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Channel your Inner Plant When Searching for Your Home’s New Plants

Selecting the perfect plant can be a daunting task. Garden Designer Franchesca Watson decodes how to do it

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By Kimberley Schoeman  | February 2, 2024 | Gardens

Ever wondered why the orchid you bought along with your groceries isn't thriving on your sunny, west-facing windowsill? It's because in nature, orchids grow in light, sheltered shade, often happily perched on the branches of a tree in a semi-tropical forest canopy far from the blazing sun and direct, drying heat of your windowsill Plants are living, breathing, growing decor, adapted to life in the environment from which they originate. Whilst they're adaptable, the closer their new environment is to where they naturally grow, the more success you'll have. Back to your orchid. To be loving life, it needs a well-lit space, no direct sunlight to burn its leaves and fresh air away from any draught or air conditioning.

One of the tricks to selecting which plants will be happy in your home and garden is to understand the conditions you have to offer. Photograhy by Elsa Young.

The trick to selecting which plants will be happy in your home and garden is to understand two things: firstly, the conditions you have to offer. This could mean anything from a sunny windowsill or light airy space on top of the fridge; to the rather dry, shady area under the garden tree or sunny hollow at the bottom of the garden where the soil is slightly waterlogged. Once you've established this, move on to plants you like - not forgetting those that will enjoy the conditions you're offering. Don't kid yourself. You'll only waste time and money if you do - and more than likely kill your plants.

I start by making a list of all the plants that originate in a similar setting to the one I'm planting in. Take time with this and you'll be well rewarded. As part of your research, take note of how tall and wide your plants grow, what time of the year they flower and how they change over the year, such as losing their leaves in winter. If they'l end up getting too big, not big enough, or are going to do something you don't like, cross them off the list. Now eliminate the plants you don't like the look of - these two rounds may shorten your list somewhat!

Only then make your final cut by selecting plants with contrasting textures, desired colours, flowering times, the fragrances you enjoy or whichever criteria are important to you. Image: Supplied.

Only then make your final cut by selecting plants with contrasting textures, desired colours, flowering times, the fragrances you enjoy or whichever criteria are important to you.

Here's a garden case study. Assume you have a small garden surrounded by boundary walls and existing Eugenia hedges. It's generally sunny but the walls and hedges cast a little shadow during certain times of the day, and you have heavy soil, with a tendency to hold water.

You will need plants that enjoy sun but are able to tolerate more shade in winter when the hedges cast additional shade and plants that won't keel over when the soils become waterlogged for a few months.

“I start by making a list of all the plants that originate in a similar setting to the one I'm planting in” ― Franchesca Watson

For the colour scheme, let's assume it's pink and white. Here's my list: Hebes of any kind don't mind slightly heavy, damp soils or semi-shade. Shade-loving grass creates a wonderful mown walkway for those awkward areas down the side of a property.

Shade grass comes as a handy ready mix of seed grasses such as Kentucky blue, tall fescue and rye, which don't like to dry out so are good candidates for damp conditions and they tolerate a semi-shaded position. Ajuga reptans (bugleweed) is a forgiving groundcover, and the deep purple hue is wonderfully dramatic in the front of a planted bed. Roses are generally good in heavy soils, and if water logging happens in winter, they're semi-dormant at that time of year and probably won't notice too much.

A mown pathway leads one through stade-loving grasses onto open awn and clipped bolterre beneath mature oak trees. Photography by Elsa Young.

Lawned areas beneath trees are famous for patchy-looking grass, so why not try something different, like a parterre. Here I've used Escallonia Pink Princess' which is great as a neatly clipped hedge in the shade and has pretty pink flowers in summer and autumn.

Read more stories like this in the latest House & Garden SA December/January 2024 Issue