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Choosing the Perfect Plant by Form + Function

Selecting plants for your garden goes far beyond picking out pretty blooms.

Contributors: Heather Wheatley

Selecting plants for your garden goes far beyond picking out pretty blooms. While flowers are undeniably delightful, a truly successful garden considers the entire plant throughout the seasons. This article will explore various criteria to consider when choosing plants, ensuring a vibrant and interesting landscape year-round.

Structure and Form:

Growth Habit: Think about the intention behind your planting. Do you desire a privacy screen with columnar arborvitae, a specimen plant with the stately pyramidal form of blue spruce, or a ground cover with the spreading tendrils of creeping jenny? Consider the plant's overall shape and how it will complement your existing plantings.

Foliage: Consider the plant's leaves beyond just color. Fine, feathery ferns bring a delicate touch to a shady nook, while bold hostas offer textural contrast next to smooth river stones in a Japanese garden. Evergreens provide winter structure in borders, and silvery foliage like lamb's ear adds a whimsical touch to a rock garden.

Seasonal Allure:

Bloom Time and Color: Flowers are a welcome sight, but plan for blooms throughout the season to extend your garden's beauty. Early spring bulbs like daffodils usher in warmer weather in a perennial border, while summer brings the vibrant hues of roses and daylilies to a cutting garden. Fall-blooming chrysanthemums add a final flourish before winter in containers flanking a doorway.

Fall Color: A fiery display of reds, oranges, and yellows isn't just for maple trees. Many shrubs like burning bush or dogwood offer stunning fall foliage, adding another layer of interest to your existing evergreens.

Beyond the Basics:

Winter Interest: Evergreen plants provide year-round structure, but remember winter berry shrubs that feed birds or trees with interesting bark textures, like crape myrtles, with their cinnamon-colored peeling bark, contrasting a winter landscape.

Wildlife Benefits: Planting for pollinators is beautiful and helps the environment. Choose plants with open blooms rich in nectar, like butterfly bushes or lavender, to attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds, creating a vibrant pollinator haven alongside your existing flowering plants.

Longevity: Select plants with a lifespan that suits your gardening goals. Fast-growing privacy screens may need replacing sooner, while a majestic oak tree can become a treasured family heirloom, adding stature and shade to your existing mature plantings.

Considering Your Existing Plants:

When selecting new plants, consider how they will complement your existing flora. Research sun and moisture needs to ensure compatibility. For example, ferns or shade-loving hostas would make good companions under the canopy of mature trees, while butterfly bushes, with their full-sun requirements, would thrive in a separate flower bed.
Considering these various criteria, you can create a garden that offers beauty, interest, and ecological benefits throughout the year. Remember, the "right plant, right place, cared for in the right way" is key. Research each plant's needs and match them to your specific growing conditions for a thriving and visually captivating garden.


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