7 Ways to Find Your Garden’s Voice

By Susan Tweit, Houzz

When I give talks on designing with natives, I remember the words of Lady Bird Johnson, former First Lady of the U.S. and founder of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas: “Wherever I go in America, I like it when the land speaks its own language in its own regional accent.” The “language” she was referring to is the look and feel that native plants give; the particular colors, shapes, patterns, scents and sense of place created by these rooted beings and the communities they have evolved in over millennia.

When we bring species native to our regions back into our yards and landscapes, we design gardens that return the regional accent. Here are some tips for creating landscapes that incorporate native plants in pleasing and sustainable ways.

Rikki Snyder, original photo on Houzz

1. Understand what “native” means for your landscape. A “native” plant is generally considered to be one that has evolved in a particular region or place, developing a network of relationships over millennia with the other living things there, from microbes in the soil to pollinators and grazers and, of course, other plants. In short, it is a long-term member of the community of that place and region.

The point of bringing native plants back to our local landscapes is to return the community of nature to our daily lives, and to heal the ecosystems of our parts of this earth. It’s about restoring relationships between plants and each other, and between plants and other kinds of living things. It’s about reweaving community. So “native” in this sense means local.

The trees in this New England garden, with their glorious scarlet leaves, would not be appropriate natives to add to my yard in northwest Wyoming, for instance. Yes, they are native to the North American continent. But the relationships that sustain these stunning trees are with species of the forests of the well-watered and comparatively lush Northeast, not the arid and high-elevation sagebrush country of the West.

Susan J Tweit, original photo on Houzz

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