It took awhile, but our area did finally get cold enough for the ground to freeze hard. For now, there's not a lot to do outside. But it's the perfect season to sit on the couch (under a blanket, in a sweater) and fantasize about how this year, my garden is going to be more beautiful and more interesting than it ever has been before. I'm going to try to wean myself from the delicate, fragile, and fussy plants I tend to like, and to embrace the big, bold, muscle-y plants that I admire so much in other people's gardens.

Because what my garden is missing is the structure provided by architectural plants. I've been looking at a lot of pictures of European gardens, and I've been struck by the exuberance with which they embrace the oversized. Upon closer inspection, many of these steroidal plants are native to America, not Europe, and they look fantastic among the clipped boxwood parterres and raked gravel of English and French gardens.

On my side of the pond, I've been overlooking the plants that want to grow here, which in my narrow-mindedness somehow seem too common and coarse to be interesting, in favor of European roses and Mediterranean shrubs that need to be coaxed into tolerating the living conditions of my Philadelphia garden. So this year I'm determined to take a stab at native plants. I know- I'm at least ten years behind the curve on this. And I'm not altruistically considering the main reasons to use native plants; they're much more beneficial to wildlife and they use fewer resources. I just want my garden to look more English.

I asked native plant specialist and gardener extraordinaire Peggy Anne Montgomery, who works for American Beauties Native Plants, to share some of her favorite underused natives with me. In my next post, I'll give you the short list of the plants she suggests for a bold and beautiful garden, that will be testing my design chutzpah in just a few short months.