Want to re-create a flower garden you saw in a photo? Location matters.

When you see a photo of a beautiful flower garden in a magazine, it's important to know where it's located. If it's in a climate different from yours, it may be difficult to re-create, because the plants probably bloom at different times.

Courtesy of Donna Williamson
This combination of plants wouldn't be the same in England, because the plants would bloom at different times, but it works perfectly for a gardener in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. (See the full photo below, left.)
Courtesy of Donna Williamson
When various bulbs, perennials, and shrubs bloom depends on your climate. And that makes a big difference when a gardener is trying to combine them into a flower garden or border.

This week I was looking over some high-quality, not-too-out-of-date gardening magazines a friend had cleared from her library.

I learned a lot. There were some illuminating articles by garden royalty such as Christopher Lloyd, Wayne Winterowd, Joe Eck, Nancy Ondra, Cole Burrell, Valerie Easton, Michael Dirr, and others.

The photos were amazing. It is always helpful when a learning gardener can see the differences among similar plants – sometimes distinct only in the mind, such as the difference between Jolly Bee and Rozanne geraniums.

What was especially interesting was an article where plants were shown in different surroundings and with different companions. That’s where it got sticky.

Beautiful and colorful tableaux of midsummer bloomers with cool-season bloomers and then with late-summer asters made it clearer to me why beginning gardeners have so much trouble when they change locations.

Perennials that may bloom together in England and Maine bloom sequentially here in Virginia. We have a long daffodil season followed by a long peony season, then a daylily season followed by blah, blah. blah.

When a new gardener tries to combine plants as shown so beautifully in magazines and books from the great North, they have to struggle with our high day- and night-time temperatures, winter wet, and lack of regular summer rainfall.

Besides those considerations, we don’t get that maximum sunlight, longest day that is common in the North. In midsummer it's dark about 9 p.m. Fireworks in Rochester, N.Y., don’t even start until 10 p.m..

So when you see those gorgeous photos – we call them garden porn – first, sigh, and then go about your business where you live. Beautiful and stylish gardens are possible everywhere -- if you remember the nature of your location.


Donna Williamson blogs regularly at Diggin' It. She's a master gardener, garden designer, and garden coach. She has taught gardening and design classes at the State Arboretum of Virginia, Oatlands in Leesburg, and Shenandoah University. She’s also the founder and editor of Grandiflora Mid-Atlantic Gardening magazine, and the author of “The Virginia Gardener’s Companion: An Insider’s Guide to Low Maintenance Gardening in Virginia.” She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. To read more by Donna, click here.

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