Sue Langley

A garden philosophy for the foothills

By Sue Langley

Terracotta lady filled with succulents casts a peaceful mood upon the garden.
Terracotta lady filled with succulents casts a peaceful mood upon the garden. Submitted Photo

After 15 years in the California foothills, I have let go of a lot of ideas that formed in my mind about the activity of gardening here, as opposed to where I lived formerly in the suburbs of Southern California. Those ideas have been replaced with a ‘garden philosophy’ that embraces the natural beauty, the additional wildlife and the ‘borrowed’ mountain views which form the background of my space here. Working with Mother Nature, so close to us here, has shattered any ideas that I had about the style of garden I considered mine.

“I have found, through the years of practice, that people garden in order to make something grow; to interact with nature; to share, to find sanctuary, to heal, to honor the earth, to leave a mark. Through gardening, we feel whole as we make our personal work of art upon our land.”

- Julie Moir Messervy, The Inward Garden

Start small. You don’t need to drastically overhaul your garden all at once. Just go a few hours without predetermined goals in mind. Give yourself the freedom to follow your passion for an hour or so.

Grow. As you get better at this, start learning more about the plants you love. See what other plants do well in your area. Eventually you’ll feel confident enough to ‘branch out’ and plant something new. One new gardener likes to buy perennials that she’s never seen bloom. Then it’s a surprise and joy to see them do so.

It’s in the doing. Garden because you love it, and have no idea where the journey will take you. This is the reason to go out in the garden with no plan in mind. Put on your gardening jeans, stick your clippers in a back pocket and out you go. Tasks will come to you and you’ll do them naturally, and always because you’re enjoying yourself! This is called puttering, and is a gardener’s joy.

Let go of plans. Plans are not really necessary to have a great garden. Many, many gardeners start their gardens this way. They look at the plants at the nursery and plant what they like. You just begin.

Sometimes it’s incredibly difficult to let go of living with plans, but for instance, take note of where you already walk in the garden now. Where do you naturally want to go in the garden? That’s where to plan a pathway in the garden. This, in turn, may determine the shape of a planting bed.

Don’t worry about mistakes. It’s OK. There are no mistakes on this journey - it’s just a learning experience. Most gardeners, including me, have killed a lot of plants. There’s no failure if you have no set goals!

It’s all good. No matter what garden you create, no matter where you end up, it’s beautiful. Your garden is all so personal, different, and belongs to you only. No judgments, just enjoyment!

For more garden ideas, see, and for questions email Sue Langley at