So many plants, so little time: How to pick what’s right for your garden
Ott, Buchman and Swope agreed that instinct attracts us to plants we think are pretty, but failing to think past “pretty” can pose problems. Narrow down what type of plants or materials you plan to use by considering how they will function in your yard.
Suppose bees like those “pretty” flowers perched by your swimming pool? Or you’ve got a “pretty” tree that produces toxic berries and curious kids are running around your yard?
Here are a few other things to consider:
Backyard buzz kill: stinky mulch
Good mulch shouldn’t stink, but sometimes, a fresh bed of mulch can carry a scent — “vinegar” was the word Ott used to describe the smell.
Not exactly a mood-setting scent.
Ott said fragrant mulch is what you get if manufacturers don’t properly cure the wood during the mulch-making process.
Should you end up with a batch of smelly mulch, Buchman suggested putting it down several days before your gathering. The scent goes away over time and the color of the mulch won’t fade.
Right now it’s a little too early to put down flowers, but there are some varieties you use to whet your appetite until spring. Pansies and violas, Buchman said, are hardy enough to withstand last-minute spurts of snow and cold.
Seasonal flowers on Buchman’s short list of favorites include shade-loving Encore azaleas, which like this region’s soil. He’s also a fan of Knock Out roses — particularly Sunny Knock Outs and Rainbow Knock Outs — because they keep a continuous bloom from May through Thanksgiving and are less prone to disease and other issues than other rose varieties.
Light-colored flowers pop in the moonlight — something to consider for nighttime outdoor gatherings, Swope said.
Dwarf varieties can be less imposing and less needy additions to a landscape, said Buchman. He’s a fan of the dwarf winterberry and the lemon drop cypress.
Swope said potted plants and containers are also a way to incorporate smaller additions into a landscape. For example, potted tropical plants such as hibiscus, oleander and some palms can overwinter indoors and be brought out to the patio over the summer, Swope said.
Have a design strategy
Start with a focal point or a place you’d like to draw the eye and then work from there. The focal point could be a tree, brush, hardscaping such as a statue or patio. Picking a starting point, Buchman said, helps focus your design concept and offer guidance on which types of plants to get. Variables include whether the space you’ve picked is sunny or shady, dry or wet, or prone to lots of wind; and whether the plants you have in mind will accommodate those conditions.
Swope said you can also create visual interest through repetition and mass plantings, instead of incorporating multiple plants. Low-voltage lighting can highlight pathways, trees and conversational areas, “make people curious about where the space leads,” Swope said.
Ott likes to use curved beds to add visual interest.
“When you think of a house, everything is a straight line,” Ott said.
Get to know the “natives”