Plant Anywhere in the Yard

Get some gardening meditations and practical advice specifically meant for gardeners in the middle-tier states.

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By Susan Banks, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Do you like gardeners with backbone and a funny bone? People who aren't afraid to have an opinion, even if they ruffle a few feathers?

Then meet Lauren Springer, horticulturist, author and photographer.

Springer has gardened all over the world in many climates and conditions. But it wasn't until she settled in Colorado that she made waves on the national horticulture scene.

While making a garden for herself there, she discovered there were no textbooks for those struggling to overcome the climate problems of that region. So Springer did what any self-respecting horticulturist would do: She wrote one.

The Undaunted Garden: Planting for Weather-Resilient Beauty was first published in 1988 and is filled with gardening meditations and practical advice specifically meant for gardeners in the middle-tier states. But people all over the country bought the book and are still buying it. It has never gone out of print, and is now available in paperback.

The Undaunted Garden put Springer firmly on the horticultural landscape, but it also won her legions of devotees and garnered many awards, not the least of which was being named one of the 75 best American gardening books of the past century by the American Horticultural Society.

Now, years later, Springer still has much to share. She wrote another book in 2000, Passionate Gardening: Good Advice, Challenging Climates, with co-author Rob Proctor.

If there is a plot of soil that she owns, she's going to plant it, no matter how forbidding. In Undaunted Gardener she espoused planting the barren areas between the sidewalk and the street, places she dubs "hell strips."

Of course, to successfully garden that area, you have to choose plants that can thrive on neglect and lack of water. Springer used buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides), blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis), prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.) and various bulbs for spring color. The experiment was a success, underlining the fact that choosing proper plants for any space is the key to success no matter where you garden.

Plant choices aside, it's also important, believes Springer, to create a landscape that melds with surrounding landscapes, but also reflects the personality of the creator. The key, says Springer, is deciding what you want to achieve before you break ground.

"It's about trying to understand what really turns you on," she says. "Is it wild places? Places that you used to hang out when you were a kid? What gardens did you see that really stuck with you? It needs to be a little deeper than finding a picture and trying to emulate it right down to the exact rose on the white trellis."

These days, Springer says, people are loosening up in the garden. "I think people are probably getting more individualistic. They are starting to use personal art. They are starting to get more expressive and more self-expressive."

Fun is what you should have in a garden, says Springer.

"Gardening brings me more joy than anything. It makes me feel alive and connected. It's the only time when I'm ever in the moment. I never feel like I'm on top of my life when I'm in the garden. All that stuff goes away, and I'm not thinking about tomorrow."

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