This is every landscaper’s, horticulturist’s, arborist’s, designer’s and gardener’s mantra. And if it’s not, it should be. Knowing which plant to choose is determined by where it will be planted, or vice versa. Every site is different, and within a site can be microclimates including varying soil characteristics, sun pockets, wind tunnels created by buildings or plant material, berms, hills or topographic depressions. These are a few examples of how landscapes can be drastically different within a single garden; this can also be helpful in troubleshooting disease and insect problems.
For dry soils in sunny locations, various plants can be used for any garden style. Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) is a tough compact evergreen growing about 12 to 18 inches tall, flowering pink in the hot heat of summer, and having fragrant leaves when crushed or brushed against. Germander has traditionally been used in knot and herb gardens as small hedge or edging plant. This tough plant is in the mint family, but stays neat and doesn’t spread. Sea Thrift (Armeria maritima) is another tough perennial hardy to zone 3, growing a foot tall and wide. The tuft of grass produces lollipop pink blooms in mid spring. The mound will rot if there is too much moisture in the soil or too much overhead watering. In its native range, it grows in coastal environments and prefers mimicked growing conditions, which shouldn’t be hard in our area.
On the other end of the spectrum, in wet soils try Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum). It grows easily next to bodies of fresh water or in shallow water where it will produce “knees” (roots bulge to the surface appearing as knees). This tree will grow big – give it the space it needs! Another native woody is the serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) which actually tolerates a wide range of soils, but is best in a woodland garden or other naturalized area where its beauty in form, fall color and flowers are accentuated.
I also want to mention containers – not every plant will enjoy being in a container since it can be limiting for the plant’s growth. Plants in containers also need to be exceptionally hardy since they have to deal with fluctuating air temperature, limited root space and limited nutrients. Choosing the appropriate container size, material and location can be critical in the plant’s survival and persistence. Semi-hardy plants such as bay laurel, camellias, palms and citrus plants can be stored indoors during the winter months. I recommend outdoor containers have drainage holes, otherwise plants can become waterlogged during rain events. Many species and cultivars of boxwood do well in containers. Get creative and use groupings of various topiaries and variegated cultivars, or use dwarf varieties in window boxes and troughs. Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum) can handle container life, and can be a great addition to a shade garden where a pop of color can be achieved with a colorful container. A hydrangea, given it’s planted in a semi-shaded area that is sufficiently irrigated, can be a very rewarding woody shrub in a container. Dwarf varieties of other evergreens such as juniper, hinoki cypress, Japanese cedars and pines are bold, and provide interest in winter months.
This mantra can be a guide in single plant selection or for an entire design. Themed gardens such as a winter garden or a fragrant garden can be ill-thought when this guide is not used. Location will play an ultimate role in plant performance; but more crucial will be plant selection, especially for a garden that wants to exemplify woody ornamentals with yellow fall foliage and interesting bark, one feature of which may not be apparent when purchasing in the middle of summer. Cape Shore Gardens is filled with wonderful plant selections from spring to fall that serve many gardens, and with a staff that is knowledgeable in horticulture and design, you are sure to find the right plant, for the right place.
Cape Shore Gardens is located at 1028 Rt. 9 S., Cape May Court House. For more information, call (609) 465-5161.
Written by Lauren Popper, horticulturist at Cape Shore Gardens and graduate of Temple University’s School of Environmental Design.