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Designing with plants and without

Keeping up with the Joneses might apply to maintaining a home and lifestyle, but in maintaining a garden, it's keeping up with Mother Nature that's the greatest challenge.

If she could tell us her secrets, everyone would be an expert gardener, but Mother Nature isn't talking, not in words anyway. It's been a long study to learn how to grow and care for plants on her Earth, a seemingly endless pursuit, but that's what so many of us are doing as a favorite leisure activity. Collectively, we've learned a lot, but individually, it's still a matter of figuring out what to do in our own gardens.

Don't tell Mother Nature, but despite the wealth of knowledge we've accumulated, some landscapes are skimping on plants or forgoing them altogether. As devoted as most of us are to nurturing flowers and foliage, there's a flip side to gardening that, surprisingly to plant fanatics, doesn't begin with cultivating the soil. If fact, in some cases, it doesn't even end with cultivating the soil. Some garden designers concentrate on form and structural features in a landscape while dirt gardeners, for want of a better term, are just nuts about growing plants. Yet no matter how we relate to the earth or interpret nature, we can always find some degree of artful expression in any garden or landscape.

Summer inspiration

This summer the Garden Conservancy, a national nonprofit that aims to preserve exceptional gardens for the public's enjoyment, is partnering with Cornerstone Festival of Gardens on Arnold Drive in the Sonoma Valley to bring together amateur and professional gardeners to talk about innovations in the world of gardens.

Considering that Cornerstone was created to celebrate the connection between art, architecture and nature, the upcoming summer lecture series should be a wellspring of ideas and inspiration for every style of gardening.

The special summer series complements the ongoing garden exhibits at Cornerstone, which are often surprising and unusual but are always creative visions of landscape as art. Although designers are given free rein to depart from traditional gardens and even enter the realm of conceptualized landscapes, not all take that direction. The same colors, shapes, and sheer beauty of plants that we expect in gardens are there, too.

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