Part of the fun of creating a garden is trying unfamiliar plants, like this silver-leaved horehound (Marrubium rotundifolium) mingling with winecups (the red-purple blooming Callirhoe involucrata, an old favorite) in my new courtyard garden.

Recently we’ve hosted lively discussions here at Garden Rant about spending gobs of money on our gardens, choosing native over non-native plants, and to what extent gardens are art. To me, there is a more personal and pertinent issue at stake with regard to America’s current horticultural practices: how they affect our daily experience of nature.

A garden may be expensive or not, it may qualify as art or not, and it may host plants from all corners of the globe or from within a 5-mile radius of its location; regardless, it is an intersection between person and place. Ideally, it could be not just a community of plants or a series of outdoor living spaces, but a mutually beneficial relationship.

Unfortunately, the emotional and spiritual rewards of gardening are diminished by our reluctance to allow gardens to develop slowly, over time, in response to climatic and geologic factors as well as a gardener’s growing familiarity with his/her land.

Affluent gardeners tend to want results right away. So do their neighbors. Gardeners and garden designers in certain locales may be pressured to have a garden looking fairly settled soon after it is planted (or “installed,” a term that underlines this bias).

We are not tolerant of someone’s newly created garden, tending to judge its current look without exerting ourselves to see their potential landscape as they envision it. But dreaming and anticipating are key parts of the gardening process. For some, they are the most rewarding parts.

Creating a place at a pace limited by one human’s physical abilities can be satisfying and meaningful. Even if the visible results seem miniscule to outsiders, less visible results might include a growing pride, a deepening sense of rootedness, new understanding of local plants/animals/climate/geology.

Like many, I enjoy learning about and growing plants native to my region. Growing native plants can test your patience. Depending on where you live, they may be hard to source. If you are lucky enough to find a grower, the plants may be small and require several years to produce blooms or fruits. If you cannot find a local grower, you may opt to start seeds, which further lengthens the timeline.

One of my most rewarding gardening experiences so far was growing New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) from seed in my Minnesota prairie. Over the years, these asters spread through my garden, producing a delightful variety of flower colors from shell pink to deep purple. Seeing its natural variations, I felt I was getting to know New England aster as a species rather than as one plant. When I think of this aster now, my mind supplies not one image but a diverse array of them.


Seeded New England aster variations in my Minnesota prairie garden.

It takes patience to find the right plants for a site. Sure, a knowledgeable local gardener (or grower or designer) might be able to give you a head start by recommending plants that have a good chance of succeeding in your new garden, but it may still take years of experimenting with different plants and locations, spreading (or letting spread) the successful ones, to arrive at a healthy landscape.

In this culture of instant gratification, where a landscape that does not meet neighborhood standards can invite public reprimands, fines, and even destruction by the authorities, what’s a patient gardener to do? Where’s the fascination in a picture-perfect garden? Where’s the personal growth? Where’s the relationship?