Monthly Archive for December, 2012

4 things you can learn about plants from your neighbors

Crab Apple Tree

You can learn a lot about plants simply by walking around your neighborhood. In fact, you can learn a lot of things about plants that can’t easily by learned anywhere else, including at the garden center.

Size & Shape

Few people buy mature plants, especially when if comes to shrubs and trees.  The time & expense required for slow growing plants to reach maturity, let alone the logistical challenges of moving them around, makes buying mature plants a very expensive proposition.  Besides, half the fun of having a garden is watching it grow.  That being said, before you put a plant in the ground it is a good idea to understand what it will look like 5, 10 or 50 years down the road. The costs of putting the wrong plant in the wrong place extend much further than it’s price tag.  One misplaced maple tree could impact the structural integrity of your home, your utility costs, your quality of life, and even your relationship with your neighbors. Walking around an established neighborhood, with mature plants, can eliminate a lot of the guesswork when working with new plant material purchased from the garden center.


Ever think of using ornamental grasses as a privacy screen?  I certainly had not until I saw a wall of them planted along someones driveway. The plants in the garden center are usually organized by their physical characteristics (e.g. fruit trees) and growing requirements (e.g. loves shade) not function.

Companion Plants

When you visit Ikea the first thing you have to do is navigate your way through the showroom.  The showroom floor is made up of fully furnished rooms that let you see how different pieces of furniture relate to one another.  You may have gone to Ikea looking for a sofa, but there is a good chance you will leave with the matching end table and carpet too.  Contrast this to the experience at most garden centers, especially the big box kind. Very little attention is paid to showing gardeners how plants relate to one another.  Shrubs are kept with shrubs, and annuals are kept with annuals, and never the two shall meet. At least not until you put them in your garden, and by then it may be too late.


Most gardeners visit the garden center in the spring and early summer when fruit, fall color and winter interest are months from being visible. Keep track of the plants that capture your interest in your neighborhood, and take note of how they change through the seasons.  You will be in a better position to make an informed purchase decision when you are at the garden center.