Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gardening Limitation #8: Environment

While perusing many beautiful garden blogs & articles, I began to contemplate what would be required to transform my garden into one of these amazing showcases.  And this led, naturally, to my determining what obstacles stood between me and my vision.

This was followed by the creation of my Eight Gardening Limitations which I hope to share with everyone over several postings.  They will be listed backwards from the one having the least impact on my personal gardening plans to the one having the greatest (8 = least limiting, 1= most limiting).

Gardening Limitation #8: Environment

 Every gardener feels their situation is unique and demanding:
Texas: "Sure, you northerners also have shade, but I have hot summer nights, high humidity & drought - at least your ferns and hostas get cool nights and regular rainfall."
Oregon: "Yeah, but we have slugs the size of chipmunks plus moles and voles and even chipmunks the size of slugs. Not to mention blizzards and six month long winters. And did I mention the slugs?"

But chances are good that if you visit any nearby wild area, you'll see that nature has no problem with the environment.  The issue is that our gardening desire often conflicts with our environment :

Customer: "All I want is an evergreen shrub, four foot tall & wide with variegated foliage, that is relatively drought tolerant, stands our heat and will grow in the shade."
Nursery: "Hey - we can do that!"
Customer: "And I want it to bloom from March through October"
Nursery: "Oh...well...hmmm..."

Though some native or adapted plants may find their way into the garden, others may not be particularly pleasing to us (Poison Ivy is actually quite nice looking, has vivid winter coloration and grows quite well in my environment, but I'm thinking I'll be removing it from my garden).  Maybe these plants lack that special something that makes them stand out - unique foliage or vibrant long-lasting blooms.  Or perhaps they are too well adapted, growing with wild abandon and taking over the garden space.  Though gardeners like natural & full, we also like tidy and structured.

And we also often tend to push the edges of what is appropriate for our environment.
Spring: "Hmmm. The plant data says it will do fine up to Gardening Zone 10. I'm in 8b - that's pretty close. I mean, really, when was the last time we got down to 20 degree around here?"
Winter: "Dear, the house is quite cold, so I turned up the heat. And look out the window! Is that snow? Isn't it wonderful? But why are your pretty succulents changing from green to black? And they appear to be...melting. Dear, are you crying?"

Of course, short of moving, we cannot make changes to the major aspects of our environment.  The garden plans will have to adapt to the seasonal temperatures & rainfall patterns.  One can, however, make small changes to the local micro-environment.  A gardener can install watering systems to augment limited rainfall, introduce mineral supplements to compensate for soil deficiencies, or even thin or remove trees to increase sunshine.

Obviously the environment places limitations (AKA "reality") on our gardening vision.  I won't be growing cacti in my deep shade areas, nor will I have much success raising moisture-loving plants in my dry, limestone-enriched soils.

And some may even argue that the environment does limit our garden from being spectacular.  But, I have seen pictures of incredible gardens in almost every imaginable environment.  There are blogs & magazines showing beautiful desert gardens, colorful pinewood shade gardens, luxurious tropical jungle gardens and breathtaking high mountain garden meadows.  So I know they can exist.

Though the environment may limit our plant selections, and we may have to adapt to it's demands, it actually plays only a very minor role in preventing a gardener from realizing their grand vision.  Thus it is the least of the eight limitations.

(Next up: Gardening Limitation #7: Proximity)


  1. Thoughtful musings on the limitations of environment, R. I think you are right that it's usually our own vision that's lacking or stuck on an inappropriate style when we bemoan the conditions of our personal patches of earth. And I'm as guilty of that as anyone!

  2. Too true Ronnie-I didn't really have a vision of what I wanted here. Somehow the limitations dictated what I could or couldn't grow. I have been thinking that a bit of shade wouldn't go amiss. After we were at Robin's I longed to be able to grow some of her gorgeous shade plants. It sometimes amazes me the things that are growing outside my walls. When I go out there to plant something I always give up as even a pick axe won't get me a hole big enough to plant even a 4" pot. I'll let nature do her thing and she does it quite well.

  3. I tried to plant proteas in our garden. They grow on the mountain (1,000m up). Was told it gets too hot in town. Summer by summer I have lost them all. Will be replanning that bed once I see what this coming summer leaves me.

  4. Elephant: I tend to always try to push the edge too. Lately been leaning towards plants that can take the heat and dryness, but not necessarily the cold. We have so many hot, dry days here but so few truly cold days that I'm hoping I'll be able to protect them. Time will tell.

  5. Well said, Ronnie. The environment is a major factor in the success and style of our garden. Fortunately for me, I had no vision to start with, so I just went with plants that were adapted to the environment and voila! I had a garden.

  6. Meredith: My problem is that I always seem to want a plant that I can't have (or, at least, it certainly won't do well if I do have it).