7. The Best Gardening Advice – Yep, One on Plants

Inescapable Really


In the very first post I said, “It (the series) works up to those that have some experience and shows why they always can’t seem to put a finger on what a garden might need to be a real success.” One reason is they set themselves up to fail. They sabotage their efforts.

We can’t have one on gardening advice and not have it deal just with buying plants.


Yes, a big mistake is buying for the wrong site conditions, but did you know the biggest mistakes gardeners make? Well it is one my two clients from last post made for years and years. (Again, no photos in this post showing gardening mistakes. All but the last garden image are from the beautiful garden of a garden club member).

I show up on site and what do I find? Pallets busting over with plants. A trip to the nursery by excited clients and exuberance takes control. Plants get purchased willy nilly. Yes, even seasoned gardeners do this one, and often, they are the worst offenders.


So what is the problem you say? The problem is not forethought where the plants will go. Just because someone has 10 to 15 acres does not mean they have the space to plant the new-found menagerie of purchases. It took time to break them of this habit, not to mention sending the plants back to the nursery. I am all for a challenge, but not without a plan.


How many make this mistake? Everyone it seems.

Pros don’t make impulse choices

Make sure to look at your gardens before you go to the nursery. Look at space realistically and assess how a plant will affect neighbors. Will it shade out those around, will it crowd out bed mates?  Select for conditions. People don’t do this very often.

Make a List and Prioritize

People go to the nursery and see and want everything, bringing home trays and trays of perennials, and skids of trees that will outgrow their site, or make it so other plants falter. It is important to know your sun conditions throughout the day, how long it lights an area with shadows it throws and patterns it makes.

Remember the post telling you to install trees first? Good advice, but it comes with a caveat. Have a plan first and be practical. Always buy the largest plants you can afford too.


Walk the Garden Center with Confidence

Use your cell phone to take photo reference for when you get back to your garden. Make a grouping of plants you intend to buy, checking color and texture, but also note conditions they prefer to keep your groupings compliant. Did you know that designers do this in nursery yards?

Don’t Plant a Pest

Bishop’s Weed and Houttuynia cordata, yes the client’s came home with both these plants, all because they wanted fast and full growth. The Houttuynia was already established in the garden of one client, and trying to get rid of it was a battle. The homeowner had tried pulling it and also Roundup. Neither worked in the long-term. I had to have the landscapers come in with professional herbicides to finally eliminate this thug of a plant.


Advice: don’t tell nursery people you want a fast growing groundcover. Remember I mentioned growing takes time? Be patient and diligent in selecting plants.

houttuyniaSure the Houttuynia is a beautifully colored plant, but it is invasive and very weed-like in growth.

The Bishop’s Weed does the same thing. It covers neighborhoods if allowed. Unless you want beds only of these groundcovers, reconsider. Both find their way into lawns as well.BishopsWeed

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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21 Responses to 7. The Best Gardening Advice – Yep, One on Plants

  1. aberdeen gardening says:

    Donna, I have a feeling that the difference between the professionally trained gardener like yourself and the experienced amateur gardener like myself is the fact that we amateurs no matter how long we have been at it will continue to make the same mistakes again and again (well perhaps I am talking for myself). More often than not I am aware when I take a gamble but somehow seem drawn to it..

    • mazza18467 says:

      I love it when a garden develops itself. I normally start with some basic structures. a tree a big bush, that is already there and decide where another feature will be nice, so new small trees or bushes are bought, but indeed they need time to grow, so to pass the time I let them be joined with annual plants, I give them some time to develop and then two or three years later I continue. The small bushes have grown and can probably stand on their own now and start to be a center of attention. Fast growing plants that temporarily fill any gaps are being removed or replaced. And my best tip for myself is to buy some flowering plant every month .This way I get a cycle of flowering plants . No idea if it is the right way but it seems to work for me.

  2. Roger Brook says:

    Looks like Salix matsudana tortuosa in the top picture. I had it for years here in York UK and it got too big for its site so I took it out. Was It a mistake to plant it? No, I had 25 years of pleasure. It had a beautiful Celastrus growing through it . Fantastic yellow Autumn colour

  3. Great advice, great tips. I really loved the photos, they are very inspiring.

  4. Oh, you’re so right. I do my homework and make a list of plants to buy. However, I have to admit that sometimes when I get to the nursery I pick up something that’s not on my list. But the purpose of my garden is to enjoy it. Playing around with plants is part of the enjoyment. If I try something that doesn’t work, that’s okay. It’s not as if I’m a farmer and my plants have to grow or I lose money. Making it up as I go along is part of the fun of gardening for me.

  5. Guilty as charged. I research and plan, and still come home with impulse buys. And I garden on little more than a quarter acre. Making a preliminary visit to the nursery before making purchases sounds like a good idea.

    Also, I appreciate the advice about buying the biggest tree you can afford, but I really like to do the planting myself, which means I often end up ordering on-line, as with the flowering dogwood and fringe trees I’ve recently planted. These were 5′ specimens, but Judy complains they look like sticks.

  6. A.M.B. says:

    Beautiful pictures! The houttuynia cordata and Bishop’s Weed look so pretty–who knew they were so pernicious. I have no experience with either, thankfully!

  7. I am almost running into the exact same problem! But I must say I am being disciplined on buying plants. No new plants until I have a plan. That being said with nearly 60 acres to play with it is a challenge on how to effectively design my slice of heaven. I’m taking it very slow. So far only daffodils and one or two shrubs have moved. Gotta get that plan done soon. I adore this garden you showed. The second pic with the evergreens is so wonderful!

  8. Laurrie says:

    This is the single best advice! Our garden group is distinctly divided into two camps of plant shoppers — the ones who collect any and all plants that interest them and then struggle over where to put them, and those who will leave an area blank until they can find the exact shrub or tree or perennial for the spot. We laugh at each others’ habits, but you point out the basic difference between designing a garden and simply having a plant collection!

  9. Christy says:

    Hi Donna….When I go to the nursery I have a list of what I need and where I’m going to put it. When I was buying shrubs for Morrow Park I did research first to make sure they were suitable to the area and had the characteristics I was looking for. Every now and then a plant that is not on the list will call my name while I’m at the nursery, but since I know my garden so well, I know whether I can buy it or leave it. I think one of the main errors people make is not thinking about the mature size of shrubs and plants. Like you said, you have to be patient and allow the garden to mature into the planned “look”. Thanks for some very valuable information.

  10. b-a-g says:

    Until I read your (brilliant) series I wouldn’t have even realised that the planting around the waterfall was a mistake. But isn’t it OK to start like that because gardens mature with time?

  11. Yes I have planted those thugs and am paying for it…and impulse buy was my middle name for a long time. Now not so much. I also am trying to find time to divide plants and move them around to create some flow. Such important advice Donna.

  12. catmint says:

    donna, I must say I have learned these lessons – the hard way! My only disagreement is with your advice to buy the largest plant we can afford. I don’t buy large plants. I find tiny plants do better and within a year or two will have caught up with a larger one. And maybe because i am an amateur gardening mainly for me, I love watching them grow and imagining the garden as it will be potentially.

  13. This series of post can make e perfect checklist for starting a garden design, it is really important to think before do anything. Thanks you for sharing your knowledge

  14. alesiablogs says:

    Ok. You have inspired me! After vacation , I am going to tackle an eyesore area of my garden and see what magic I can do!

  15. Patty says:

    More common sense advice I should listen to. I research my plants well enough not to bring home aggressive thugs but I am a sucker for the one of everything I see syndrome.

  16. Fossillady says:

    Beautiful images Donna and great advice. Like every skill, it takes trial and error sometimes and practice, practice, practice! Kathi :O)

  17. Not exactly on topic… I thought you might like or know people who might like this

  18. Carolyn says:

    We actually love our Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’. The heart shaped multi colored leaves are endearing and the tiny white blossoms in Spring are very sweet. Ours is planted in a foundation planting which seems to contain it well for the last many years. It brings light to a dark area of our landscape that would otherwise be quite uninviting. Perhaps because of the below freezing temps of our long Winters (it’s 24°F in my gardens this morning) it hasn’t become a nuisance plant. We’re anxiously awaiting Chameleon’s entrance this year… needs warmer temps and sunshine to convince it to peek it’s charming head through the soil.

  19. Houttuynia is such a thug. It had been planted in the Learning Garden in VA….yikes. I enjoy reading this, knowing that tomorrow I am heading over to Park Seed for a pre-Festival of Flowers plant sale– 70% off. Hard to resist. It is nice to go to a place like this with plant knowledge under my belt….seeing plants I know about, and yes, resisting those that are ‘fast growers’ or ones I can’t figure out a spot to plant it.

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