This October Michael and I travelled to Sedona, AZ. and national parks in Arizona and Utah. It was a journey through geology and I found myself wishing I knew more about geology the farther we travelled.
Driving east from the Las Vegas airport, we turned south towards Sedona from the main highway. The terrain began to change dramatically. Cinnamon, ginger, and eggnog-colored rocky cliffs climbed steeply on either side of the road. At road level, we followed a sparkling, verdant creek. The contrast of colors and the sheer, natural beauty of our surroundings were stunning.
Imagine my surprise when we arrived at the spa resort where we were to stay for two nights and saw what could have been the front garden of far too many homes in America. Lawn, boxwood borders, hydrangeas and other familiar garden plants surrounded the spa. It was so out of character to the area! It was almost as though there was an abrasive line where their garden ended and the natural environment started. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Why didn’t they just work with what they have?” Our local excursions presented an amazing array of native plants. Manzanita’s deep crimson bark and pale gray-green leaves combined with brassy yellow flowers of surrounding groundcovers were gorgeous. Prickly, paddle-shaped cacti were abundant. Blue-gray leaves of Agaves against rusty-nail colored soil took my breath away.
Seeing the genius loci of a site isn’t difficult. It’s usually rather obvious. So why is it ignored all too often? We owe it to ourselves to pay attention to this critical clue to the design of a garden. It doesn’t mean plants need to be entirely native, but it does mean respecting available resources and character of place.