I’m quite practical and down-to-earth when it comes to choosing plants for the gardens I make, particularly those I do with clients. I tend to be a bit more experimental in my own space, but most of the time, my clients don’t want to take too many risks in terms of plant selections. Typically, that’s why they’ve called on me in the first place—they’ve been trying to solve the puzzle, but keep getting stumped. They’ll create a planting scheme that looks good for a while and then fizzles, often within weeks or months; but even if it takes a year, or several, to peter out, it can be a big disappointment if it’s not what they expected to happen. They’re left wondering, “What went wrong?”
The pragmatic approach I’m recommending here can can keep this from happening to you. It can be boiled down to these concepts, many of which I’ve covered in previous posts, so follow the links if you’re interested in a more in-depth take on each:
Yes, it’s rudimentary, but worth stating. Getting this right is critical, as it’s the foundation on which all else is built. Without a solid footing, the pyramid tumbles.
Flowers are fleeting, but foliage and form endure. By focusing on these lasting aspects, your compositions will be more likely to hold up over the seasons.
Be honest with yourself about how much garden maintenance you’ll want to do and of what ilk. Take a hard look and reconcile your maintenance desires with your garden dreams.
They’re widely grown for good reasons: they’re tough, dependable and easy to grow. The trick is to pair a common plant with the perfect partner — and voila! — it’s transformed from blah to beautiful.
It’s important to think about how your garden will evolve and change through the seasons. Keep evaluating and tweaking your plant palette until you’re satisfied with the year-round aspect of your design. That doesn’t always mean that it’s a four-season focus, it just means that you’ve made conscious choices. For instance, if you’re planting your front entry garden, looking good year-round will likely be important. If you’re creating a vignette for your “back 40”, or a place that you rarely see in winter, probably not so much.
The larger the plant, the higher the bar. Many of us can only fit a few large shrubs and/or small trees into our gardens, so it pays to be choosy and to expect them to deliver one or more these attributes: blooms, fragrance, attractive foliage, fall color and/or interesting bark or stems. Small plants, or plants that share space well, may enjoy a more relaxed standard.
When creating your planting vignettes, make sure to allow ample room for your long-lived, structure-making plants to reach their mature size, even if it means that you have big gaps between them. You can fill those bare spots with more fun-loving, short-lived plants and avoid finding yourself in the unfortunate position of needing to remove choice plants because you don’t have room for them.
But above all, have fun—while treating the endeavor with due respect, you don’t have to take it too seriously—that’s what will keep you coming back for more, season after season.