From the desert Southwest to the vast Great Plains, from the hot summers and below-freezing winters of the north to the salt spray of the maritime east and the mild and rainy northwest coast -- the United States, and the North American continent in general, contains an almost dizzying variety of climates and environments.

With this superabundance of natural environments comes also a wonderful variety of beautiful and interesting native plant life. It makes gardening easier and pays homage to an area's horticultural heritage to include some plants that are native to your area -- or that may hail from elsewhere in the world but thrive under similar conditions.

Xeriscaping, especially useful in arid areas that are naturally hot and dry, replaces the large expanses of lawn and thirsty garden flowers with landscaped areas of striking cacti and desert plants. This saves on water in areas subject to drought and creates a garden area that functions as a more natural part of its environment.

So whatever the climate where you choose to reside, there are garden plants for you. Our natural garden ideas and garden photos will help you select just the right thing for your backyard.

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Some of the most versatile of all garden perennials were bred from ultra-hardy meadow and prairie plants from the Great Plains of the United States. These habitats, although often appearing somewhat flat and featureless topographically, were once teeming microcosms that supported a vast range of wildlife. Plants such as these aster, purple coneflower, rudbeckia, and liatris share the traits of hardiness, disease resistance, and a long season of bloom.

Now that you're armed with information, why not start with the seemingly greatest challenge? Click to the next page for ideas on how to grow a garden even in the desert.

Thinking you'd like to take nature to the next level in your garden? These photos and ideas will help plant the seeds of creativity:

Desert Garden Ideas

Although "hot, dry, and full of sand" may be the description that springs first to your mind, North America's desert climates actually have much more to offer -- including vibrant plant life. Rather than yards of water-guzzling grass, consider a natural garden filled with native plants like cacti and other desert-dwellers that know how to make the most of the local weather. Explore your options with the desert garden ideas and garden photos that follow.

Many of the plants featured in this desert garden may also be grown farther north. Yucca and the prickly pear opuntia are surprisingly hardy in winter. Lampranthus, seen here as a free-flowering ground cover, makes a colorful annual farther north. Wherever the location, these plants are drought-resistant and excellent for hot and dry areas.

Texture and shape are among the best ways to add interest to a desert garden. In this lively mix, agave, aloe, prickly pear, organic pipe cactus, and other native plants join red, paintbrush-like flowers against a house.

A contrast of textures and shapes is once again the theme in this desert garden that makes golden barrel cacti -- which almost seem to have individual personalities -- the star attraction. Agave, aloe, and rough, gray boulders round out the eclectic mix.

It's not just the desert where water can be at a premium, so for more ideas on plants that are a little less thirsty, continue to the next page for water-saving garden ideas.

Thinking you'd like to take nature to the next level in your garden? These photos and ideas will help plant the seeds of creativity:

Water-Saving Garden Ideas

Whether you're just looking for a way to have to go out and water your garden less often or doing your part for the "green" movement, there are plants that can help you achieve your goal and even a fancy name for what you're up to: xeriscaping. This term is gaining wider use as more gardeners discover that water-saving gardening makes good environmental sense and saves time, energy, and effort -- commodities that all gardeners occasionally have in short supply. We're happy to join the cause by providing these water-saving garden ideas and garden photos.

A wide variety of plants lend themselves to water-saving gardening, as illustrated by this imaginative combination of cacti, conifers, and grasses. Exhibiting a wonderful crop of its edible fruits, which will soon redden, a hardy prickly pear grows happily alongside the blue and gold cultivars of the evergreen Chamaecyparis pisifera. The drought-resistant ornamental grass variegated Miscanthus sinensis creates a fountain-like effect -- without the use of water -- in the background.

Coneflowers are also known for not being overly thirsty, so they make an excellent addition to any water-saving garden. Their pleasant purple petals blend nicely here with the smaller purple blooms on the ground cover and the silver-tinted foliage of other nearby plants.

It's still rather warm, but there's likely to be a bit more water about... Keep clicking to see what sorts of native plants abound in sunny Southern California and will love to make their home in your garden.

Thinking you'd like to take nature to the next level in your garden? These photos and ideas will help plant the seeds of creativity:

Southern California Garden Ideas

There are only a few places left in Southern California where you're likely to see native plants left undisturbed. But just because they're not native to your backyard doesn't mean they won't be perfectly happy growing in your garden. Our Southern California garden ideas and garden photos show just how well native flowers and assorted succulents and cacti from the desert will flourish in this sunny climate.

Almost any garden plant will adapt well to a situation similar to that favored by its wild species ancestors. In this Southern California garden, cultivated varieties of native plants thrive in a setting similar to the rocky scrub occurring in their natural habitats. Succulents such as agave and yucca mix well with the silver, shrubby cushion bush, Nemesia capensis, and skyline penstemon.

Mike Spasoff Mike Spasoff
Mike Spasoff

A perfect reminder of the nearby beach atmosphere, this gorgeous coral bush also adds elegant color to your Southern California garden.

Simon Crockett Simon Crockett
Simon Crockett

If you're drawn to the desert, that landscape is also not difficult to recreate in a Southern California garden. Here pipe cactus joins palm trees and cow's horn euphorbia in a garden that makes the most of shape, texture, and vertical space -- and will require limited watering.

We've also got goodies for all you gardeners in the Midwestern states. There's more than prairie grass that's native to your area. Continue to the next page and see!

Thinking you'd like to take nature to the next level in your garden? These photos and ideas will help plant the seeds of creativity:

Midwest Garden Ideas

Ron Sellers
Ron Sellers

Not just a dusty prairie, the Midwest offers an assortment of climate conditions and makes a happy home for a variety of hardy plants. Sometimes they require just a little shade to truly flourish, but it's likely you require a little shade from time to time as well. Use these garden photos to gather Midwest garden ideas, and then head for the outdoors!

Plants rich in greenery like hostas and lilies -- which also feature beautiful blooms -- are happy to make their home in Midwest gardens, provided there's some shade from time to time. This garden pairs them with assorted perennials planted in beds for invitingly lush results.

Summer-blooming prairie perennials are adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions; here (right) they are protected from extreme heat by being grown in partial shade. Pearl Achillea ptarmica is a white-flowered cousin of the more frequently grown yellow yarrow, and the red-and-yellow columbine seen here, Aquilegia canadensis, is a wild relative of the large, long-spurred garden hybrid columbines.

With all of these plant options native to different parts of the country and adaptable to different climates, there's no need to shop the import aisle when it comes to gardening. Choose a natural garden instead and save yourself a lot of extra effort.

Thinking you'd like to take nature to the next level in your garden? These photos and ideas will help plant the seeds of creativity: