Tag Archives: House Plants

Choosing Plants for Landscaping

Before making the journey to select plants for your garden make sure you have a clear idea of where you would like to plant them, and the type of soil with which you will be working. Read the label and examine each plant before you buy it to make sure it is right for the spot you have in mind. Buying the wrong plant could waste an entire growing season.

Always check the plant’s label for information about final height and spread and how long it will take to grow to full size. Ask for help if the label doesn’t tell you. Then consider the situation you have in mind for the plant and whether the fully grown specimen will be in scale, and in keeping with its surroundings.

Be sure to check when the plant’s optimal growth season is, or whether the plant has the added bonus of a second season.

Many evergreen variegated plants, such as Elaeagnus x ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’, are an excellent addition to any garden. This shrub has bright golden-yellow markings on leaves which are retained on the plant throughout the year, and do not easily succumb to weather damage. Cotinuscoggygyia ‘Royal Purple’ is a tall, handsome shrub that, though leafless during the winter, has fluffy pink flowers in summer and rich plum-purple leaves throughout the spring and summer. The leaves turn a dazzling red color in the autumn before they fall.

The small, upright flowering cherry tree, Prunus `Amanogawa’, produces masses of soft pink flowers in the spring and a spectacular show of color in the autumn, as the leaves turn to fiery reds, oranges and yellows, making the tree resemble a bright flame.

Any plant should earn its keep and reward you for your efforts, but no where more so than in a smaller garden, where space is at a premium.

Dwarf conifers are a good choice in a small garden as they will mature without becoming a danger to nearby buildings.

Site Preferences

Every plant has a preference for the ideal conditions it needs in order to grow well, whether it is hot or shady, acid or alkaline, dry or damp, and most will have the greatest of difficulty growing in the wrong position.

Many conditions can be modified, at least to some extent, to extend the range of plants which can be grown. Improve the drainage of a localized wet spot, for example, by incorporating sharp sand or gravel into the soil, and by adding organic matter, such as well-rotted farmyard manure, to encourage worm activity. Dry areas will also benefit from the addition of organic matter, which will hold moisture during the vital summer months. The use of a mulch will also reduce the amount of moisture lost by evaporation and reduce competition from weeds.

Acidic conditions can be modified by the addition of ground limestone or chalk, to raise the pH. It is difficult to lower the pH if the soil is alkaline, however. Flowers of sulphur will have some effect on alkalinity but the difference is only very slight and you will have to repeat the treatment every year. On the whole, it is better to choose plants that will thrive in your soil rather than laboring to change its pH, which may involve a lot of effort for little reward; indeed a great range of plants will not mind a slight alkalinity. If your soil is alkaline, it would be best to stick with growing acid-lovers in containers, and this can he very successful and suitable for many of them. Many fascinating and attractive plants also enjoy growing in acidic conditions, so choose wisely and watch your plants thrive.

Planning Your Garden

Simply moving a few plants is rarely enough to transform an uninspiring garden into something special. It is worth having a goal, a plan to work to, even if you have to compromise along the way. Bear in mind that you may be able to stagger the work and cost over several seasons, but having a well thought out design ensures the garden evolves in a structured way.

Use the checklist to clarify your needs, then decide in your own mind the style of garden you want. Make a note of mundane and practical considerations, like where to dry the clothes and put the refuse, plus objects that need to be screened, such as a compost area, or an unpleasant view.

Labour-saving tips

To minimize cost and labour, retain as many paths and areas of paving as possible, but only if they don’t compromise the design.

If you want to enlarge an area of paving, or improve its appearance, it may be possible to pave over the top and thus avoid the arduous task of removing the original.

Modifying the shape of your lawn is easier than digging it up and relaying a new one.

Garden styles

The garden styles outlined here are not exhaustive, and probably none of them will be exactly right for your own garden, but they will help you to clarify your thoughts.


Parterres and knot gardens: Shaped beds and compartments originally designed to be viewed from above. Knot herb gardens, such as ones based on intricate Elizabethan designs, can be stunning but are expensive to create, slow to establish and labour intensive.

Formal herb gardens: Easier to create than knot gardens. Seek inspiration from illustrated herb garden books -both old and new. It is easier to create one if based on a theme.

Formal rose gardens: Easy to create and can look good in first season. For year-round interest under plant with spring bulbs and edge beds with seasonal flowers.

Paved gardens: Particularly suitable for small gardens. Plant in open areas left in paving, up walls and in raised beds and containers.

Courtyard gardens: Floor tiles and white walls (to reflect light), together with some lush green foliage, an architectural’ tree or large shrub and the sound of running water will transform a backyard into a delightful courtyard garden.

A modern interpretation of an Elizabethan knot garden, with gravel and brick paving to keep weeding to a minimum

Traditional designs: A small formal garden, with rectangular lawn, straight herbaceous border plus rose and flowerbeds is a popular choice for growing a variety of summer bedding and other favourites.


Cottage gardens: The juxtaposition of old-fashioned’ plants and vegetables creates a casual but colourful look. Place brick paths or stepping stones through the beds.

Wildlife gardens: Even a tiny plot can attract small animals and insects. Planting must provide shelter and food, while a water feature will encourage aquatic wildlife.

Woodland gardens: Shrubs and small deciduous trees suit a long narrow garden and are effective for screening and dividing up the garden. Under-plant with naturalized bulbs, woodland spring flowers and ferns.

Meandering meadows: Where there is an attractive view, a sweep of grass between curved borders can merge with an unobstructed boundary. If the view is unappealing, curve the border round so that the lawn finishes beyond the point of view.

Decorative features



Borders, for herbaceous Borders, for shrubs Borders, mixed


Bright beds and borders: If plants are more important than design, use sweeping beds and borders with lots of shrubs and herbaceous plants to give shape. Use focal points such as ornaments, garden seats or birdbaths to create a strong sense of design.

Distant influences

Japanese gardens: Raked sand and grouped stones translate well to a small space, making a confined area appear larger. Plants can be kept to a minimum. Stone and gravel gardens: These materials can be used to create a dry-river bed feel. Minimal maintenance if you select drought-tolerant plants.

Functional features

Compost area


Tool shed


Children’s play area Climbing frame

Clothes drying area Dustbin (trash can) area Sandpit


In most cities and urban environments, back gardens are small and shady, but these factors need not restrict the garden’s potential, as these great splashes of colour show.

Choosing a style

The most comfortable and visually pleasing gardens are usually the result of careful planning, even those with an informal feel to them. Formal gardens appeal to those who delight in crisp, neat edges, straight lines and a sense of order. Many traditional suburban gardens are formal in outline, with rectangular lawns flanked by straight flower borders, and perhaps rectangular or circular flower beds cut into them. Such rigid designs are often dictated by the drive for the car and straight paths laid by the house builder.

The informality of the cottage garden and the ‘wilderness’ atmosphere of a wild garden are difficult to achieve in a small space, especially in a town. However, with fences well clothed with plants so that modern buildings do not intrude, an informal garden can work even here.

Professional garden designers are frequently influenced by classic styles from other countries, especially Japan, but amateurs are often nervous of trying such designs themselves. Provided you start with the clear premise that what pleases you is the only real criterion of whether something works, creating a particular foreign style can be great fun. Adapt the chosen style to suit climate, landscape and the availability of suitable plants and materials.


Before you draw up your design, make a list of requirements for your ideal garden. You will almost certainly have to abandon or defer some of them, but at least you will realize which features are most important to you.

Use this checklist of suggested features at the rough plan stage, when decisions have to be made… and it is easy to change your mind!

Herb garden

Lawn (mainly for decoration)Lawn (mainly for recreation)Ornaments

Patio/terrace Pergola


Raised beds

Summer house


Vegetable plot

Type of Houseplant

By using houseplants as ornaments, focal points and as integrated decorations in the home, you will derive even more pleasure from your plants than you would by regarding them merely as botanical specimens. Although plants are constantly changing — they grow, die, or simply alter their shape — this very lack of stability can be turned to your advantage. Unlike any other decorative element that you can place and forget, and eventually even take for granted, plants have a dynamic
existence. You have to move them, re-arrange them, even re-pot them into different containers, all of which gives them an extra dimension and vitality that other kinds of ornaments lack.

Many evergreens are tough enough for the more difficult positions around the home, such as a draughty hallway. They will be far more robust than plants with thin or papery leaves, feathery and frondy ferns, or even those with hairy leaves. You need these other leaf textures, as well as flowering plants, to add variety of shape and form, and a touch of colour, but it makes sense to use the toughest evergreens as the basis of your houseplant displays. Ivies are ideal if you need a tough climber or trailer, and there are lots of varieties to choose from, with a wide choice of leaf shape, size and colour.

Palms are the epitome of elegance and will add a touch of sophistication to your home. Many are slow-growing, and, consequently, large specimens are often expensive. But do not be deterred from trying palms; if you provide the right conditions, even small plants will gradually become very impressive specimens. The most common mistake is to regard all palms as lovers of hot sunshine and desert-dry air. They often have to cope with both in countries where they grow outdoors, but as houseplants you want them to remain in good condition with unblemished leaves. Brown leaf tips are usually caused by over-dry air, and yellowing leaves by under watering.

Ferns are grown mainly for the grace and beauty of their fronds. The majority of ferns will thrive in shade or partial shade, conditions that are easily provided in any home. Unfortunately they also require a lot of moisture and high humidity, both of which are in short supply in the average living room. Although most of the ferns sold as houseplants come from tropical regions, central heating spells death to many of them unless you counteract the dry air by taking measures to increase the humidity. The ideal place for ferns is in a conservatory, porch or garden room where it is easier to establish a moist atmosphere. If you wish to grow the delicate types with feathery fronds, try planting them in a bottle garden, where they will happily thrive.

Although generally short-lived in the home, flowering houseplants will bring a wonderful splash of colour and vibrancy. They also add an element of seasonal variation that ordinary foliage houseplants lack. The most rewarding flowering houseplants are those that grow bigger and better each year, with each subsequent blooming crowning another year of good cultivation and care. Flowers that you should be able to keep growing in the home from year to year include heloperones, bougainvilleas, Campanula isophylia, clivias, gardenias, hoyas, Jasmine polyanthus, Neriurn oleander, pelargoniums, saintpaulias, spathiphyllums and streptocarpus.

A year-round chrysanthemum makes an excellent short-term houseplant, and will flower for several weeks. Many flowering pot plants are difficult to keep permanently in the home and are best discarded when flowering has finished (or placed in a greenhouse if you have one). You should therefore really regard them as long-lasting cut flowers. A lot of them are annuals (in other words, they live for only 1 year) and can, therefore, be inexpensively raised from seed. Try browallias, calceolarias, cinerarias andexacums, which all make bright and cheerful plants for the home.