Life by Design Inside and Out – Second Edition

This is the second in a series of creative perspectives about life and the design process from interior designer Kim Macumber and myself.  You can read Kim’s blog at:

Clearing Space In The Garden by Heather McLean

Spring is a great time to make a fresh start. As the seasons change, it’s natural for many of us to begin to think about spring cleaning and clutter clearing the inside of our homes, but this can also be an ideal time to evaluate our garden outside. Whether you hire a professional to consult with, or do it yourself, there is a lot to be gained by getting a clean start.


“All through the long winter, I dream of my garden. On the first day of spring, I dig my fingers deep into the soft Earth. I can feel it’s energy, and my spirits soar.” Helen Hayes

Once someone asked me if my garden consultations were complimentary. I had to laugh because all I could think was, yes, if it’s a pretty nice garden. The truth is, I am always able to see more potential in the situation than most of my clients are able to see. My job is mostly about finding appreciation for the inherent beauty that is sometimes hidden. The magic is taking that bit of beauty and amplifying it. But sometimes beauty is hidden under many years of overgrowth and collections of random stuff.

Gardeners are notorious for acquiring and keeping all sorts of things. Along with the expected hospital of sickly and recovering plants, I always find stacks of pots. Many are broken and unusable but saved for some future need, “just in case.” I often sort through vast collections of decorative statues. I have seen gardens where bunnies, gnomes, kittens, puppies, turtles, mushrooms, fairies and even Buddha and St Francis are all hanging out together at an endless garden party with an unrestricted guest list. Some gardeners have birdbaths, wind chimes, fountains and feeders that have all been carried home and set out in the garden. I have also seen old doors, broken chairs, former christmas decorations, mirrors, shoes and boots made into planters, picture frames, plastic flowers and even a kitchen sink that found a retirement home outside.

But where is the garden? For me, a garden plays a symphony with its sequence of bloom and tells a story with it’s ornaments. So many things acquired over time may have been interesting individually but all together they can lose their meaning. It’s like too much jewelry overpowering an outfit or too many accessories in a room. We need to start with a clean slate. I often ask if I can clear the space of all of the items so that I can see the garden’s structure underneath. Then I can evaluate what needs to be cut back, what needs to be planted and what might need to be removed. Once the garden has been tidied up we can bring back the items thoughtfully.

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I always say “Landscape like you mean it!” If you are creating a habitat for birds, let’s organize those items together in a purposeful arrangement. If you are collecting bunny statues, let’s think about planting an area that gives the right setting for their size and scale. If fairies have been setting up shop in your garden, let’s go all in and create a miniature garden world for them.

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You don’t have to choose a single theme for your garden, but it will feel less cluttered and make more sense if you dedicate a space for each collection or interest. So why not go get a bit of fresh air and take a tour of your garden. Let me know how your tidying up goes. Clearing space can open up your garden and your heart. I bet you will feel better both inside and out.

remember, goodness grows,


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Growing Together

Last week I was called out to consult with a family who needed help deciding whether or not to save a tree. As you can already imagine, I was prepared to side with preserving the tree.


They had already met with an arborist who had given them an estimate of expenses they would incur if they decided to take precautionary steps to save it. They had also been given a price to remove it. My clients wanted to keep the tree but it looked like that option would be far more expensive. They wondered if it they could just start over with a new tree; perhaps that would be a better way to spend their money.


Sometimes we have to make difficult choices when deciding what will stay and what must go.

When I arrived at the residence I knew at once that we needed to save the tree. I found a majestic Escarpment Live Oak (Quercus fusiformis) standing tall in the front yard. It had grown in this spot long before the neighborhood was developed, this home was built and probably long before any of us were even born. Unless you are over one hundred and fifty years old, this tree has been around longer.

The problem was the massive root system had spread everywhere under the soil and the homeowners could no longer grow a lawn, or much of anything else under the tree. There were also problems with the walkway to the front door because the roots had caused the concrete to crack and shift. The arborist had recommend pruning the canopy of the tree to let more sunlight in and removing the sidewalk. He had suggested a path made of stepping stones that would “float” above the root zone and protect the tree.

I suggested to my clients that they accept the proposal from the arborist and together we could re-imagine their front yard. Could we consider it a garden of preservation? What if we put all of our resources into creating a habitat where the tree could continue to thrive and the residence would still be functional. When the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center was being built, I heard Lady Bird said, “Let it rest lightly on the land.” Perhaps we can all adopt her perspective.

As I sit down to formulate a plan and design a new garden for my clients, I feel privileged that I can help to protect this tree. It might be easier and cheaper to remove it and start over, but I know that there is much more to be gained by saving it. There is honor in recognizing what has endured the test of time and in learning to grow together.

FullSizeRender“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”  Warren Buffett

remember, goodness grows,



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New Beginnings

I spent the weekend tidying up my garden to create space for the new growth of spring. Under a brilliant blue sky, my pear trees celebrated each breeze with a confetti of tiny white flower petals. The wind chimes sang out in approval as I clipped and cleared away the dried brown branches from my perennial border. My basket filled with the natural remains of a season gone by.

I always leave the crispy foliage to overwinter on my perennials. I believe it offers some protection for the plants from the cold and it also adds some interest to the winter garden. Occasionally I will braid the old foliage down or rake it back into the border, but most of the time I leave it to be. It somehow honors what has come and gone.

I wait for the first signs of Spring.

IMG_0817Texas Redbud Tree (Cercis canadensis var. texensis)

Here in Austin, the Redbuds are the first to burst into bloom. Next the Texas Mountain Laurels perfume the air with grape scented flowers and the Mexican Plum trees literally hum with bees enjoying their white bouquet of blossoms.

IMG_2143Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora)

If I look carefully, I can then find the first tender shoots of new growth emerging from underneath a tangle of faded out leaves and sticks. That’s my signal to clear away the old, to make way for the new.

“There is a continuity about the garden and an order of succession in the garden year which is deeply pleasing, and in one sense there are no breaks or divisions. Seed time flows on to flowering time and harvest time; no sooner is one thing dying than another is coming to life.”  Susan Hill and Rory Stuart

remember goodness grows,


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Life by Design Inside and Out – First Edition

This is the first in a series of creative perspectives about life and the design process from interior designer Kim Macumber and myself.  You can read Kim’s blog at:

A View With A Room by Heather McLean

I recently heard a friend discussing a meeting he had with the contractor who had built his home several years ago. He was astonished to learn that an additional room was intrinsic to the original construction plan but that room was never built out. My friend now realized he had the capability to expand is home in a direction he had never thought about. An entire new room to enjoy had always been right over his head.

Perhaps a new room could be just outside your door.


We often overlook our outdoor space as potential area to create the extra room we could use.

A big part of my job as a garden designer is to visit with people who would like to improve their view, but my clients don’t always see the potential garden room we could create. They point out everything they do not like about their backyard or patio. They turn to me expecting I will be able to tell them how to make it better. But first, I must discover what it is they truly want.

I often play a game with my clients to access their imagination. I will say, “Let’s pretend that it is next year on the 4th of July and you are having a large party. Who is coming to visit your new garden? How many guests will attend? What will you be doing to have fun?” As they respond to my questions, they start to imagine their garden in the future. This is the garden they would like to live in. This is the garden room we will co-create together.

I then begin to paint the elements of a new environment in my mind. I try out different components in various positions. I overlay my new reality upon what I see before me and begin to describe what could possibly develop. I suggest that a blank fence could become covered in vines with flowers and provide more privacy. I describe outdoor kitchens and dining rooms where friends and family will gather to celebrate a meal together. I evoke quiet places to sit and look at the stars.


Understanding my client is the most important tool I can use to design a garden room that will be both functional and beautiful. Finding what makes their heart sing on the inside may be the secret ingredient to creating what they will love on the outside.

remember goodness grows,


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A Rose By Any Other Name

“In my garden, the rose opened, but I was too much in a hurry and passed it by. Love remembered me and said, I will make a rose bloom in your heart. Today, I will remember, my body is the garden of my soul.”  Deepak Chopra

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February is the traditional month for southern gardeners to love our roses. Sometime near Valentine’s Day, there is always a crisp, clear day that invites us out to make our seasonal pruning decisions. These judicious cuts will influence not only the overall form of the plant but also the abundance of blossoms that will flush out in the spring. We examine the central canes, remove what is damaged or deadwood and we reign in roses gone wild with exuberant growth from the previous growing season.

Sometimes novice gardeners think it cruel to cut the roses back, but they will learn through experience that this is how to best encourage healthy new growth. Different varieties of roses may require a little difference in technique or a latter pruning for early bloomers, but it’s a sure bet that if we make a clean start, we will have more success. The newly pruned rose may appear naked and austere, but the seasoned gardener knows there is strength in the roots and the central canes will support all of the new growth to come. There is power in new beginnings.

A gardener can even start out with a “bare root” rose. You’ve probably seen them at your local garden center. It’s almost unbelievable that an entire rose bush could possibly grow from an unattractive plastic bag of thorny sticks, but it can. Once I was tempted by the three dollar price tag at a hardware store trying to get rid of them and bought a couple. I took them home and gently unwrapped each one, untangled their roots and planted them carefully. I watered and watched patiently until first leaves, then buds, then miraculously roses unfolded! One bush produced delicately scented apricot colored flowers and the other offered up stately silver blossoms. I never knew their names because the markings had been smudged off the plastic bag.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” 

William Shakespeare 

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When Juliet spoke to Romeo, what was she really saying to him? Is it the label that defines a blossom, or its essence that makes it a rose? The name of something is only a poor attempt by man to sort out the makings of God. A name does not describe its value or its intrinsic beauty. A name is a label that cannot evaluate the worth of a rose.

Nor can a label describe you.

You are the rose, attracting love with your soul. Just as the rose beckons to the bee with its perfume, the love you send out into the world attracts the appreciation, attention and affection you desire. The roses willing open and share their fragrance and beauty; they have no need to search for love. Allow your heart to open and blossom.

You are love. Love is finding you with each and every breath.

remember goodness grows,


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Counting On Love

I wonder if elementary school kids still decorate shoe boxes for Valentines Day.


Do you remember using construction paper, sticky white paste and paper lace dollies to create a festive mailbox for the annual delivery of little folded Valentine cards? Sometimes there was a piece of candy or a lollipop taped to a card, but the goodies were unimportant. The real measurement of popularity was the number of cards you would receive.

The deliveries were anonymous, so unless the little notes were signed, you never really knew who sent them. And there was no way to know who had not. You could only count up your cards and hope for the best.

I was not the most popular kid in grade school. Often wandering around the perimeter of the playground, I spent more time making friends with wildflowers and counting clovers than cultivating friendships. Pale, freckled and redheaded, I did not look much like the other girls either. To top off my awkwardness, I often fainted because of a heart condition that would not be discovered for many years. I thought it was normal for the school nurse to stand around with smelling salts, just in case.

So I never expected to get a lot of valentines, but I loved to make them. I saved bits of paper and ribbon in my desk all year long just so I could make something different. Sometimes I could convince my mom to buy me some stickers at the drug store instead of the manufactured cards. I would happily deliver handmade notes to all the other boxes but I was not very interested in looking in my own. Creating the cards was more fun than receiving them.

As adults, this holiday can be vexing. In a committed relationship, the pressure to produce an epic romantic gesture is splashed all over our culture. Many of my single friends feel left out and ask,”What do we do about Valentine’s Day?” My first thought was something along the line of starting a whole other holiday that would focus more on loving ourselves instead of measuring how others feel about us. But after some reflection I think we should make Valentine’s Day more about our capacity to create and share loving acts of kindness instead of counting up our cards or calculating how much we are loved.

Let’s look around and shower love on everyone we encounter this Sunday. If you like the cards, flowers, and chocolate, then send it to your best friend, your teacher, or even that barista who makes your coffee. If you feel inclined to make something you can give to others, you might find you discover a delicious joy in the process of creation.

I’m certain that the more you fall in love with life and everyone around you, the more you will see that you are the love you are looking for.


“Love is a flower, you’ve got to let it grow.”  John Lennon

remember goodness grows,


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There’s No Place Like Home


Where do you call home? There are all types of dwellings we can inhabit but that is not the factor that makes our house a home. You might abide in a house, or apartment, on a boat, in a tent, or under a ceiling of sky and stars. The place where you feel comfortable, safe and relaxed, is the place where you feel at home.

No matter where you physically reside, observing the beauty of nature can provide the stillness that makes it possible to feel unconditional love. Ultimately it is the Earth that is our one true home. When we establish our home base in the natural world, we can never be homeless. By cultivating appreciation for the environment in a garden, our own backyard, in a park, or even out the window, we can find a space where we can feel at peace.

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. 

Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

If we pause long enough to focus our awareness on the intricate details of a blossom, we may be able to quiet our busy minds. We can slip into the silent realm of just being, instead of drowning in an ocean of thinking and doing.

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When we allow ourselves to drop deeply into the essence of our natural world, we open ourselves up to recognizing that we are part of this beauty. For a moment we can become the flower, the sunset or the butterfly. When we learn to love the nature, we are actually loving ourselves. This serves as a metaphor for understanding life. By learning to love what we find within ourselves, we will find we live in a world full of love. It’s all a reflection of what resides within us. While tending what is growing in our garden, we also grow in unseen ways. We can get in touch with our authentic self and begin to appreciate our own natural beauty.

Sometimes to go within, all we need to do is get outside.

remember, goodness grows,


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Life by Design, Inside and Out

This week I would like to introduce you to a very special friend of mine, Kim Macumber. We have been friends for over twenty five years and she is an incredibly talented interior designer. We plan to share some of our ideas together in a new blog segment called “Life by Design, Inside and Out.” You can subscribe to Kim’s blog at-


Moving into a new home comes with spectrum of emotions, everything from a great sense of accomplishment to an overwhelming angst over what to pay attention to first. Should you make decisions about window coverings and furniture, or consider your landscape and garden? Do you feel confident to make long term choices about how you will live in a new space, or would waiting a bit give you some time to learn more about your new environment? And what about all those unexpected expenses that seem to add up around a move… is there even any budget left to work with?

About twenty-five years ago I was relocated from Texas to Georgia and faced all of those questions without a clue where to begin. My home was located in a traditional neighborhood where every yard was kept tidy and it seemed as if everyone had hired impeccable interior decorators to create lovely interiors. I had come from a tiny craftsman style cottage in Houston, so most of the rooms of my new home were completely empty. The new house was perched atop a big hill with a huge backyard sloping down to a creek. I was just a little intimidated!

Until I met Kim. Across the street my new neighbor on Rocky Glen was an adorable young woman with a charming southern accent and a big friendly smile.


She always made me feel like there was plenty of time and everything would come together. She had a great sense of style, lots of encouraging ideas and best of all, she was just starting out too, so some of her rooms were also empty. Together we would ponder magazines and design books dreaming up future furnishings and beautiful possibilities. We would celebrate each others progress, no matter how small, as we inched our way toward making our houses into homes.

Over time it became clear where our individual passions were leading us. Kim created lovely interiors that were somehow elegant and cozy at the same time. I became acquainted with all of my native magnolia trees and rare trillium plants, spending a large amount of time up to my knees in mud by the creek. She waited patiently for a special order down filled sofa that arrived like a fluffy cloud in the middle of her family room.


I dug hundreds of holes and filled them with daffodils and narcissus that eventually naturalized, painting the hillside brilliant yellow and white every Spring. Kim made her home more beautiful one room at a time. I transformed my sprawling landscape into my own garden world.

I’ll never forget when Kim made the decision to change all of the moulding throughout the first floor of her house from a wood stain to white. Every board needed to be stripped, sanded and then painted with oil base enamel. She did most of this work all by herself, late at night after her two young daughters had gone to bed. The entire process was messy and back-braking but Kim never gave up. Once she had a vision, she stuck with it until it was completed.

Years have passed and many miles have separated us, but Kim and I have always remained close. Now we have both centered our careers on those passions we discovered back in Georgia on Rocky Glen and I am always looking forward to seeing the finishing touches to her latest project. Today Kim uses her talent and those same wonderful qualities to encourage her design clients, creating inspiring spaces with Kim Macumber Interior in Sherborn, Massachusetts. I still spend most of my days out in someone’s garden helping my client’s with my landscape company, Goodness Grows In Austin.

Kim and I are blessed to be able to share the work we love with others. I look forward to sharing some of her ideas with you in the future and let you in on some of our collaborative projects. We are both committed to helping you make your world just a little bit more beautiful, inside and out.

remember goodness grows,



Posted in Friendship, Gardeneing, Interior Design, Life by Design, Inside and Out, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Berry Wonderful

It’s a sunny January afternoon here in Austin, a clear and cool fifty four degrees. My garden is still confused from the warmer days of seventy degrees last week. Roses, narcissus, mums and cyclamen are happily blooming even though most nights the temperature drops down into the thirties.

photo 4

These variable highs and lows in January may damage tender plants but we can always count on a few of our outstanding native trees to thrive this time of year.

When my son was in elementary school he learned his first official latin name for a plant. We have a shrubby native tree here in Central Texas, the Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitoria, that is very hardy and commonly found growing along roadsides, as well as in residential landscapes. All small boys seem to be highly amused by anything that names a bodily function, therefore this “vomit tree” became a very popular subject in second grade.

Native Americans would steep the leaves and bark of the Yaupon and prepare a ceremonial tea. The brew contained a high dose of caffeine and when a large quantity was consumed by the participants they would vomit, hence the name “vomitoria.”  Surprisingly, it was served as a hospitality beverage at colonial tables and enjoyed well into the 20th century, I assume in smaller quantities to avoid stomach distress.

Although the boys were infatuated with the evergreen speciman, I have always appreciated it’s  sister tree the Possumhaw Holly, Ilex decidua. This variety drops it’s leaves in winter revealing copious red berries along the exposed gray branches. The brilliant display of fruit is a vibrant highlight in the winter garden and attracts songbirds searching for a tasty meal.

This is one of my favorite Possumhaw Holly trees growing beside the observation tower at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.


“Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.”  Kahlil Gibran

remember, goodness grows,


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Garden Show Magic


What would you invent if you could create a world and play inside it for a weekend? This magical place would only exist for two days and then disappear completely on Monday, leaving only a fond memory. How much work would you be willing to invest? How much of your heart would you commit to a fantasy that you knew could not last?

Several times each year I am given this opportunity. I participate in garden shows where my imagination can run wild for a weekend. I build whimsical gardens inside of large buildings where there is no sun, no weather and no restriction from site elevation or exposure. There is no client, no predetermined design or theme; it’s just me and my big ideas.

I’ve built everything from the Hobbit’s Shire, to several Fairy Gardens, even Alice In Wonderland’s mad tea party with a topsy turvy flower strewn table. I once built a tribute to a garden I love where the designer created a system of streams and ponds that spell out words and the moon crosses over a bridge. Perhaps my favorite so far was a display I built after a summer of extreme heat and drought, I called “Dreaming of Rain.” We brought in antique furniture and created a “flower bed” with shrubs for lamps and a rain chain recirculating an ever gently falling shower. All of this lasted only for a few days.


“Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.” Henry David Thoreau

But I never create the same thing twice… that would be such a shame. The garden shows are not just about having a great time meeting with hundreds of people and talking about gardening. It’s about taking my imagination out for a spin. It’s about creating something that will only happen once and enjoying how special that is. Over the years we have won many awards and received wonderful accolades but for me, the big prize has been living in the transient beauty of a dream come true. Even if it only lasts for a short time, it is always a good time for me.

remember, goodness grows,


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