A garden that's just right for you

To create your ideal garden, start by deciding why you garden and what appeals to you about the natural world.

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Inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, Greece (home of the Oracle) is the cautionary proverb, "Know Thyself." It's good gardening advice, as well.

Have you ever visited a garden that just seemed to resonate with you, where the atmosphere of the garden appeared to total more than the sum of its parts? You can produce that kind of magical quality in your own garden, too, but it doesn't happen by accident. It starts with looking inside yourself and understanding who you are with respect to the natural world and how you approach the gardening process.

Know why you garden

For example, someone who views the garden from a decorator's outlook may see plants and flowers as interchangeable, disposable, masses of color, textures, patterns, and vertical accents, or possibly, the essentials of a cutting garden to produce flowers for indoors..

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Environmentalists will be concerned about using gardening methods that require less water, fewer synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, will want to introduce or preserve native plants, and will work on restoring the ecosystems where they live.

A photographer may be most interested in growing picture-perfect flowers, specimen plants, or in staging vignettes of ornaments, plants, furniture, and hardscape.

Gardeners generally think that they simply enjoy being outdoors and involved with plants, but typically there are a number of other reasons, conscious and subconscious, behind the impulse to garden. One of them originates in our earliest years.

Tap into your childhood memories

Our model of what a garden should be often goes back to childhood. Grandma’s rose garden and Dad’s vegetable garden might have been design or horticultural nightmares, but that’s not what's important. It's our experience of the garden that matters -- how being in those gardens made us feel. If you'd like to build a powerful bond with your garden, start by taking some time to recall the gardens of your youth:

  • What jumps out at you? Is it a person, a particular flower, certain colors, the smell of summer rain on a brick walkway?
  • Did you value the closeness of working or playing in the garden with someone else?
  • Or did you prefer the solitude of a secret hideout in the midst of the shrubs?

For each of those gardens, write down the strongest memory you have for each of the five senses and a phrase that represents the essence, feel, or atmospherics of that garden.

Then go outside and devise a plan to integrate these sensual and emotional memories into your grown-up garden. Have fun.

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Lois de Vries, a popular speaker at regional flower shows and garden clubs, writes from her home in rural northwestern New Jersey. To read her other posts at Diggin' It, click here. She's a field editor for Better Homes and Gardens and Country Gardens magazines and has been a contributing editor for other national publications. She was awarded the Jefferson Presidential Award for public service in environmental work. Click here and here to read about her garden design and environmental ideas and her holistic approach to gardening.You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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