You are currently viewing One-on-One with Sarah Geiger-Behm

One-on-One with Sarah Geiger-Behm

Q: Why did you want to join Wimberg Landscaping?
A: I visited the pollinator garden at Wimberg Landscaping’s office in August and I was blown away by it. I can’t think of a better example of naturalistic garden design in the Cincinnati area. It says a lot to me that a landscaping company chose to put in this kind of garden. I knew immediately that I wanted to learn more about Wimberg and the kinds of projects they do.

Q: What was your first gardening experience like?
A: On a whim, I took a summer job at Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum the summer after I graduated high school. I was string trimming 40 hours a week and it was the hardest work I had ever done. It was hot and unpleasant, and my parents couldn’t believe I was doing it, but looking back I realize I was falling in love with gardens and landscapes that summer. It’s one of the most beautifully designed landscapes in the Midwest, and I started to see what these kinds of spaces can mean to people, and to me. I know that experience changed me for the better and I believe that gardens can do that for others, if given the chance.

Q:  Were you always drawn to gardening with nature in mind? What inspired you to garden with nature?
A: That’s a good question. I got my start in horticulture in an arboretum, so there was always an emphasis on plant diversity, but it was more about working with a big collection of plants from all over the world and less about what those plants do for the ecosystem locally. In the beginning I wasn’t thinking of gardens as a form of habitat, it was really just about loving plants in and of themselves. I think there’s been a huge shift in thinking over the last decade, among professional gardeners and home gardeners, too. We’re all thinking more about how our gardens fit into the bigger picture. We’re losing our wild spaces year after year, and at some point, you realize that it really matters what plants we’re using in our gardens.

I started hiking a few years ago to get back in shape after having my kids, and at first I was struck by how much I didn’t know about wild plants. I’ve spent much of my life working with plants, and I understood so little about my own native landscape. I saw a smooth hydrangea and recognized it as the wild cousin of a garden plant, and I thought, “What else is out here?” I started taking pictures and using iNaturalist to learn everything I could about the plants in the woods and meadows in our area and beyond. When you see how a plant grows in the wild, where it likes to be and what other plants it likes to grow near, it’s like a light bulb goes off. I’m always so inspired by these spaces and looking for ways to bring great native plants into our designed spaces.

Q: What do you find to be the biggest obstacle or hurdle when it comes to inspiring homeowners to plant with nature in mind? What do you do to help them see the benefit for us and for nature to plant in this manner?
A: I think it’s just so unfamiliar to most of us. We’re not used to seeing it, and it’s difficult to make what feels like a drastic change if you feel like you’re still learning something new. But it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing. You don’t have to rip everything out and start from scratch, although that can be a great way to do it if you have the budget. What’s most important is to add plants with ecological value where you can, when you can, and go from there. Learn what you like, what works in your space and keep doing it. That’s how gardening works–you try something, and you learn from it, and you react to what you’ve learned and over time you grow something amazing.

Q: What are three insights you would like to share with homeowners who are considering planting for pollinators?
A: First, you will love your pollinator garden. They really are so rewarding in terms of the beauty they offer and daily changes, the way they root you to the seasons and the passage of time. It’s like watching a drama unfold and you’ll start looking forward to this or that time of year for particular plants or wildlife that will visit.

Second, you might be surprised how it connects you to your neighbors. It’s a great conversation starter and I find that people are so curious about pollinator gardens. If you put one in your front yard, you won’t be the only one who grows to love it.

And finally, when you plant with nature in mind, it’s not like your garden might support the pollinators and birds, it’s an absolute certainty that it will. Sometimes the pollinators find the plants even before we can plant them in the ground. You will be amazed at how much wildlife you can support in even a small area.

Q: What can a client expect when they arrange to meet with you to discuss a new garden plan?
A: We will walk your property together and talk about your goals, what you want and don’t want, and how we can help you. I don’t want to impose a one-size-fits-all vision on anyone, but I do want to use my knowledge and experience to help you achieve the best use of space for you and your goals. If you have a specific idea, that’s great, and if not, that’s great too. I love a good creative challenge. I always have nature in mind when thinking about a design, but for me beauty is just as important. I want you to love your garden, to connect with it in a deeper way, and for you to feel fully grounded in your own space. After all, gardens are habitats for people too. I’ll be asking how you spend time in your garden, what your views are like into the garden, and other ways you will experience your outdoor spaces.


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