Landscaping can be intimidating. Homeowners can easily become overwhelmed by the vast number of plant species, growing requirements and overall design. Breaking down plants into categories can make it easier for even novice gardeners to create a cohesive look.
Creating a Tropical Garden
A tropical garden relies heavily on bold foliage and strategic plant placement to achieve a dramatic look. 'Black Magic' Elephant Ear's dark foliage, dull by itself, pops when placed next to the variegated foliage of Shell Ginger. Equally attractive is large-leafed Fatsia, a member of the ginseng family, with a cluster of needly 'Foxtail' ferns.
To avoid creating a jungle, place three of the same type of plant next to each other. The color and texture are discernible from a greater distance, resulting in a neater appearance. Mulch also plays a part in a tropical garden's design. It sets off plants and retains moist soil conditions that many ferns, gingers and elephant ears prefer.
Bird of Paradise, species of bromeliad, gingers and anthurium are popular bloomers for a tropical garden. The "bloom" on bromeliads is not actually a bloom; it's a bract. It, nevertheless, has the color many tropical lovers seek. Chinese Hibiscus, available in reds, pinks, peach and yellow, also is very common.
Tropical plants will not withstand winters in most of the United States. Try placing tropicals like bananas, crotons and those mentioned earlier in containers amongst hardy evergreens. Many houseplants are tropical and will perk up if put in a outdoor shaded area. Position them around an entire yard rather then grouping them together so the whole yard maintains an island feel. Put large containers on wheels or move them with a dolly to a protected area at summer's end.
Using Native Plants
Designing with native plants means selecting plants that grow naturally in your geographic area. Native plants are well-adapted to your climate and are more resistant to disease and bugs. Both of these attributes translate to less maintenance for homeowners.
Seek out your state's native plant society or explore directories of native plant suppliers on the Internet. Select native plants based on the wildlife they attract. The National Wildlife Federation can certify your yard as a wildlife habitat partly based on plant choices.
Installing plants from around the world can damage the local ecosystem. Foreign plants like Kudzu and Water Hyacinth choke out native plants that animals rely on for food and shelter. Water Hyacinth even has been known to clog irrigation equipment and large bodies of water. Foreign plants also spread disease for which local plants have no defense.
Achieving a Formal Garden
Formal gardens are high-mainteance. They are characteristically neat, clean-lined and full of evergreens. Plants like Boxwood, Ligustrum, Holly and Juniper are pruned to keep their silhouettes smooth.
Topiaries add sophistication to a formal garden, according to the LandscapeDesignAdvisor.com.Pearl Fryar of Bishopville, S.C., transformed three acres of his property in 1984 by pruning the plants into unusual topiaries. His creations are open to visitors, and a plant list is available for those who visit FryarTopiaries.com.
Deciduous trees and shrubs are used sparingly in formal gardens. Often one plant will become a sort of museum piece in a formal design. A Japanese Maple might be the centerpiece of a courtyard in the way that a sculpture or fountain would be displayed.