First, you need to determine your hardiness zone by consulting the United States National Arboretum site listed in the Further Reading section. This will narrow your choice of perennial plants to those that can survive the winter in your area. Plants that are native to the region where they are cultivated are already adapted to the soil and climate and require less work than exotic plants. If you have a passion for an exotic plant that has requirements completely different from what your climate and soil have to offer, it will be much more of a challenge to grow.
You can get a general idea of the types of plants that are native to your area by determining the natural ecosystem of the region. Do you live high in the mountains, in the desert, in the plains of the Midwest, along the coast, in the cold North or subtropical Deep South? Cultivars from similar ecosystems in other parts of the world may thrive in your garden.
Next, choose the location of the garden. The placement of the garden has to consider the angle of the sun, which differs in summer and winter and affects light quality. Make a diagram of the area you intend to cultivate and note the number of hours of sunshine it receives. Shadows cast from buildings, trees, walls, and other structures change over the course of the day and from season to season, so it helps to take some time to make observations before you decide on your location and design. Determine whether the site receives full sun, part sun, part shade, or shade, and further narrow down your list of plants to those that will thrive under those light conditions. Also, if you want to plant a lawn you must distinguish between turf grasses that thrive in sun versus those that like shade.
Finally, determine the type of soil in your chosen site by sending samples to a local soil-testing laboratory and telling them the types of plants you would like to grow. They will recommend whether you need to amend your soil pH or add fertilizers or compost, and in what amounts. Also make sure that if your plants require supplemental water, you are near enough to a source that you can easily water them when necessary. Most plants, including those that tolerate drought, require supplemental water until they have established a strong root system—this could take more than a year.
You can get more ideas for plants to try in your garden by reading garden magazines, taking trips to local garden centers, or by looking through seed catalogs and talking to your neighbors. Seed catalogs offer the greatest selection, but if you want more immediate results you need to purchase bedding plants. You may also want to incorporate woody ornamentals and a lawn into your landscape. Most gardens are a work in progress and may take years to complete.
Once you have a list of the particular plants suitable for your site, you must group them together in some sort of an artistic arrangement by color, shape, and size and make sure they are timed to bloom so that the garden has year-round appeal. Usually six of each type of flowering plant are grouped together to get a more vivid display of color. The color and shape of both the foliage and flowers are considered. A mix of plants with different photoperiods blooms at different times and provides a longer display than plants that bloom all at once. Annuals bloom from spring through fall and are often used in combination with perennials that only bloom for a month or two each season. Fragrant flowers are chosen to perfume the air. A garden that is used at night may have plants with white flowers and silver foliage that reflects the moonlight.
Formal garden designs include geometric patterns created with carefully pruned woody ornamentals and plants with colorful and sweetly scented blossoms, and may have works of art such as statues or frescoes incorporated into the design. There can be fountains to cool the temperature in the heat of the day and benches on which to sit and enjoy the tranquility of the garden. Small ponds or artificially created water gardens are cultivated to produce water lilies and other water-loving plants (Figure 7.1).
Plants such as philodendrons are often used in public and private indoor spaces to add visual interest and to purify the air. In these cases, the plants are usually chosen for their distinctive foliage and low maintenance and are planted in decorative containers. These plants are usually tropical plants with attractive large leaves that do not require full sun.
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