Let’s talk about creativity.

Do you know somebody who defines him/herself as a non-creative person? Maybe you do this yourself? I am sure that there are many, many, many of them out there.

My partner is one of them and every time we have a conversation about creativity and I try to explain that it can be trained like a muscle, he replies:

“Oh Carlo, this won’t work with me because




and I am not just made like you”.

Then I wonder if I am going to go blind from rolling my eyes so much.


Dramatization of my reaction: no partners were harmed in the making of this article

As a Designer I have to make amends: who works in this field likes to keep the creative process secret, showing only the final result. Many colleagues like to surround themselves with a ‘legendary’ aura, letting others think that they are special and gifted like the X Men.

At the opposite I think that people need to know that we don’t have X Men abilities and everybody can do what we do. It only needs practice, a lot (and that’s why we get paid!). Ready to start the journey?

First of all I’ll show you what I call the equation of creativity:

Creativity =  R + K


R = the Relationships we are able to create amongst the things we know

K = our Knowledge, what we know

According to this equation, the more we know and the more we are able to connect the things we know, the more we can be creative.

Let’s take for example the glass and the chewing gum: we could combine them creating a chewing gum that once is chewed can be used to fix a broken glass. Then it vitrifies reacting with the air (are you taking notes James Bond?).

As a consequence of the equation, we can improve our creativity increasing our knowledge. This is the easy part because it’s just a matter of reading, studying and watching more stuff.

But how can we increase the ability to connect the things that we know so that we re-configure them in a creative way? What stops us from being creative?

Hint: your own prejudices.

We are programmed for saving energy: the mind prefers to follow the same paths and the same rules: coming back to the example of the glass, because it has always been fragile, it has to be fragile and it will be fragile for ever. No doubts.

Creativity is a mindset: it’s questioning about rules and habits. It’s a matter of destroying the prejudices we have and think that anything is possible. Creativity is to have fun looking at the world with curiosity, learning that we can change the rules that somebody else made for us.

The sooner you set your mind free, the sooner you’ll become able to configure and re-configure the things you know, creating new ways to use them, new shapes and new meanings. How amazing is that?

When you get to this stage it feels like you’re Tom Cruise in Minority Report, making order in the millions of intuitions and ideas that constantly pop up in your mind.


This is how I feel most of the time even if I dont’ wear gloves.
Minority Report is a 20th Century Fox Copyright


‘Ok Carlo, got it. It’s all very cool. But in practice what should I do to bring creativity in my garden?’

Simple. Follow this rules of re-configuration.




Take an element of your project and increase the quantity: done!

It’s for example what Claude Cormier did in his Blue Sticks Garden presented at the Metis International Garden Festival in 2000. He used hundreds of painted sticks as if they were stylized flowers. As you can see the final effect is absolutely surprising.


Claude Cormier, The Blue Sticks Garden
via http://www.claudecormier.com/en/projet/jardin-de-batons-bleus/


You don’t need to go abstract. Look at the signature of Piet Oudolf’s gardens: large masses of feature flowers.


Wisley Garden in Surrey, England, by Piet Oudolf, via Pinterest


Multiplication is the easiest form of creativity: one of my first jobs was a small balcony where I used 60 Ikea watering cans as pots.


One of my first jobs! Photo Matteo Carassale



Let’s say for example that you want to design a hedge but you are sick and tired of using Buxus which would be the most common choice. Andrea Cochran, landscape Architect based in San Francisco, chose the Horsetail instead of the Buxus giving to a hedge a new and fresh look (yes, I know that here in Australia the Horsetail is forbidden…).


Andrea Cochran, Brockvale Residence
via http://acochran.com/brookvale-residence/


Bernard Lassus is a non conventional French landscape Architect. When a Company asked him to design an urban oasis for its headquarters, instead of using vegetation, water and stones he employed multicoloured layered lasercut screens that mimic the real elements.

Bernard Lassus, The hanging garden of Colas
via http://www.studiointernational.com/index.php/the-hanging-gardens-of-colas-bernard-lassus


I had the chance to meet Martha Schwartz  in Milan years ago and she’s fun. Very fun. Her projects reflect her irony, so when it came to design the rooftop of the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, USA, she worked with fake plants, plastic turf and coloured gravel creating what has been known as the Splice Garden.

Martha Schwartz, the Splice Garden
via http://www.marthaschwartz.com/whitehead-institute-splice-garden-cambridge-ma-usa/


As you can see, you can apply more than one rule at the same time: for example the Blue Sticks Garden is based on multiplication and change of material.




This is probably the simplest expression of creativity that has been widely used for example by Magritte in many of his paintings: one of his most famous, L’Empire des lumières, shows simoultaneously day and night.


L’Empire des Lumières, René Magritte 1950


Coming back to Garden and Design, probably the most known project that uses this form of creativity is the House on the waterfall designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, where static geometrical shapes are perceived together with organic and dynamic shapes like the water.


Fallingwater or Kaufmann Residence is a house designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935


Another example of equilibrium between two opposites could be the use of pyramids made by Jacques Wirtz in his Cogelspark, realized in Antwerpen in 1972: in this case a geometrical shapes that suggests rational thoughts is counterposed to a natural vegetation.


Jacques Wirtz in his Cogelspark. Photo Credit: Pol Ghekiere


The juxtaposition between natural and artificial has been played many times in Garden Design, and Topotek 1, a Landscape Architecture based in Berlin, made its signature out of this aspect.


One of the fun courtyards at the Gas Networks Ireland Services Centre out on Dublin’s edge, in Finglas,
designed by Topotek 1 and Denis Byrne Architects. Photo credit: Studio Hans Joosten




Aquatic plants in a pond feel right, but if they are placed in a bathtub and the whole bathroom looks like a garden we’ll probably look at the scene with astonishment. It’s what Tim Walker, a British fashion photographer that masters the art of creating dreaming pictures, did. He often uses the change of place in his pictures for creating a sense of wonder, surprise and unexpected.


Photo credit: Tim Walker


Topotek 1 in their famous project Superkilen, a park in Copenaghen designed in collaboration with BIG Architects and Superflex used the same ‘trick’, bringing objects that are normal in other countries like the silhouette of a bull (Spain), the sign of a donut (USA), or a giant slide shaped as an octopus very popular in the Japanese playgrounds.


Superkilen: the fun park designed by Topotek 1


In a simpler way, we use the change of place anytime we plant something that doesn’t belong to our environment: Japanese maples to evoque an Asian atmosphere, palms for a tropical mood etc.


The Japanese garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in Brooklyn, New York


And what about big pieces of a puzzle floating in a pond like in this garden-installation made for the Festival des Jardins at Chaumont sur Loire?


Temporary garden designed for the Festival of Chaumont sur Loire. Photo credit: Biosphoto/Superstock


I’ve used the change of place in one of my projects, borrowing the patter of the famous Copacabana beach boardwalk at Rio de Janeiro, designed by Roberto Burle Marx. I used it for the paving of a terrace I designed in Milan because I wanted to give an International touch to this project.


In this terrace I used a pattern inspired by the famous Copacabana beach boardwalk. Photo credit: Kiara Giannoni



Changing the scale of an element of our project is an easy way to give a quirky twist to our design.

The simplest way is using sculptures of objects that are bigger than they should be, like the magnificent sculptures inspired by the tarots made by Niki de Saint Phalle for her famous Tarot Garden in Capalbio.


The Tarot Garden designed by Niki de Saint Phalle. Photo credit: www.turismo.intoscana.it


Plants also can be sculpted getting the same just shown above.


Model Kirsty Hume wears Oscar de la Renta in England while gazing at a large topiary




This is one of my favourites because it allows you to introduce irony in your project, and I love it.

The change of function happens anytime something is used with a different meaning than what is intended.

For example I made an installation for the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show out of a bunch of ropes that became a sort of twisted cage.


The rhope pavilion by Carlo Gabriele and Gardenridge. Photo: Eddie Jim


The wagon wheel fence is sited in Uniontown, Washington, Palouse Country. It’s a fencing made out of hundreds of old and rusty wheel welded together. As you can see, the final result is absolutely striking.


An amazing fencing made with old wheels


The Festival des Jardins at Chaumont sur Loire is always an incredible source of creativity: in 2007 Christine O’Loughlin, Catherine Villefranque and Michel Euvé realized a striking installation using branches painted in bleu to create a surreal procession across a garden.


The ‘procession’ of blue sticks at the Festival of Chaumont sur Loire




This is, in my opinion, the hardest rule to master because your design eye has to be particularly sharp and trained. It’s not easy indeed to make appear an element of your project lighter or with no weight.

It’s what happens for example to the elements of this composition, “Cheveux d’ange” designed by the Architect Christophe Marchalot and Félicia Fortuna. The objects that are part of this installation look like they are floating on the surface of a deep pond. They have no weight and the physical laws seem to not to exist in this space.


Floating objects created by Christophe Marchalot and Félicia Fortuna


In 2015 Nathan Burkett, Australian Landscape Designer based in Melbourne, won the Gold Medal at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show with a beautiful contemporary garden. He designed a pergola that looked like it was floating in the air.


The floating pergola designed by Nathan Burket for the Melbourne Flower and Garden Show in 2015


As you can see, you can apply more than one rule at the same time: for example the Blue Sticks Garden is based on multiplication and change of material, the wheel fencing on change of function and multiplication etc.

The more you can use the rules together, the more interesting the result is.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the article, and now I need you to take action and leave a comment below letting me know your thoughts.

Do you know other rules of creativity? Drop me a line in the comment section below!