The search for the right plant

By Rannveig (rannveig) on June 24, 2011

There are few things more exciting than planning a new garden or redesigning an old one that‘s in need of a facelift. There are quite a few things to bear in mind when starting out on such a project. First to define how the garden will best serve it‘s owners, plan patios, walkways and other hardscapes. Then it‘s time for the fun part – to pick the plants.

2011-06-24/rannveig/33367dPlant collectors like me usually start at the wrong end. I see a nice plant I just „have“ to try and then I have to figure out where to put it. The result can be fine in the end, but this approach usually entails frequently moving plants around until you get the right result.

The other way – which is probably the right way to go about this, is to start planning and preparing the plant beds and then finding suitable plants to plant there. Things like light conditions, shelter or lack there of, soil type, climate zones, plant hight and color need to be taken into account. It can be quite a puzzle.

Narrowing the choices down can be split into two parts. First there are external conditions that dictate what can be grown. Preparing the soil is especially important in a cool climate like here in Iceland where a heavy, wet soil can make it impossible to grow much of anything. Sometimes it‘s necessary to bring in new soil, but it‘s often enough to mix good compost and sand with the existing soil. For rock garden plants that need good drainage, mixing the soil with fine gravel is helpful. It‘s also necessary to take into account the moisture content in the soil and not plant moisture loving plants in a really dry spot or vice-versa. Then there‘s the light conditions. A lot of plants are happy growing in shade part of the day if they get plenty of sun at other times, but some plants require full sun to be able to thrive. There aren‘t many plants here that would require shade, however there are plants that can tolerate shade and brighten up a shady corner of the garden. And then there‘s the ever present wind to take into account. If shelter from the wind is lacking the selection is limited to only the most tolerant, low growing plants.

When the field‘s been narrowed down by the compulsary choices it‘s time for the free choices: hight, flowering time and color. Here individual taste comes to play, but there are a few things to keep in mind. When planting a flower bed shorter plants are planted in front and taller in the back. To have flowers throughout the growing season it‘s important to choose plants with a varied flowering time. Color choice is entirely a matter of taste. Some people find it hard to coordinate a lot of different colors and limit their choices to one to three colors, while others throw every color of the rainbow into the mix.

Taking all these different variables into account is no simple matter. Plant databases on the internet can be of great help and there are many of them out there. There are four Icelandic plant databases available: Akureyri Botanical Garden; Yndisgróður; og Garðaflóra database here on cubits.


English translation of an article that first appeared here.


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About Rannveig
Born and raised in Iceland, I found a deeper appreciation for my country after spending 6 years of my teens in the US (Florida). I've been a garden enthusiast since my childhood and love the challenges of gardening in Iceland ..... well, most of the time. I have to admit that slighly longer, warmer summers would not be a bad thing.

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