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What are the criteria to select plant variety for your garden and landscape design?


Reva Saksena, Srishti Mehta, Shruti Bhagwat, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Landscape, Garden, Design, Planning, Sustainable, Green, Landscaping, Sustainability, Greenery, Gardening, Landscaped, Gardened, Zeyka, Zeyka India

There are three things to consider while selecting plants for your garden or deciding a suitable plant palette for your landscape design. They are, in the order you should consider them: plant hardiness, site conditions and suitability for your landscape design. Thorough research of plants that you want to consider can ensure that the species selected harmonize with the natural surroundings and thrive on minimal upkeep. Knowing your lot, aesthetic preferences, the style of your garden, its maintenance, and budget will help you narrow your choices and avoid selecting plants that just wouldn’t contribute to the garden you want.


Site conditions

The first considerations when selecting a plant are its requirements and tolerance for moisture, wind, soil, climate, and exposure. As discussed before, every region has its own climate, and every site has its own micro-climate. The soil and topography especially are unique to every site and hence form important considerations when selecting a suitable planting palette. A good option would be to use native plants as they can better handle the hot, damp, or cold climate of your region and adapt to the humidity levels while still retaining a year-round appeal.

Reva Saksena, Srishti Mehta, Shruti Bhagwat, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Landscape, Garden, Design, Planning, Sustainable, Green, Landscaping, Sustainability, Greenery, Gardening, Landscaped, Gardened, Zeyka, Zeyka India

1. Soil

Soils vary greatly in acidity, drainage, and fertility. Sandy soils are usually well-drained while clayey soils tend to become water-logged. Few plants thrive well in both situations. A soil analysis of your backyard will help in selecting suitable plants. It is always better to select plants for your soil than to try to change the inherent soil type. Good soil maintenance and composting are two of the first steps towards a beautiful garden.


2. Sunlight

All plants require sunlight to grow, but the amount and intensity of light needed to thrive can vary. Typically, plants can be sun-loving or shade-loving. More explicitly, they can be full sun, part sun, part shade or full shade. Some evergreen trees and shrubs will not tolerate the drying effect of winter winds. On the other hand, most hardy deciduous plants will tolerate full exposure.

Reva Saksena, Srishti Mehta, Shruti Bhagwat, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Landscape, Garden, Design, Planning, Sustainable, Green, Landscaping, Sustainability, Greenery, Gardening, Landscaped, Gardened, Zeyka, Zeyka India

As you evaluate alternative landscape designs, consider not only the sun’s path but also the shade patterns created by buildings and existing trees on site. Work out where the sun sets and plant accordingly so that the light of the evening sun catches on, say, a nice ornamental plant-or simply one with attractive foliage.


Having both sun and shade in a single garden may present a design challenge, but this combination of contrasting light conditions adds interest and moods to your outdoor space, especially if it is a big one. An example that comes to mind is the Lodhi Garden in New Delhi. It has a nice mix of tree-shaded lawns and sunny, open ‘meadows’ that form great picnic spots. Filtered sunlight creates dancing patterns of light and shade on the meandering pathways, setting a different ambience.


3. Topography

Topography refers to the form of the landscape—its steepness, shape, and slope. The topography of your lot can indicate a lot about the choice of plants for your garden. Even within a relatively small area, variations in topography can create variations in temperature, moisture, and exposure to sun and wind. These microclimates create conditions that support different varieties of plants. Some plants have adapted to cooler northern slopes, while others do better with hot, dry, south-facing exposure.


Capitalise on your conditions. Carefully select plants that have a high probability of thriving in your garden with minimal involvement in maintenance. Decide positions of your plants in spots where they would be most likely to succeed, and that would take advantage of their natural form and texture. Be aware of possible air and soil pollution when selecting plants. Pollutants from cleaning material, construction material and automobiles, air conditioners, such as sulphur dioxide, ozone and fluoride also damage plants.

Reva Saksena, Srishti Mehta, Shruti Bhagwat, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Landscape, Garden, Design, Planning, Sustainable, Green, Landscaping, Sustainability, Greenery, Gardening, Landscaped, Gardened, Zeyka, Zeyka India


Design considerations and suitability


Plants have different characteristics that make them eligible to be incorporated as a design element. Knowing a plant’s natural form, habit and tendencies can help place it where those characteristics will have the best effect to make your space feel relaxed, low-maintenance and natural- in harmony with your house and environment.


Form

Form as an element of design adds organisation and structure to a composition. In Planting design, it is defined as the shape of a plant and the structure of its branching pattern. Plants can have a range of individual forms- rounded, spreading, pyramidal, flat or vase-like. When placed in groups, they take on a new form.

Reva Saksena, Srishti Mehta, Shruti Bhagwat, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Landscape, Garden, Design, Planning, Sustainable, Green, Landscaping, Sustainability, Greenery, Gardening, Landscaped, Gardened, Zeyka, Zeyka India

Tree forms range structurally from having stiffly upright branches such as the Lombardy poplar trees to the droopy quality of a Weeping Willow. Plant species have different forms or growth habits that make them naturally suited to be used as defining design elements. Some basic forms and their common uses are:

  1. Vertical – usually used sparingly as accents or to provide height

  2. Horizontal – used to provide width and to “attach” structures to the ground

  3. Weeping – usually used only as accents or ornaments

  4. Pyramidal – used as accents or combined with rounded and horizontal plants

  5. Rounded – used to create large masses, borders or enclosures

Landscape forms evoke emotions and create ambience. Rectilinear forms feel rigid, structured and formal. Circular and rounded forms are soft, while triangular forms feel strong. Irregular shapes lend a casual, informal vibe. You can use form in your design to set the mood of your landscape.


Texture

Texture in landscape design refers to the texture of the ground, the leaves of a tree or shrub that add an overall visual effect to the garden. Strong textural contrasts add drama and interest to a garden. Up close, the size of a plant’s leaves, twigs and branches determines its texture. Fine-textured plants have small leaves and twigs, while coarse-textured ones have larger leaves and rougher barks. Medium-textured ones fall in between the two types. From a distance, it is the quality of light and shadow and cohesiveness of the entire form, the pattern of light and dark, foliage and voids that translates as texture.

Reva Saksena, Srishti Mehta, Shruti Bhagwat, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Landscape, Garden, Design, Planning, Sustainable, Green, Landscaping, Sustainability, Greenery, Gardening, Landscaped, Gardened, Zeyka, Zeyka India
  1. Coarse texture - large leaves with irregular edges; bold, deep veins in leaves; variegated colours; thick twigs and branches; leaves and twigs with spines or thorns

  2. Fine texture- small foliage; thin, elongated leaves; tall, thin stems; tiny, dense twigs and small branches; long stems; and small, delicate flowers

You may want to select plants of all three textures. Often, the size of a landscape space will determine what texture is appropriate – a small space will seem larger with fine-textured plants than with coarse-textured ones, for example. Texture is often overlooked, but it is one of the most important elements of any garden that can create significant sensual and visual excitement.


Colour

Reva Saksena, Srishti Mehta, Shruti Bhagwat, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Landscape, Garden, Design, Planning, Sustainable, Green, Landscaping, Sustainability, Greenery, Gardening, Landscaped, Gardened, Zeyka, Zeyka India

The dominance of one colour helps provide harmony in a home landscape as well as throughout an entire neighbourhood. For most people, green foliage creates a restful landscape. However, bright flowers or foliage can well be used to emphasize a focal point or frame a pleasing view. Bright and bold colours like reds and oranges can be used to make hedges, borders, or boundaries closer, while cooler tones such as blue, white or purple give a sense of distance.


You may also want to select plants with a particular fruit, bark and leaf colour to serve as accents as the seasons change. One of the other important things to consider is the colour of your house, especially for the plants to which the house will be a backdrop, or, simply climbing up the walls of the house.


Plant Nativity/Plant Origins

It is evident that indigenous plant species will thrive better owing to adaptation in a specific micro-climate. You may want to consider using some native plants in your design. Plants native to any place are just as beautiful as non-native ones and are often better adapted to growing conditions.


Although your instinct and preference will more or less guide you to choosing the right kind of plants for your garden, it would be worth spending some time to know your design considerations before the next visit to the nursery. While this was an overview of how to go about the general considerations for selecting plants, the upcoming articles will outline more specifically how to select trees and shrubs for your garden.


So, if you want to start gardening but haven’t botany plants yet, you should.


They’ll grow on you.


Reva Saksena, Srishti Mehta, Shruti Bhagwat, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Landscape, Garden, Design, Planning, Sustainable, Green, Landscaping, Sustainability, Greenery, Gardening, Landscaped, Gardened, Zeyka, Zeyka India



About the Writer

Reva Saksena is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. She has experience working at SiteLens Cultural Research Division of India Lost and Found (ILF) by Amit Pasricha. She is the winner of the "2021 Berkeley Prize Essay Competition.”


About the Editor

Srishti Mehta is the author of From the Land of Mist and Snow: Haikus from Antarctica. She is a creative writer, editor and publisher. She is the Editor-in-Chief at Zeyka. She is a graduate of the St. Xavier College, Ahmedabad, and the H.R. College of Commerce and Economics, University of Mumbai (MU). She has been the India Ambassador of the International Antarctica Expedition (2018) with 2041 Foundation. She has diverse volunteer experience in natural field studies, explorations, and journalism with numerous organisations including the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Mumbai.


About the Illustrator

Shruti Bhagwat is an undergraduate architecture student at the Sir J.J. School of Architecture. Shruti has a keen eye for art, design and detail and a passion for books and movies. As the head of public relations for her college, she has organised and hosted multiple events for the institute’s talk series- ‘Manan.’ She was a finalist of Spacematrix’s Designathon 2020.

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