Creating Resilient Gardens

Create a long-lasting garden using plants adapted to various weather conditions.

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Whether you live in the frigid north or the sultry south, gardeners have to deal with the elements, but there is a way to do it hassle-free. Author and landscape designer Lauren Springer-Ogden knows all about extreme-weather gardening and how to find plants that can flourish in even the toughest conditions.

"Obviously we have no control over the weather, but as gardeners we do have control over what we plant in our gardens," says Springer-Ogden. Whether it's the wind, rain or sun, it's best to pick plants that can handle your climate, but that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice beauty. Some of the most durable plants add color and texture to your landscape, and you won't have to spend all of your spare time taking care of them.

Figure A

One such plant is coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), a native plant to North America. "It's about the most weather-resistant plant you're ever going to find, grows in sun and shade, grows all the way up into New England, all the way down to the deep South and anywhere in between."

Figure B

Although some people may not appreciate gusty winds, there are plants that love to dance. "Ornamental grasses are great plants for windy sites. Not only do they tolerate the wind and their leaves don't get all ripped up, but they are very beautiful when the wind shakes through their leaves and flowers." One particular ornamental grass, blue avena grass (also called blue oat grass, Helictotrichon sempervirens), is both wind- and cold-tolerant.

Figure C

Catmint, or Nepeta 'Walker's Low', does very well in dry, hot conditions with very little water.

To create a colorful scene, pair the purple blossoms of this catmint with the bright yellow flowers of the Moonshine yarrow (Achillea x 'Moonshine').

Figure E

If you live in a wet and rainy climate, yellow-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium californicum), which is native to South America, is a perfect selection because it practically has webbed feet. Well-known for its beautiful yellow flowers, yellow-eyed grass can stand very wet soils for a long period of time and then dry out completely.

Figure F

Blue-eyed grass (includes several species, such as Sisyrinchium bellum and S. angustifolium) is equally rain-resilient. Both are easy to grow and effortless to maintain.

Figure G

Unfortunately, bad weather does happen to good plants, and the results can be ugly. This hosta has been shredded by hail, but it could've been a lot worse if it hadn't been planted under a tree. Luckily the tree above the hosta broke the power of the hail, and there are actually some leaves left.

Figure H

When it comes to establishing a weather-resilient garden, it's not just about defensive gardening, it's about understanding the microclimates around your house. Just like hot real estate, gardening is all about location. There are at least three and as many as eight different microclimates in your garden. Where you plant is as important as what you plant. Along the south side of this house is a hot and dry microclimate. All day long these plants bake in the sun, so it's important to select plants that can take hot and dry conditions for this particular microclimate.

Along an east-facing side of the same house is a completely different microclimate featuring shady and moist conditions. Lungwort (Pulmonaria), bleeding heart (Dicentra) and monk's hood (Aconitum) are three plants that would thrive in this garden because they love the shade and the moist soil. If a sun-loving plant was chosen for this situation, it probably wouldn't work out very well at all. After about two or three years, it would get smaller and smaller, then probably die.

Plants that are adapted to their climate and microclimate will flourish. This means you won't have to spend all your time rescuing and protecting them from nature's elements. Whether you live in the dry Southwest or the moist Northwest, it's all about picking the right plant for your climate.

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