A sustainable garden is the gold standard for a homeowner. It provides a beautiful and natural setting to highlight and enhance the look of the house, provides niches and nooks for privacy and play, and can provide bounty for the kitchen. All of this beauty returns year after year as the garden matures and, if properly planned and established, requires minimal maintenance. But there are choices that must be made at the start of the process to achieve success.
All gardens start with understanding and developing the soil. Knowing the pH, soil texture, drainage, and topography of the property are essential to planning a garden. There are plants that will grow in almost any soil type but selecting these viable and long lived plants requires knowing their growing environment. Azaleas are beautiful but require a well drained, acidic soil. Lilacs and clematis are also beautiful but prefer alkaline soil. Some plants like crepe myrtles do well in most soils. Regardless of the results of the soil tests, almost every soil should be improved by the addition of compost, manure, and mulch. These provide organic matter to the soil as well as nutrients and should also be added as part of the annual maintenance program.
Development of the soil is the tedious but necessary part of the process, but leads to the rewarding part: the selection and planting of the garden. The choices for plantings are almost overwhelming with every size, shape, color, and texture imaginable available. The good news is that they can be broken down into about several general types to consider.
Trees are the foundation statement for any garden or home site. Trees provide shade and usually define the rest of the garden surrounding them. They can be major specimen plants such as oak or elm trees or they can be smaller, more intimate plants such as fruit trees that do not tower over the property. A key consideration about fruit trees is that some varieties are self pollinating (peaches) while others require two or more varieties to pollinate (apples and pears). Thought should also be given to the use of the fruit produced. Two pear trees can produce more fruit that most families can consume.
Shrubs tend to be border plants that define the boundaries of various areas. Oddly, there is not a clear definition of what a shrub is. Generally, they are defined as any plant that does not exceed twenty five feet in height. They can be “woody” like crepe myrtles or more “grassy” or “viney” like liriope and grapevines. Many of these can grow well along fence lines or on trellises.
Perennialplants are the cornerstone plants for specific areas. They return every year with a show of flowers and color. Bulbs are a great choice to start a garden and can be selected to provide blooms throughout the growing season from early spring to late fall. Lantanas, caladiums, begonias, rosemary, and hostas can be placed in open sun or in shady nooks.
Berry plants are often overlooked as a garden staple. Berries are sensitive to the soil and weather conditions of the area and should be selected carefully. They provide a nice show of flowers followed by delicious fruits that can be canned and preserved or left for the birds and local animals to eat.
A sustainable garden is desirable in almost every location and is achievable with careful planning and thought. Actual plant selections should be those recommended for your area. A garden professional or county extension agent can supply a list of plants most suitable for your area. Once the garden is established, it will keep on giving year after year.