CONCORD -- Susan Morrison says that while her garden may be small, it's filled with huge possibilities.
It's a sanctuary and retreat at the end of a long workday for Morrison and her husband, or when she's looking for inspiration during solo time. Surrounding her are a variety of flowers and plants, including "Betty Boop" roses, Rhododendrons, succulents and herbs. In the middle of the garden stands a metal sculpture by artist Chad Glashoff.
"That's my peace lady," said Morrison, a Concord resident. "I like to think she watches over my garden."
As a landscape designer, Morrison has mastered the art of making use of small space to accommodate all sorts of plants using her simple design philosophy: creating unique and sustainable gardens that fit her clients' lifestyles.
Now, she shares her vertical gardening designing tips with co-author and fellow garden designer Rebecca Sweet in "Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces," an Amazon "Best Books of 2011" selection.
The book introduces the concept of vertical gardening as well as gives inspiration to those who want to give new life to their existing -- small or large -- gardens.
Morrison will talk about ways to take advantage of vertical spaces in an easy way using different types of plants and flowers at 6 p.m. May 22, during a presentation at the Gardens at Heather Farm. She will show photos from gardens she has designed and visited that serve as examples
Visitors will also have the chance to visit the Ruth Bancroft Garden where they will create their own succulent bundles to extend their home garden vertically, she said.
In addition to being a landscape designer, Morrison is also a garden writer, Master Gardener and owner of Creative Exteriors Landscape Design in the East Bay of California.
Morrison decided that after years of working in marketing she wanted to immerse herself in a field that nurtured her mind as well as her spirit. So about 10 years ago, she left her marketing career to pursue garden design studies.
"I wanted to find a career that I wanted to still do at 75 and not worry about making the most money I can," said Morrison. "I wanted to do something that was better aligned with my personal values."
She first started to get serious about gardening after she got married and bought her first home.
"Our backyard was completely bare and we really didn't know where to go for inspiration," Morrison said. "One day we drove past this house that had all these beautiful trees in the backyard. My husband boosted me up so I could peek over the fence, and I fell in love with the lush, intimate garden that I saw."
Morrison, who now chronicles her experiences through her Blue Planet Garden blog, spent the next 10 years experimenting with plants, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, she said.
"Despite the instant garden makeovers you see on television, gardening is a journey," Morrison said. "Many of my clients start out with no interest in gardening, but once we begin planning their garden, they get bit by the bug and end up being a lot more involved in the process than they ever anticipated."
Debra Smith said she's impressed with Morrison's vision after she designed Smith's garden recently.
"Our front and backyard look so beautiful," Smith said. "She added vertical touches that make a huge difference. She showed us how to place our arbor to its best advantage, as well as our existing containers into our new design. She also added containers onto our patio with plants and one large tree, that is amazing against the house.
"It is incredible that this is the same home and yard," said Smith. "We had our first barbecue and were so happy and proud of our new garden. Susan is a fantastic designer and we feel like we're on vacation at a resort when we're in our yard."
Lorraine Frey, a Master Gardener and garden designer said she was inspired when she heard Morrison speak at a Master Gardener meeting.
"I love the idea of sustainability and repurposing, and Susan gave my already fertile imagination a whole palette of new ideas," Frey said.
When Morrison started blogging, writing and speaking about gardening and design four years ago, she said she was already part of a vibrant gardening community here in Contra Costa County, but sharing her knowledge and personal gardening stories online has led to friendships with gardeners, designers, horticulturists and writers from all over the country.
"These days my virtual gardening community is just as important to me as my local one," Morrison said. "That's the wonderful thing about gardening -- it can be a solitude meditation one day and a social bond the next."
WHO: Landscape designer Susan Morrison
WHAT: Garden Up! Vertical Gardening Techniques for Small and Large Spaces"
WHEN: 6-8 p.m. May 22
WHERE: The Gardens at Heather Farm, 1540 Marchbanks Drive, Walnut Creek
COST: $30 admission
INFORMATION: Call Ruth Bancroft Garden office for tickets at 925-818-6370