Want to know a secret? I live in Vermont, home of the vibrant red maple and wild daylily, but I confess that I am not satisfied. Oh no. The lilacs and blueberries and peonies are not enough for me. I want it all. I crave camellias, lust after lemon trees, and ache for artichokes. Of course none of these plants grow here, and I do not plant them. My garden is filled with beautiful living things and yet, like most gardeners, I occasionally find myself fantasizing about weather that I do not have, and plants that I cannot grow. But, greedy impulses aside, I have made peace with my location. Over the years I have learned—and often the hard way—to work with, rather than against, my garden's natural climate. And although it's hard to resist temptation when the spring catalogues arrive, experience has taught me that it is wise to practice location- and climate-based discipline. Impulse control may not be my strong suit, but I know there are many rewards for restraint.
The most beautiful gardens I have ever seen all work well with both their climate and natural setting. Fanciful topiary and clipped hedges extend the drama of an English estate, but they would look ridiculously out of place in a Midwestern cornfield. Ornamental grass, with it's sensual form and movement, blurs the boundary between land and sea in a Long Island landscape, but this same design would not be my first choice for a cabin along a forest brook. Raked gravel gardens and asymmetrical bonsai echo the calm discipline of modern architecture, but craggy apple trees and relaxed perennial gardens sit better in rural New England. A garden should suit its setting. One of my favorite garden design books, Page Dickey's Gardens in the Spirit of Place, reflects this important, yet often overlooked landscaping philosophy.
Location-appropriate garden design is always important from an aesthetic standpoint, but there are far more important considerations to gardening in harmony with nature. In drought-challenged climates, lawns and other water-hungry features are both wasteful and environmentally irresponsible. Understanding your local climate and working with the native flora not only leads to attractive and sustainable landscaping, but it is also critically important from a conservation standpoint. Dry gardens filled with cacti and succulents beautify suburban homes in arid climates, and they also use far less water than thirsty lawns planted with non-native grass. Trying to keep struggling, stressed-out plants alive in an inappropriate environment usually results in the overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
As a professional gardener, I care about good design and the environment, and I like to pass along those values to others by practicing what I preach. So, although I may still harbor secret plant-crushes and lust after gardens in far-off lands, I've learned to embrace my cold climate and have taken a bit of Crosby, Stills, and Nash wisdom to heart, "because if you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with."
Do you struggle with your location and climate? Where do you go when you drift off to garden fantasy-land?
Michaela grew up gardening, studying plants, and picking organic produce on the family farm. When she isn't spreading compost or pruning shrubs, she can usually be found writing articles or giving seminars on all things gardening. Michaela has worked as a gardening professional for 15 years and is author of the popular blog, The Gardener’s Eden.