How to choose the right plants for your garden

Choosing the right plant

Right plant right place

When I started gardening, I used to choose my plants by how pretty they would look in my garden. I went into garden centres and was mesmerised by the colours and shapes of certain plants. Or, when money was tight, I would go to the bargain corner and take whatever was cheap or on offer. Before I knew it, I had a trolley full. I’d go home with my newly acquired babies and would plant them where I thought they would look good. I never gave it a thought whether the plants would be happy in their permanent living space. It turns out that all plants have very different requirements. You can’t plant a sun loving lavender in a shady damp spot, for example. I’m sure lots of us have made that mistake, but that’s ok. We live and learn. I now know how to choose the right plants for the garden.

Start by getting to know your garden.

What kind of garden have you got?

This may seem like an odd question, but you need to know your garden. Is your soil sandy, does it have boggy patches, is it very dry in summer? Does your garden get a lot of sunlight, is it in a sheltered spot? What kind of plants are already growing in it or nearby? All of these conditions affect your plants and knowing what kind of soil you have will help you make the right plant choice.

Soil type

What kind of soil has your garden got?

Soil can be acid, alkaline or neutral. Some plants will only thrive in acid soil, others need neutral or alkaline. You can buy relatively cheap soil tester kits online (try eBay or Amazon) or go to your local garden centre, where the staff will be happy to help.

Soil can also be mainly chalk, clay, loam or sandy or a mixture of those. If the soil is clumpy and sticky, it’s most probably clay. If it feels loose and falls apart in your hands, it’s likely to be sandy. Each plant has a preference, so some plants would not do very well on clay, whereas others love it. Again, your local garden centre will be very happy to help and guide you. They will be the best people to help you choose the right plants for your garden.

What is your garden’s aspect?

What’s that, I hear you ask. It’s just another way of asking whether your garden is north, south, west or east facing. Why does this matter? The amount of sun and warmth your garden receives during the day depends on which way it is facing. So a south-west or south-east facing garden would receive more sun than for example a north facing garden. Of course it also depends on whether there are nearby buildings or trees casting shade on your garden. A good idea is to observe what time of day your garden receives sunshine and for how many hours.

 

Tree planted in exposed windy area

Is your garden sheltered or exposed?

Some plants don’t like growing in windy conditions as it scorches their leaves and their roots may not be strong enough to cope with being blown about. Check if your garden has any sheltered spots, maybe along a fence or wall, where you could plant things that love those calm and protected spaces.

Which plants are suitable for my garden?

It’s safe to say that all plants need light, the right temperature and water. But in the right quantities. And as I mentioned before, some plants like acid soil, others prefer neutral. Some thrive on clay, others need good drainage. This sounds really daunting and complicated, but it really isn’t that bad. Once you know what kind of conditions you are dealing with in your garden, you can choose the best plants for those conditions.

 

Plant care labels

Look at the plant labels. All labels will tell you what the plant needs. If you look at the label above, it tells you that this particular plant, a Lupin, needs well-drained soil, sun for at least part of the day and shelter. There are other things to consider when choosing plants, for example, whether they are winter hardy (that means they can survive the cold), whether they die in autumn and come back the following spring, or in the case of annuals, they only last for one year. Sounds even more complicated? Don’t worry.

Handy plant finding tool

The RHS has a brilliant plant finding tool that I found really useful for choosing the right plant for the garden. All you have to do is enter the conditions your garden provides and choose from the drop down menu, and bingo! You will get a list of suitable and beautiful plants. How great is that?

The right plant in the right place

You can finally have those green fingers everybody keeps talking about. You can now have a beautiful healthy garden by placing the right plant in the right space for it. It’s not difficult once you know what kind of garden you have and then choose your plants carefully to fit in. Happy gardening!

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