Sep 19, 2014

Inside the Designer's Mind: Selecting Plants

A visitor to my page recently asked about one of my early, and still favorite, garden designs:
Palo Alto landscape design by Verdance Fine Garden Design
Cupressus 'Tiny Tower' behind
white spring annuals along a brick
and bluestone walk in Palo Alto

"I like [the] look of Italian thin trees… I have smaller house, would that look odd for privacy? Bamboo trees other option in my mind."

And it occurred to me that landscape designers have a very methodical way of determining the best plant for a given spot, which we take for granted but may not be understood by everyone. I answered:

"Well, 'odd' is in the eye of the beholder — for the classical style of this home, in my opinion bamboo would have looked odd. But your tastes and opinions may be different, and that's OK too! 

"There may be many different options to choose from to create privacy screening. A landscape designer would consider the specific conditions of your site before considering looks: sun/shade exposure, damp/dry soil, narrow/wide planting area, to name a few. Then within the set of plants that will thrive in those conditions, I would consider the functional attributes of the plants themselves: evergreen/deciduous, clumping/spreading, toxic/nontoxic, short/tall, fast/slow growth, high/low water needs, and so on. Finally, within that subset of plants that have appropriate features, I would choose the plants that fit the aesthetic look you prefer: the Italian Cypress used here work well with a formal, classic style, while bamboo species (and there are many!) may convey a more tropical or Asian feeling. Even the same plant could be used different ways: Pittosporum tenuifolium can be clipped tightly to create a formal hedge, or left loose for a natural, shrubby look. 

"While the aesthetic choice is purely personal, the site conditions and plant attributes are non-negotiable. Figure those out first, and you may find that your plant choice is made for you. Good luck!"


Greenwich said...

This just proves that garden design is such a major job. Aside from the landscaping, you still have to look into plant and flower life and that in itself needs great patience and effort.

Anne Robinson said...

Always interesting articles! I am new in the garden art but I already have a few roses and I am so proud of myself! The look amazing and as I said I am still learning new things about them and I hope that in a few month I will have two more roses in the garden!

Newcastle Landscaping Designs said...

It always amuses me when our client engage us to consult on a design for their garden, and then proceed to give advice on the plants they want or should have. I no always explain to them that the determining factor will be you garden location, soil condition, climate etc and that for our work to stand the test of time we need to follow the process of what the land is providing us.