens and having a nice patch of grass that needs some landscape color added.  Wonderful guest post on one of my favorite designer blogs!   Great to connect with Susan – the book sounds amazing.

    P.S. Can't wait to see what the landscape ends up looking like when completed. I love drought tolerant plants … and please don't forget to add some lantana!

  7. Gosh, it's so exciting to see so many comments.  Thank you for your feedback.  I can see that beginning to think out of the box when it comes to plantings and garden sculpting can make a huge difference.  Patricia, your use of the run off from your swamp cooler made me think.  I use a traditional air conditioner, however, some water runs off it and could potentially be redirected into some alternative use.  There is a man here in Agua Dulce who has a water reclamation system hanging around his property.  It claims water from the air.  Perhaps that is another method to explore. You are all inspiring me to toss the conventional in the air or as Jane wrote: "The gift of not being to have what you expect is that you get to have all those fabulous things you weren't expecting!"  That is the gift of the subconscious mind — to surprise and delight you.

    Many thanks,


  8. Hi Susan, Your book looks wonderful.

     It's always a challenge to create a garden in arrid area and or during a drought. I live in Cupertino, Ca. and we are dealing with an exceptional drought. It's awful. I've lost several plants. I'm replacing what I've lost with salvias, penstemons, and other low water plants.

     I'm really missing my roses, but I feel it's bad idea to try try to replace them. More and more I'm seeing xeriscaping gardens and they are beautiful.  

    You are so lucky to have Shirley so close to work with. What a wealth of knowledge.  


  9. Hi ladies, 

    Shirley…I love your blog.  It's fun and colorful and full of creative ideas.  I'm so glad to be a part of this wonderful group.  

    Susan…Your work is an inspiration to people on any level.  I truly believe it is our own attitudes that lead us either to success or failure.  From what I'm seeing today, you have overcome a lot and not allowed negative situations to prevent you from accomplishing your goals.  That can be a quite a tough thing to do, so I applaud you for putting yourself out there and reminding people to keep their heads up, even in the tough times, because we truly can make our dreams come true.  

    I'm looking forward to reading your book and hearing more of your story.  Thank you for sharing a bit of your backgroud and all these wonderful, creative ideas with us!!!

  10. Wow, you gardeners are a generous bunch! I love how you all roll up your sleeves and share your tips and feedback with Susan.
    I'm enjoying reading about all your gardens and suggestions!

    Please come back soon. We will be drawing from among commenter names tomorrow and one of you will receive a copy of Rainbows Over Ruins!


  11. Dear Susan:

    Your book looks wonderful. Looking forward to seeing it out at Barnes & Nobles in my area.  Thank you also for making Home & Family a wonderful show for all to enjoy. 


    Deb Tucker-Frank

  12. Susan, I loved this post and your quote, "If they can grow in our yard, they have earned the right to stay here." I feel that way about my northern Indiana garden as well. I'm fond of sedum, stonecrop and other succulents. Might they work for you?

  13. Hi Susan! I really enjoyed reading your blog and thank Shirley for inviting me to this special blog event. I also live in the desert here in the Phoenix, AZ area. I am originally from the east coast too so I had little knowledge of what plants fit best in this dry climate. We left our landscaping projects to the designers when we moved here 17 years ago. Now we are in our next phase of downsizing and will be looking to plant a garden that can withstand the heat and requires minimal watering like lantana plants, bougainvillea plants, yucca plants, prickly pear cacti, and blooming ocotillo. Our lantana and bougainvillea plants bloomed pretty much throughout the year and added pretty colors to our garden as they required little watering several times a week. We had a drip water system installed which helped regulated the water absolutely necessary for the plants.  We covered the lantana plants occasionally in the winter because they were affected by the few frost nights we experienced. We did have several palo verde trees and sweet acacia trees on our property, which didn't require alot of watering, however they did shed alot and probably not plant them in our new home.

    I love the title of your book and so fitting how something wonderful can be created with a little creativity and a positive outlook. Living in the desert is a prime example how beautiful desert plants can suddenly bloom and create a beautiful landscape. And we get to enjoy flowering plants all year round as well!

    I wish you the best with your book and your garden as you begin to transform it into your "dream" garden!

    Ginny Komlos

  14. HI Susan.

    You came to the right blog. I so admire Shirley and all her wonderful landscaping and gardening knowledge. Those of us who live and work here in the upper chaparral, however, deal with very unique challenges. As a landscape designer, I know that flower-filled, lush-green look simply isn't practical. But you can indeed have a gorgeous garden. I usually have a questionaire to help understand my client's tastes, lifestyle and dream garden. Not knowing yours, hopefully I can inspire you with some random concepts to play with:

    1. I can see you are looking over the whole space and considering making it into a total picture. That's excellent. But why not emphasize those areas with non-living, low maintenance, no-water, contrasting mulches. You can find gravel in an amazing assortment of colors — even decomposed granite can be found in a surprising range of hues. If you like some fantasy you can consider tumbled glass to glisten in our unrelenting sunshine. Or how about areas of textured pavers? You can even create patterns or pictures with broken stone, brick or tiles by arranging your own mosaic effects.

    2. Create special areas. You can build raised beds (they don't have to be rectangular) and fill them with rich soil and a drip irrigation system to grow special plants, flowers or edibles. (Think about a whole edging of a narrow raised bed that might house herbs, for example.)

    3. This is the perfect time of year for planting chaparral native plants. Group them to accentuate flower and leaf colors and textures or blend them with drought-tolerant plants from other hungry-soil areas like Australia or the Middle East so you can have growth during the summer native plant rest period.

    4. Let your creative juices flow with decor. Paint ordinary wood with glowing colors, recycle objects into walls, drape fabrics for shade cover, scatter cheerful outdoor cushions on low walls, atop boulders or over tree stumps to provide seating. Add some sculptures or spray paint dead tree limbs for art.

    Just because this may be an area where growing the 'traditional garden' doesn't work well does not mean you can't have a great garden! In fact, this is a perfect opportunity to hone that creativity you have. The gift of not being to have what you expect is that you get to have all those fabulous things you weren't expecting!

    I wish you lots of fun on your creative landscaping project and I hope some of these suggestions help!


  15. How wonderful to have you contribute your creative thoughts to the lovely Eden Makers Blog!  You have reminded me of getting back to basics.  Think, plan and create.  Then you will have a much better chance of producing an end result that will make you proud and happy!!

  16. Susan – thank you! This is amazing – the process you've outlined really applies to anything we do! Some people claim that they are not creative – but we are inherently creative, we sometimes just need to learn how to bring out that creativity – and you've shown us how! There is infinite potential here, wow! I look forward to reading your book.

  17. I really like your approach! Seems many of us gardeners are being nudged (if not forced) to bridge the gap between dreams and reality, what we have and what we want.

  18. Shirley, fabulous guest post, as you know I am also in the middle of the California drought right along side Susan Sherayko. Conserving water is the number one priority and has been for many years as we have moved further into this drought. Susan's ideas for styling her garden around "what grows – stays" applies to my ranch gardens as well. As the producr of Authentic Haven Brand Natural Brew, I can't stress enough the importance of feeding 100% natural nutrients to maintaine healthy root growth on established plantings and to reduce stress on new plantings for growing success.    

  19. Hello, it is such a pleasure to be visiting Edenmaker.  It's a great opportunity to ramble to my heart's content.  Please feel free to ask questions or add your two cents and I will respond when I come in from her gardens.




  20. I meant to add also, if  you use a swamp cooler for cooling, if it's like mine, it dumps out the overflow every couple of hours.  Mine runs off the corner of the carport roof.  PVC pipes, pvc elbows where it runs off, can direct the overflow to plants for watering so it's not going to waste by just being soaked up into the ground where it drains.  

  21. Hello : ) 

     Wonderful guidelines and  ideas to consider that you have given for us. Thank  you!  

     I have property in Weldon, (Near Lake Isabella) , Ridgecrest, Ca. Both with being in and surrounded by  desert.  Several things have thrived very well for me. Grapes grow like crazy.  I also had very good  luck with Lilac tree's and fruitless Mulberry's .  My next door neighbor had peach and plum tree's and the peaches were the best I have ever tasted!! We also share a fence that has a Wysteria plant that I had trailed as it grew and wove it in the chain link fence that divided our properties. They are so pretty when they bloom, but the blooms don't last nearly as long as I'd like.  I have been very surprised as to how well roses seem to grow too. ( Though I haven't tried personally to grow them but many neighbors have)  Marigolds have always done very well for me, and once the flowers start to dry up , grab hold of the flower part, pull and you will have multi seeds for your next planting.  I just would sprinkle them on the ground , pat them down and would have a whole new batch in no time. 

     Ice Plants are a nice ground covering, drought tolerant, and have many pretty colors to choose from.  You may want to check  the different colors, varieties, and examples of pictures to get a better idea.   I did a search on Goggle and found many various types.  I typed in  "Dought tolerant plants for California desert region" ,  also, "Ice Plants drought resistant desert environment" 

      Wishing you good luck on planting, growing and  your new book. 🙂 


    God Bless


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