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  • Writer's pictureTom Cavan

Marketplace Softscape

Updated: Aug 23, 2023


When planning a planting scheme for any design I always monitor the existing and future inventories online supplied by the nurseries. It's not very practical suggesting a plant species that is not available. It can be overwhelming even for a seasoned veteran like myself, it takes constant review to stay on top of the industry.

When I first started out at my father's garden centre in the early 70's there were about 50 trees, 100 shrubs, 200 perennials and a rainbow of annuals too many to count. It all happened so fast every spring because everything had to be dug from the fields, potted, and shipped with the exception of annuals which are all greenhouse grown. Ball and Burlap, fibre pots were the standards. Fast forward to 1979 when I opened my own garden centre those numbers quadrupled and we entered the container age. Every year we added more and more selections. We could order plants all year from the time the ground thawed to the fall freeze-up. We also entered the computer age where we could enter all the plant species and print individual tags for each plant. The numbers were outrageous. All tolled I peaked @ over 4,ooo different plant types, not including the deluge of annual options!




Annuals are impressive but are high maintenance and expensive.

I have always been an advocate of creating gardens that work for the client, not the client working for the gardens. Form follows function. I first begin by setting out a complimentary planting scheme that reflects the exposure, soil type, architecture, and the client's requests. I do not name a single plant until I am satisfied that as many if not all functions are met, then I name all of the plants starting with the signature focal point species and then moving on to the supporting cast. If there are any plants that a client does not appreciate or approve of for personal taste for whatever reason, I simply substitute a plant with similar attributes that persist and suit the concept. Form follows function and when everything is thriving I have completed my task at hand. Plan on sustainable gardens suited to your location.



This was my 1st landscape installation (and still favourite) began in 1988. There have been a few changes during its evolution as goes the circle of life along the way but flourishing 35 years later. Every spring I drop off a load of compost which they dress in as mulch to maintain soil fertility.


These days I am very skeptical of the latest and greatest. All new introductions go through rigorous field trials until proven true to form, however, those are field trials under controlled environments. Once these newbies hit the market they undergo the true test of survival of the fittest. I have experienced many disappointments with new introductions and the ongoing increase in the ornamental selections. ie do we really need 60 versions of Hydrangeas? when there are a dozen stalwarts that fit into almost every garden and a rainbow of complimentary colours.

I have rolled back my plant selections to under 1,000. Now that might seem like a lot but there has been a resurgence of native species and improved variations of which I entertain as first choices whenever possible. Plants native to or suited to our local environment will provide the best results whenever and wherever.

So when you are out shopping around seek the advice of professionals and choose the plant(s) that 1st suit the functions of your plan and you will succeed. If you cannot find the solution due to lack of availability utilize annuals for the season to fill the gap and then wait until the right plant for the right location comes along.

Don't compromise with a plant that does not suit the location as that usually ends up in failure or unnecessary maintenance.



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