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Picking and choosing plants – how to choose plants that will thrive in your garden

Choosing plants for the garden often puts people in a quandary. ‘I’m not a proper gardener! I don’t know enough!’ is the plaintive cry.  The truth is that anyone whose garden consists of living plants is, in fact, a gardener. Quite often knowing more-or-less what one wants in terms of form and position and an eye for beauty is all that is really needed.

All plants on the PlantInfo database display interactive icons which provide information on the plants environmental requirements like frost tolerance and light, water needs etc. Alternatively a good garden center assistant will be able to show you the plants that suit your basic requirements, and then the only difficulty is in deciding which ones to choose.

Here are a few points to meditate that will help you to choose your garden plants wisely:

Where will I plant it?

  • Light: Will your new plants grow in the sun or shade? If there is both sun and shade, does it occur in the morning or in the afternoon?
  • Temperature and climate: Think about heat and frost as well as wind. Will the plant have to tolerate any extremes? Remember that there are protected niches around structures, in courtyards, under trees and among other plants – you can get away with more sensitive plants in protected spots like these.
  • Soil and water: Get to know the soil: if it is hard when dry and sticky when wet, it is clay. Sandy soil is soft and gritty and loam is in between the two. Does the soil tend to bet wet or dry most of the time? Remember that many of the plants on the PlantInfo database provide information on their preferred soil conditions and pH levels.

What should it look like?

  • The question of aesthetics: Think about the ‘look’ of the plants.

Size and form are important here. For example, plants can be evergreen or deciduous

  • Spreading groundcovers of various heights.
  • Mound or tuft forming ground covers or perennials of various heights.
  • Ornamental grasses
  • Low shrubs
  • Medium-sized shrubs
  • Large shrubs
  • Trees of different sizes

  • Colour and texture: These aren’t important in terms of plant survival and success, but it’s still an important consideration. If you have to compromise a little, it may be here. Shades of green and leaf size and shape are almost more important than flowering time and flower colour.
  • Gardening philosophy: The style of a garden is important. It should fit in with its setting helping to enhance a ‘sense of place’.

Properties in or near natural areas may be part of conservancies where a plant list is provided in order to ensure that gardens fit in well with the natural vegetation.

As a home owner, you yourself may decide to have a formal or informal garden using a combination of indigenous and exotic plants, indigenous plants only, or even only plants that would be endemic in your area.

‘Low maintenance’ is a lovely philosophy to follow, but remember that it does not mean ‘no maintenance’. Even indigenous plants need a little extra water during dry spells when newly planted, love a bit of slow release fertilizer, and look better for a prune if they are becoming straggly.

Ready, steady, go!

Knowing what you are looking for and where it will grow in your garden will help you to make an informed choice so that you can bring home the correct plant for the correct place. Always research plans before purchasing them.

Search the names on the labels of the plants you plan to purchase in the PlantInfo search bar so that you can check on how they measure up to your criteria.

So how do you know if the plant is of a good quality?

We all know that we need good ingredients to make good food, so it makes sense to buy good quality plants in order to get strong, healthy growth once they are planted in the garden.

As a rule of thumb: if the plant looks good and you like it, the chances are that it is good quality. What you are looking for is vigorous, healthy looking growth and foliage. Ask yourself if you would eat it if it was a vegetable, and you’re probably on the right track.

If anything about the appearance of the plant bothers you, do not buy it unless it is a speciality that you’ve been desperately hunting for.

Sickly-looking plants quite often recover when planted into good soil, but they may sulk for a bit or even sicken and die. Remember that planting out is also something of a shock, if only because the plant is now in a new location, so start with the best plants possible.

Important things to remember

  • Don’t leave your plants for hours in the hot car, they can burn from the heat.
  • Plant out your purchases as soon as possible – plants are harder to maintain in containers than in soil.
  • Use compost and water in well.
  • Don’t let the soil dry out during the first months while the roots are establishing themselves. This is why Autumn is a good time to plant.
  • Indigenous plants, and better still, endemic ones, are best suited to your climate.

Here are some examples of Indigenous plants for different spots in the garden.
(For more info click on the plants you are interested in)

Bomb-proof indigenous plants for Sun or shade

Bush violet

(Barleria repens ‘Rosea’)

Fly bush, Lobster flower, Skunk leaf

 (Plectranthus neochilus)

Wild Iris

(Dietes grandiflora)

Emerald fern or Asparagus ‘Mazeppa’

(Asparagus densiflorus ‘Mazeppa’)

Hot or cold, either suits

Confetti Bush, Breath of Heaven

(Coleonema pulchellum)

False olive

(Buddleja saligna)

Garden red-hot poker

(Kniphofia praecox)

Mesembryanthemum (mesemb)

(Lampranthus species)

Wind and sun

Wild rosemary

(Eriocephalus africanus)

Gazania, Treasure flower

(Gazania rigens)



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