Sunday, June 15, 2008

GT Week 2 (revised). Plant Lists: The Workhorses.

Read this post first. I absolutely cannot believe how varied plants are! The past two weeks have been amazing. And here's the really exciting bit--(ready for it Wende?) I have been making spreadsheets!

First, I fell in love with conifers--I had no idea they came in "colours." (I'd sort of never noticed the blue-green ones before. I'd thought all the yellow ones were dying.) I got very excited about dwarf conifers until I realised they'd probably cost a fortune and that it was tough to get good colour out of the interesting ones in shade.

Doesn't that just look like velvet? (Picea glauca conica)

I was afraid too many conifers would be very static, however. So then I moved on to shrubs. And it's been a roller coaster ride of excitement and disappointment. (What do you mean it's zone 4, full sun, and likes acidic soil?** grrrr.)

Texture is something that's been really interesting. Just as in Interior Design (though much more straight forward than in Interiors) there are two types. The first is the overall impression the plant makes--the second is the texture of the foliage itself.

I've found the descriptions at Northscaping fabulous. I just open a spreadsheet, say, for grasses "hardy to Zone 3" and enter in sun requirements, height, spread, foliage colour (divided up into seasons), shape, texture and notes. Then, I grab a picture and put it on my hard-drive. This also gives me a handy way to record info found in the books, too. I just filled in part of a spreadsheet on all variations of green foliage plants hardy in my zone, that will grow in shade to part shade. There were over forty species! Now, I just have to go and fill in "spread" and other info my primary source didn't have. I did this to get started on narrowing down my choices for my "workhouse" plants.

I will have dogwood. I must have dogwood. Look what it can become in winter:
(This is a cultivar called 'Isanti')

You may already know what your workhorses are. Remember these are the plants which will be used throughout the garden to "anchor" your other plantings. They will provide repetition, rhythm and unity.

These are plants which will suit you sun/shade requirements, be in your zone*, and will provide an excellent foil for more colourful plantings.

They can be perennials, deciduous or coniferous. They can be tall, medium or small--or all of the above, whatever your needs.

So, figure out what they may be for you, if relevant, and post pics of your favourites! That's an "assignment" for this week.

*More than one author I've read says she is able to grow plants rated two to three zones higher than that recommended by her area because she gets enough snow cover every winter to insulate the plants. I think that's wonderful and probably true, so you can keep that in mind when choosing your plants. We don't actually get most of our snow until March and the temperatures to worry about occur in January or February, here. For workhorses, I don't want to worry about it, at all.



Anne (in Reno) said...

I am SO doing this totally out of order. I have tried to get all my workhorses in already and now I am just filling it out with perennials that will hopefully make it through the winter. I do recommend the dogwoods, I have three now and those red stems are gorgeous in the wintertime against the snow!

drwende said...

This is very cool, and congratulations on tackling the spreadsheet. That's exactly what you need to organize the information.

Playing fast and loose with climate zones is best reserved for experienced gardeners who are entertained by replacing plants that didn't work out. I'm with you on sticking with what's known to work in your zone.

Alana in Canada said...

Anne--Order? What order? Any order is good!

Wende--it is so hard to discipline myself to stay in my zone. Astilbe would be so lovely--and yet some books put it at Zone 4. It doesn't help that I'm juggling American classifications as well--and that sources vary even within the U.S.

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