Choosing Plants

For your plants to survive and flourish, it is vital to match the right plants to the right conditions, so make sure you know what your growing space is like before buying. Is it sheltered, damp, and shady… or exposed, dry, and sunny?

Practical considerations

Think about what you want to grow and how much time you have to look after your plants. Some plants need less attention than others, but all plants require some care. Consider the time of year for your flowering display, too. Some plants look good when in flower but don’t add anything else for the rest of the year. Combine these with other plants whose flowers, stems, or foliage add interest across other seasons. Look for plants with a good shape that can be used as a focal point to anchor a changing display. Consider what containers you are going to use. All containers need drainage and should be easily accessible for watering and care. Consider too how they might affect the overall look of your planting. Complex arrangements work best in less ornate containers where the focus is on the planting itself. Quirky, unusual containers add an element of fun, so try anything suitable and adapt for drainage, if need be.

Be inspired

Seek inspiration for your garden style and explore planting ideas. Buy a big notebook and visit open gardens, jotting down what plants you like and different planting designs. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of garden owners and gardeners, who will usually be more than happy to tell you more. Have a look through gardening books and seek out magazines for ideas, keeping a note of anything that appeals. Don’t forget the great outdoors for inspiration! Nature has a clever way of arranging plants and landscape features that blend perfectly: wildflower meadows; prairies; seaside planting; fields; shady plants in woods; or streams and ponds.

Finding your style

Do you want the planting to be ornamental, or productive with herbs, vegetables, and fruit? Do you want to screen off neighboring buildings? Do you want year-round interest? What style of planting particularly appeals to you? Planting styles can be re-created in smaller spaces by careful plant selection, so take time to really know what you want to achieve if you are planning a major design in your gardening space. As well as your growing conditions, take into account your home and how your planting will blend in with the building. Some planting styles may suit your home more than others, but don’t be afraid to try something unusual for a different approach. Most of all, enjoy creating a garden space that is unique to you and reflects your own style and personality.

Although there are notable exceptions, such as succulents, most plants in containers will need a lot of watering, so make sure you have time to do this and easy access to water.

What sort of plant?

Sometimes it’s obvious what type of plant you need to buy, like a tree, but sometimes it isn’t, and it’s useful to know the difference between the groupings so you can choose the correct plant for your needs.

Bulbs are modified stems adapted to store food, and different bulbs can be planted in spring, summer, and fall for year-round successional interest.

Shrubs and trees are woody perennials that add structure to planting. Some plants are evergreen, but most lose their leaves when the plant goes dormant.

Annuals complete their life cycle in one growing season. They will germinate, flower, produce seeds, and die in one growing season. Examples include annual bedding plants such as geraniums, zinnias, marigolds, forget-me-nots, and sweet peas.

Perennials last more than three growing seasons, but the name is often used to cover herbaceous perennials, which are mostly border plants that survive year after year, with foliage usually dying back when the plant is dormant in winter. Examples include penstemons, asters, primroses, sedums, and hostas. Some perennials need a bit of protection from frost and extremely cold weather.

Grow your own

Growing plants from seed is cost effective and fun for the whole family. You’ll need containers, seed potting mix, and somewhere light and warm to start them off (see pages 132-7).

Some seedlings, particularly annuals and vegetable plants, will need protection from frost before they can be planted out.

Plants for sun

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Key to symbols: W Drought tolerant 4 Water often Г Keep constantly wet t Grow in full sun У Partial shade U Full shade

Echinacea purpurea

Outstanding late-summer display of large flowers with a prominent central cone. Easy to grow. Attracts bees and butterflies. Seed heads look good in winter. Flowering time: July-September.

Care: Cut back to encourage flowers, but leave some seed heads over winter.

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Helenium autumnale

Upright plants with showy, daisylike flowers from late summer through fall. Rich flower colors range from buttery yellow to warm orange to bronzy red. The central cone is loved by bees.

Care: Deadhead, leaving some seed heads. Divide every 3—4 years.

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Sedum spectabile

Good for a dry, sunny spot. Late – summer flowers are adored by bees and butterflies, and fleshy leaves add interest year round. Some varieties have gray/green or purple/green foliage.

Care: Cut back after flowering or leave till spring for winter interest.

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Aster

Ranges from small alpine species to taller plants. Pretty daisylike flowers, in white, pink, lilac, or blue, bloom in late summer. Loved by bees and butterflies.

Care: Choose mildew-free varieties for best foliage. Cut back after flowering or leave until spring for winter interest.

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Lavandula angustifolia

Small shrubs with aromatic leaves and spikes of fragrant blue, purple, pink, or white flowers in summer. Can grow quite large and lose its shape, so choose shorter varieties for smaller spaces.

Care: Trim after flowering. Shape in spring. Don’t cut into old woody growth.

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Agapanthus

Excellent for containers. Upright funnel-shaped blue or white flowers create impact in summer and early fall. Attractive seed heads in winter. Choose perennial types.

Care: Feed regularly during growing season and keep soil mix moist.

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