After garden coach Anne Calta took climbing lessons, she put on a harness, anchored ropes to the frame of her truck, and lowered herself down a treacherous slope to install plants in garden beds for a client. She, rightly, calls this “extreme gardening.”

While my garden doesn’t offer quite that big of a challenge, Anne’s extreme gardening lessons certainly apply — and maybe they can in your garden too.

Topping Anne’s list of challenges High County gardeners confront is the wind. Not only can strong and persistent winds topple and deform trees, they also dehydrate plants. During the winter months, the frozen ground traps moisture, leaving plants particularly venerable to dehydration.

Deciduous plants will hibernate, absorbing moisture more slowly, whereas evergreen trees and shrubs are actively growing year-round. Anne won’t plant evergreens after Labor Day as she feels they need more time to establish their roots before the harsh weather arrives.

Our local geology presents us with additional gardening challenges. High Country topsoil varies from a few feet to just a couple of inches — you never know what’s right below your plants. Anne reminds me that underlying rocks can slow or stop drainage so it’s worth the extra effort to dig the planting areas deeply, then backfill with soil to raise the plants just a bit above surface level.

In June and July we endured extraordinarily hot and wet conditions. Seeing the upside, Anne said, “This year was awesome for identifying weaknesses in our landscapes. If you have a drainage problem, this is the year you discovered it. With the wind, rocks and drainage we face here, you have to stop and really pay attention to your space.”

Paying attention means being patient. Anne watches many homeowners plant the garden of their dreams — but too often that dream has little connection to the reality of their site.

Building a garden that plays to the strengths of a property rather than fighting against the realities of wind, rocks and water is the reason Anne describes herself as a “garden coach.” She enjoys working alongside her clients to realize the potential of their site and build a resilient garden.

Many of Anne’s clients garden on sloping terrain. “Building on or into a hillside creates lots of shadows and microclimates that level gardens never offer,” says Anne. “You have to really watch where the sun falls throughout the year. Trees grow and create shade, rocks hold heat and create warm spots for more tender plants, water moves fast, it dries out high ground and floods lower spots.”

Over the course of our conversation Anne kept stressing the importance of patience — something that often alludes me. A garden is never done, it’s an ongoing dance with nature to discover what works in your location. Nature can teach us patience if we are able to hear her message.

“It takes time for moss to cover a stone wall or for a specimen tree to develop and be really beautiful. Be patient. A garden gives us a way to see time,” Anne said.

I love the way she put that, “A garden gives us a way to see time”. When I slow down enough to absorb my garden, I notice how things changed from last year to this — I’m transported, reflecting on our life. Seeing time, indeed.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email

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