How Does Your Garden Grow?

Monday June 18, 2012 | Filed under: Community

Simply put, I love this time of year, when the days are long, the air is sweet and there’s no place I’d rather be than puttering in my garden.

I chose my house in Princeton, N.J., which is set on little more than an acre, knowing the grounds would need a lot of work. In a word, it was a dump. Luckily, I enjoy a good challenge – and found a terrific advisor in a local landscaper named Polly Burlingham. By tackling a different part of the yard each spring, and working within a reasonable budget, we’ve achieved a kind of garden nirvana.

Like a lot of you, Polly runs a small business. Over the years, Polly’s Green Gardens has designed numerous intimate garden spaces and seasonal container gardens, including the urns at Drumthwacket, the N.J. governor’s mansion, and the hanging baskets lining Nassau Street in downtown Princeton. I knew I’d love working with her the minute I found out she’s also from Indiana and, like me, adores that state’s flower – the peony.

Every year, when there’s still a nip in the air, we walk the yard, plan – and dream. Knowing I’ll soon see pink peonies and splashes of my favorite color, purple, makes those chilly rainy days pass in a flash.

From the start, Polly convinced me of the importance of also incorporating deer-resistant, drought-tolerant native plants and shrubs into as natural-looking a setting as possible. With native plants (largely resistant to pests and diseases and requiring little or no irrigation or fertilizer), you help maintain a natural ecology, which is good for all of us. Plus, they attract wonderful songbirds and butterflies – and remind me of home.

Since I have a lot of shade and a number of mature trees, it’s been a real trick to introduce color. But over the last eight years, Polly’s done a great job blending together ornamental grasses and green-on-green hostas and hellebores with blooming perennial borders.

As you can see from the photos, the overall effect is one of peace and serenity, versus showy formality. Instead of high drama, I prefer elegant touches like my beloved osage-orange arbor.

Whether you like growing prize tomatoes or purple hydrangeas, I hope it’s a good year for your garden. The Farmers' Almanac is predicting unseasonably hot and dry weather for those of us out East, but I’m hopeful I’ll still be enjoying my backyard oasis come September.

Let me know your greatest gardening challenge – and how you overcame it – by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.