Design for Beginners, Part 1

Tropicanna in garden

Tropicanna cannas are add height and texture to side garden. Photo courtesy of

I have been doing some renovations around the house over the past few months and because of some of the structural changes to the buildings there is a need to change some of the garden layout and composition.

This, of course, got me thinking about the fundamentals of Garden Design.  I realized I needed to do this so that I could then determine the planning and labor required to implement the necessary changes. Because of my work with Tesselaar Plants, I have the luxury of dealing daily with innovative garden designers, the latest garden products and also visiting the great gardens of the world.

So to keep things simple I thought I would break Garden Design down into 3 easy components, with considerations that all of us can use when planning (or revitalizing) our garden areas: Location, Maintenance and Aesthetics.

This week I’ll talk about the first component – Location; Maintenance and Aesthetics will follow in the next few weeks.


Location, Location, Location  . . .

We have all heard this catch-cry when it comes to purchasing real estate but this oft-forgotten mantra also applies as a fundamental in garden design.

Not only do you need to determine what plant is right for you when it comes to appearance and function, but you also need to consider the setting in which you want to use the plant.

Often the information provided on a plant label is very much a generalization and doesn’t take into account the circumstances about where you may intend positioning a plant.  For example, planting something close to a structure or with protection from adjacent plants can have an impact on the performance of the plant when it comes to zone hardiness, flowering time, and even size.

It’s also important to determine how much sun/shade the areas that you’re working on receive each day. All plant labels indicate the amount of sun required for the plant, often with symbols showing a full sun or a partial sun.

picking the right plants for shade locations

This semi-shaded side of a barn is ideal for hostas, astilbes and other shade-loving plants, but a plant that requires full sun would suffer in this location.

Another thing to consider with location is the area adjacent to the garden. For instance, if you’re creating a border along a driveway that sends off a lot of high-radiant heat, whatever you plant in that area should be somewhat heat and drought tolerant.

easy landscape plants

Drought-tolerant Flower Carpet Amber performs well along this driveway, even in the hottest days of summer.


One of my favorite plants in our portfolio, Canna Tropicanna, is definitely a USDA Zone 8 plant which would preclude it from being planted as a year-round plant in colder climates.  However, it cold climates, it can be planted in-ground and then dug in the fall, similar to other tender bulbs like dahlias and gladiolus.  Also, because Tropicanna performs well in containers, many gardeners use this variety in zones outside of its performance range due to its exotic appeal, quick growing characteristics and ability to be over-wintered inside.


One of my favorite plants in our portfolio is Canna Tropicanna


The information on plant labels also include only the mature sizing of plants when it comes to height and width which is OK if you are planting mature plants or planning for the long term.  However, if you, like most of us, are apt to change your garden over the course of years, you should consider what affect you’re going for in the period between planting and maturity.  For example, by including annuals in your garden while waiting for your perennials to come to their full sizes, you can give the garden an instant look of fullness. Consider this option if the impact and overall look of the plant is something that you would be pleased within the period between planting and maturity.


As another example, many warm-climate gardeners are now re-considering their choice of cordylines.  When they’re young, most cordylines offer a great architectural look but then mature into small (and sometime less attractive) trees. However, you can achieve the same architectural / color affect without the height by considering options such as the “basal branching” (compact / ground cover) forms of cordyline such as Festival Burgundy.  Cordylines are generally hardy in Zones 8-11 but in cooler climates, Festival can be brought indoors in the winter as a slow-growing, easy-care house plant.

Festival burgundy

Festival Cordyline is the perfect landscaping plant for color and texture without too much height.


Festival Burgundy

Festival ‘Burgundy’ cordlyline provides a great architectural look in a garden – either mixed with other plants or even on its own. Shown here with Flower Carpet roses in foreground.


When possible, price should not be the first / foremost part of the purchase decision in garden design and decisions should be based on what look you are trying to achieve.  However, if you’re willing to be patient, starting with smaller, less expensive perennials and filling in with annuals – which often can be started by seed – is certainly a money-saving alternative.


Sweet Spot® the Decorator Rose®

Sweet Spot rose ‘Calypso’ quickly adds a decorator touch to this poolside patio

And speaking of location, if  you’re looking to quickly add a special “decorator’s touch” to your patio or deck for a special event or just to enjoy, Sweet Spot roses are ideal.  Each plant is a kaleidoscope of colors, with masses of multi-colored blooms that change color as they age.  With their gorgeous blooms and shiny foliage, Sweet Spot roses make a colorful display on their own.  They’re available in a choice of colors – from festive ‘Calypso’ and bright ‘Ruby’ to more the more subtle ‘Peach’ and ‘Yellow’ varieties  – one to suit every taste.


Stay tuned for next week’s installment of Design for Beginners, Part 2, covering Maintenance.




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2 Responses to Design for Beginners, Part 1

  1. Patricia Yeager July 30, 2013 at 3:54 pm #

    Do you have any suggestions for companion plants for Tropicanna in Zones 8-10? I just moved to Texas where the cannas are giant. I’m looking for companion plants that bloom at a different time of the year and won’t get overshadowed.

  2. Your Easy Garden Team July 31, 2013 at 11:04 pm #

    hi Pat, you may want to check with your local garden centers on this but perhaps something like Heuchera and Sweet Potato vines would be nice additions with their contrasting foliage. Marianne Binnetti just did an interesting post on using Tropicanna in containers in her Dig In Seattle TV show and podcast but her growing conditions are considerably different than yours. Keep us posted though and next month we’re doing a photo contest and will be asking our followers to post their photos to our Your Easy GardenFacebook page. Stay tuned for details! We’d love to see your Texas cannas!

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