Picking Plants: Understanding is Key

Before you decide what to plant in your garden, it's worth getting to know the various plant groups, different plants' needs and growth patterns, and other features that can help you pick the best plants for your space.

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Growth Habits

Understanding a plant’s habit helps you to place it in the garden. It also ensures you get the planting density right, so your garden isn't unexpectedly overwhelmed by vigorous growers. Height and spread are usually marked on the plant label, but expect some variation due to different growing conditions.

Mat-forming plants spread by sending out shoots which then put down roots. For example, Corsican mint will steadily creep over gravel and paving (image 1).

Clump-forming plants are exactly that, forming interesting groupings over a few years. Clump-forming plants such as the noninvasive fountain grass stay self-contained enough that it doesn't risk overwhelming its their neighbors (image 2).

Upright plants like verbascum provide useful vertical accents in the garden. With little risk of sideways spread, they can be planted quite densely (image 3).

Growth Habits, Continued

Climbers, including most clematis (image 1) take up little horizontal space because they want to grow up rather than out. Train them through shrubs and to clothe vertical structures.

Fast growing plants such as lavatera (image 2) need space when planted to allow for rapid spread. Plant labels give the size after 10 years, but check with other sources for growth rates.

Many slow-growers will eventually become big, but it can take years. Dwarf English boxwood (image 3) has a slow growth rate that makes it ideal for low hedging.

Plants in Containers

There is no reason why a container garden can’t be as well planted as a bed; container gardening is a very flexible form of gardening that allows an almost continual mixing and matching of your plants. However, growing plants in pots can affect their growth rates and restrict their size, since compost, water and nutrients are limited.

A wide range of plants will grow successfully in large containers since they can accommodate more roots, water and nutrients than small, narrow pots (image 1).

The restricted size and volume of compost in small pots limits your plant choices. You must water and feed plants regularly when grown in these conditions (image 2).

Excerpted from Garden Design

©Dorling Kindersley Limited 2009

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