Gravel lends a country air to the landscape. It’s a loose informal surface, very much evocative of rural lanes and simpler times provides a pleasant, natural surface so unlike the artificial harshness of asphalt, is once again returning to a prominent place in the American garden.

It’s hard to believe now, but people grew almost half the country’s produce by the end of WII, right in their own backyards. These days, we don’t need to grow vegetables for the war effort, thank god, but you will reap ample rewards by growing at least a few fresh veggies for your own table. Nothing tastes better than produce from your own garden, and now’s the time to start planning.

Commonly mistaken for a fruit, rhubarb is actually a vegetable – a member of the buckwheat family of all things – and closely related to garden sorrel (another favorite of mine). Though many species are grown throughout the world, it is the common garden-variety rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum, also known as Rheum rhaponticum with which we are most familiar here in the US.

Oh, the first blush of grass in the spring. How I’ve longed for it! As I sit this evening, looking over the lawn beneath the pale pink apple blossoms in the orchard, everything is verdant green at last, fresh and inviting. It’s like…well for lack of a better description… it’s like your first kiss. Tantalizing, tempting, teasing and ever so satisfying.

I’ve had marvelous opportunities to visit gardens all over the globe, and many have heavily influenced not only my own landscape, but also how I design gardens for my clients. Transoceanic flights, however, are not necessarily required. Here are three of my favorite gardens in the US with some very important lessons to teach.

Growing heirloom tomatoes can be tricky business. My advice, ditch the worst performing heirlooms. These include most of the large potato-leaved varieties like my beloved ‘Brandywine’ that seem to summon late blight from the skies. I know, I know, the flavor is not going to be the same, but better a decent good-tasting crop than no great-tasting crop at all.