considerations when choosing plants

inkognitoSeptember 5, 2011

I remember there being a big brouhaha over the use of the term 'plant material' as if plants in a landscape deserved a more sensitive appellation. There is no doubt that we often don't see plants beyond the facet that is useful to us, on a plan it is a shape, in the attached legend it becomes poetry, in a photograph it is a colour, pruning and maintenance may occupy more space in one person's design than another's and so on.

Is there ever a time when one facet trumps all others?

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Is this another one of those questions to which you have a predetermined answer you want to elicit - and will be mildly annoyed when some of us "less gifted" don't hit on it? (add giant smiley here)

Doesn't it depend on the conditions and the kind of sort of "rules" of landscaping and knowing when to adhere and when to break them even when the generic you simply likes/wants something and it pleases you and satisfies your sense of gardening accomplishment?

My gardens have undergone multiple transformations. Now, deer resistance trumps all. I've slowly eliminated much of what I had at one time and can walk on by most of the fluff and color in nurseries and garden centers opting for those things I know will be left alone or for what I can reasonably protect.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 3:40PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Duluth has squarely nailed this one... There are often times when one factor for plant selection outweighs any other, ranging from the pragmatic to the merely idiosyncratic. As to those people who take offense at the term "plant materials" in-lieu of "plants", I myself use either term, depending on my audience, and don't find the word choice offensive. Anyone familiar with my landscape designs would know that I truly value the role plantings play in creating a garden or landscape, even when the plants are entirely artificial ala Martha Schwartz and some of her iconic landscapes, which get more notice because they are entirely fake...

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 4:03PM
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So cynical dinb. I was prompted by the thread that went astray that seemed to focus on the form of a plant that most would regard as a flowering plant. I guess the hidden response you allude to is that it is fine to be guided mainly by something such as deer resistance but if this means that this time next year your whole neighborhood will be covered in it perhaps a less myopic choice would be better.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 4:08PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I always start with one facet when I'm looking at what to plant in a particular place. That produces a list of possible plants and then other facets of each of them are used to narrow down the list to determine which actually get planted. I suspect that's what most people do, consciously or unconsciously.

In my case, I usually start with color, since much of my garden is color-themed. 'Color' includes green (particularly in the backyard which is predominately a green garden..) and 'color' also includes consideration of flowers, foliage (including consideration of all 4 seasons), fruit and bark. Then other factors get considered - e.g. size, shape, suitablity for the existing light and soil conditions, etc., etc.

Even when I'm creating an area with a specific plant theme (e.g. the clematis swag) there are multiple factors in consideration for choosing each plant. So, while one facet starts the process, I can't think of a situation where other facets wouldn't influence the final choice of what to plant.

Even Duluth's 'deer resistant' is probably just the starting point - I'm sure that it's really deer resistant + one or more other conisiderations.

'Plant material' does have a sort of artificial/pretentious(?) overtone to it but it doesn't irritate me too much as I see it as a sort of form of plural where you want to refer to a range of plants.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 5:15PM
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I wasn't being particularly cynical and the thread you were alluding to didn't escape me. You started a thread on trump worthy considerations - I happen to have one that perhaps others don't have.

Furthermore, in the world of suitable and resistant plants, the neighborhood would hardly be left with nothing but lilacs and conifers with short spikey needles. Surely those of you in the professional ranks understand that landscaping/gardening is an investment in thought and expectation, time and money. To see much of it undermined is a source of frustration. Myopia? I don't think so. Or is it that I'm being less than generous in that deer gotta eat too?

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 5:45PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

I am SO guilty of having the plant FIRST, then figuring out use and placement. I would never advise anyone to do that, but I do it far too frequently. That said, my better 'vignettes' have resulted from both cases: the plants in hand first and then deciding where they should go, and a select area in mind, wanting a particular effect, then choosing the plants for the conditions that will produce the effect.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 5:54PM
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If you are creating a white garden- of course white bloom trumps every other factor. If you are creating an evergreen garden, evergreen rules over all other factors. If It is an exposed site, hardy, tough plants will be the facet you consider over all others. I think I generally mentally prioritize certain factors in designing a site.

Also, plant materials has a very different meaning when you consider it in contrast to landscape fabric, edging, stone, mulch, loam, compost, .....all of which require no maintenance. Plant materials is used in reference to products one sells, that require maintenance and based on that factor one wants to limit the time one cares for them.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 6:46PM
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I wasn't aware of any controversy about "plant material" but that must show their priorities to be some emotional connection to them.

I use the term plant material just for that reason, to emotionally disconnect myself from my favorite plants and colors and textures to try to only focus on what I need done in the landscape.

When does one facet trump the other; it depends at what stage in the design process I'm in... if I'm just starting from a blank slate then space filling characterisitics trump all other (i.e size and foliage from ground up (-dislike leggy looking plants-)). But this is more about the overall flow and direction of the eye in the 3-D space - not really plant specific (hence plant material).

Once a general form is decided, the next trump would be a toss up between leaf size, texture, color, and brightness- but that still is functionally dependent or subordinate to unity in the landscape.

Finally, my experience with a plant comes into play... if I have cultivated it successfully it's a keeper, but also for some plants, more recently, it's my memories about plants. Some plants I'm familiar with from childhood and that have memories of certain places and connections (like lantanna, oleanders, legnum vitae, and crotons).

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 8:23PM
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I grow some plants for sentimental reasons: yarrow, thyme, pulsatilla, dunegrass. These are transplants from my childhood environment.
Some for being tough survivors and near-natives of my present location: bergenia, sedum, pine, anemone, ferns.
Some for just the form: amaranth, hydrangea, miscanthus.
Some because they're exotic and edible: serviceberry, mahonia, grapevine.
Making planting plans for next year, seems the edibility has gained importance - I have nasturtiums draping over a stone wall and I thought, could I achieve the same effect with zucchini?
And what to plant if I want a scent for late summer?

    Bookmark   September 6, 2011 at 8:02AM
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If you are interested in the controversy about "plant materials" read the manifesto of this web site: It is the funniest part the rest of the site makes my stomach hurt most of the time.

Here is a link that might be useful: Blog which shall not be named

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 3:04PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Like catkim, I,too, frequently by a plant because I HAVE TO HAVE IT and then must find it a home. Well, not just any's always a Japanese Maple cultivar that I don't have yet. I have a wee bit of an addiction...

JMs aside, though, there is one over-riding requirement for plants in MY yard that trumps all others. They must be deer-less-likely plants. As in plants that the deer are LESS likely to eat. If it's on their favorites list it must be AMAZING. Or an annual. it doesn't irritate me nearly as much when they munch on the annuals if I miss with the spray.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 4:06PM
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