Saturday, October 9, 2010

Garden Design IV – Choosing the Perfect Plants

It's finally time to choose plants!  
Colorful combination of Rudbeckia with (clockwise)
Lobelia siphilitica, Hemerocallis, Carex and Filipendula. 
Pink Hydrangea in the background

The time you put into site inventory and concept will pay off now. If you haven't done these, see
Garden Design -
I-Getting Started with a Plan
II-Design Strategies for Creating a Concept
III - Defining the Concept
for the how-to.
I'm sure you had specific plants in mind as you went through the concept stage, but the exercise of developing a concept encourages creativity and helps to compose a more cohesive design.  Those plants you've been dreaming about will find a way into your plan, but now purposefully placed.

As you're choosing plants, keep the following tips in mind:

Know Your Site
Refer back to the site conditions recorded on your Base Plan (see Getting Started with a Plan) and select appropriate plants for those conditions.  You may have varying conditions within the planting area - locate plants accordingly.  Plants will thrive when planted in conditions they like.

My planting plan is for an area near a large tree.  I've shosen fairly rugged plants since they'll have to compete with tree roots.

Easy care garden with Russian Sage (Perovskia),
Crimson Pygmy Barberry, Juniper, Japanese Holly and
Butterly Bush (Buddleja)

Know Yourself
Know your maintenance tolerance and choose plants that fit it.  While I enjoy gardening, I don't have a lot of time, so I'm not interested in demanding plants.  My garden should be a source of joy and beauty, not another demand on my already full schedule.  I generally steer clear of perennials that require staking, supplemental watering or frequent division, for instance.

Cultivars Count
Cultivar choices are important in plant selection.  Botanical names of plants specify the genus, species and cultivar.  Size, flower and foliage color, hardiness and even invasive tendencies can vary greatly depending on the species and cultivar of a plant.  It may seem like too much trouble to bother with such details, but you'll be glad later, when there are no unpleasant surprises!

Border planting with yellow Daylilies,
purple Verbena, white Zinnias and Sedum 'Autumn Joy'
Beware of Invasives
It's wise to check references for plant characteristics.  Aggressive and invasive perennials are readily available (and generally not labeled clearly as such).  I've been disapointed in the past when I bought a perennial on a whim, only to learn after I brought it home that it was invasive.  Fighting my frugal tendencies, I threw it in the trash - struggling with invasive plants is no joke!

Size is Significant
I'll mention size again.  You'll reduce maintenace by choosing varieties that won't grow too large.  Many shrubs and perennials have small or dwarf varieties - use them to keep you garden from growing out of bounds.

A Few Resources
Web sites:
Kemper Center Plant Finder Search
The New Perennial Club

Designer Plant Combinations
50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants
All About Perennials (Ortho's All About Gardening)

Planting Plan
Now to get your plan on paper. With a layer of trace over your Concept Plan, draw plants as circles which correspond to the size the plant will grow to. Label plant masses with a letter "symbol" which represents their name. A plant list on a seperate piece of paper identifies what plant each symbol stands for and should include the botanical name (with cultivar), common name and quantity. This will be your shopping list. I also like to list the ultimate size (height and width, bloom color and bloom time). This is helpful for choosing another cultivar that meets your design criteria if a plant isn't available. You'll find yourself adjusting your plan again as you develop the Planting Plan - this happens at each stage as you become more specific in your design.

Get Planting
It's time to get your hands in the soil.  Enjoy getting your garden in the ground.  I trust it will bring you many years of beauty and joy.

Happy Gardening!



Muhammad khabbab said...

very informative. wonderful blog. keep posting.

Meredehuit ♥ said...

Excellent post! Your information is very well laid out.

Anonymous said...

Good, well laid out advice.I was looking to find info about you and/or your design business. I do not put mine on my site, but may at some point. I did link to my website briefly, but scraped it after I got spammed via my email contact.

Chris said...

Thank you for your encouragement. Although I'm new at blogging, I'm enjoying it and hope to keep it up.
I appreciate your kind words! They help keep me going.
Thanks for the affirmation. I don't have a design business. I'm a landscape architect with a firm specializing in land development - planting design is just the icing on the cake in my work life.

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