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  • Writer's pictureTom Cavan

How to Select a Plant

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

The inspiration for this blog comes from a recent trip to Portugal. We stayed at a vineyard in the Douro Valley and this is the view from the patio doors. Whenever I travel I identify comprehensively with the native species of my surroundings. In Portugal, there are Olive trees growing out of every crack and crevice, hillside, mountain terrace, and pasture along with manicured groves for farming the fruits of day, Vineyards around every turn, Cherry orchards galore, Orange trees are taken for granted scattered around as pollinators for the orchards, several species of Pine, and farmed pine groves for pine nut production, huge Eucalyptus hovering over the landscape like the Ents of Lord of the Rings, and then out of nowhere I come across some poplar trees competing with a Palm tree behind an old stone wall. Oak trees with their bark stripped off for cork. Tropical herbaceous plants we grow as houseplants are the volunteers of the understory throughout. Most formal landscapes there produce fruit without any care. This is what I see when I travel, and anyone who travels with me gets a horticultural tour-de-force whether they like it or not.

Much like when I drive to a client's house I take mental notes of the native species en route and begin formulating planting schemes before I even meet the client. I also google map the area to look at the big picture for quantifying the terrain and drainage, natural watersheds, winter exposure, etc.

When deciding on what plants to choose for your landscape whether it be trees, shrubs, or herbaceous perennials I highly recommend seeking the advice of a professional if you are not well-informed or experienced or simply not confident in your selections. If you are starting with a blank slate or intend on renovating your landscape definitely seek out a reputable professional for planning, as I have specified in many of my articles about landscaping. Purchasing plants can be pricey (even when discounted) especially when you fail in your attempts without being informed. A little research goes a long way.

The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, the second best time is now! Chinese proverb.

I recommend that you make a mental note ( and or take pictures) of everything that grows around your area naturally, is well established, and flourishing without human intervention. These are the inherent members of plant life that you should consider 1st and foremost as they have evolved and thrived in the same environs, with corresponding soil type, winter exposure, and the list goes on and on.

These are some simple things that will enable you to achieve a diversified persistent landscape that will flourish. I am a true believer that whenever and wherever possible implement a landscape that works for you, not you working for your landscape. Utilize upgraded species and new breeds for accenting and complimenting your heart's desire, just be sure you don't introduce potential space invaders or plants with little or no potential for self-preservation.

Diversify your selections as a safeguard against the potential invasion of insects and disease. Plant families for variation in colour and form, utilize companion plants.

Choose plants with good strong horizontal branching, not the silhouette. The more air and sunlight that can flow through is more desirable.

A society grows great when old people plant trees the shade of which they will never sit in.

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