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Because this concept is so key to successful gardens and is often misunderstood, we are launching a series of monthly articles aimed at clarifying and simplifying the many facets of this concept. In this first article, we begin with a general look at why placement matters. In later posts this year, I’ll take a deeper look at how this complex yet not complicated notion may impact specific gardening choices you make everyday.
Situating plants in an ideal location requires an understanding of the plants themselves, the way a space will be used and the environment in which the garden will be created. It goes beyond simply choosing a plant that looks pretty at the nursery and seems to be the right size and plopping it into the ground. Gardening with this hit-or-miss methodology tends to result in very wrong plants in very wrong places.
What comes as a small, blooming tree that seems perfect for that open gap in a privacy thicket may indeed grow rapidly into a towering conifer that blocks light, crowds other plants, and potentially may need to be removed by professionals at a high cost.
That lovely outdoor succulent on sale in mid-summer may seem like a great groundcover for a sunny, dry border. But come winter, it may actually go dormant or even die in frigid zones.
Many idealize having a small potager garden right outside the kitchen door, but if it doesn’t get enough sunlight, most veggie garden endeavors will fail.
And, what if you’re looking for privacy around a patio in summer? Surround it with big evergreens, right? Perhaps not. First, consider how those plants may impact that same area come winter when sunlight into your home is at a premium. Will those same privacy trees do double-duty later in the season and in the years ahead as they get bigger and bigger?
Perhaps your goal is to create a mixed border, filled with interest throughout the year. You purchase small pots of Sarcococca (Sweetbox), which may have only a couple inches of top growth at the time you buy it. And you plan to combine this winter bloomer with summer blooming fuchsia and spring bleeding hearts. In the pots they all look about the same size. What you don’t realize is that after a few seasons in the ground, each will be a dramatically different height. Some Sarcoccoca stay under 18” tall (species: hookeriana humilis); others get four to five feet tall (species: confusa and ruscifolia). And, fuchsia species can easily range from tiny groundcovers to five foot tall drooping shrubs – some are hardy; others are not. Bleeding hearts range from under a foot tall Dicentra formosa to much taller Dicentra spectablis. Selecting the right species of each plant will determine how the plants are placed to create layered, visible tiers in your beds.
Maybe you need something as simple as an evergreen border to hide your foundation. Unfortunately, you forget that your foundation border gets almost no sun and gets a lot of rainwater. Those junipers – though the right height – die quickly for lack of heat and overwatering.
Need a great shade tree to plant near your favorite summer patio? Perhaps you choose a Korean Dogwood, knowing they are disease resistant, bloom beautifully and have great fall color. But, oops! That messy fruit falls and coats your patio in colorful goop, making it an unwelcome place to hang out.
And what about that tree you simply must have? You ignore the fact that the label says it will exceed 30’ in less than ten years – you want something to grow fast after all. You love it so much, you plant it just outside your picture window where you can enjoy it everyday. Suddenly ten years have passed, and now your foundation may be compromised, and your picture window view may be eliminated. Your impatience becomes a predicament with no easy or inexpensive remedies.
Taking the time to consider, deeply, the impact your planting choices will have on the plants, the garden space and on you is critical to gardening success. A plant placed in a location into which it cannot grow, where it will grow in ways that do not fit the spatial dictates, or where it will compromise your needs, is recipe for garden disaster. So, do the right thing: know your place and know your plant before you marry them together.