Ready, set, grow: Pick your plants and find your garden style

  • 4 min to read
Ready, set, grow: Pick your plants and find your garden style

So you’ve been revving your engines to tackle your yard this growing season. And who can blame you? Home gardening has never looked so good before. You’ve got a little land, you’ve got a lot of ideas, but you don’t know where to start. We’ve got the answers. Here’s where your great expectations meet reality. Connecticut’s top-notch emerald-green thumbs guide you through the whole process and make gardening a cinch. From hopes and dreams to dirty deeds, we’ve got you covered. Let’s grow!

Pop quiz! Find your garden match made in heaven.

So here comes the fun part. Your garden is an opportunity to express who you are to everyone who whizzes by on the road or visits your inconspicuous oasis. What’s your style? Take our matchmaking quiz and discover what style fits your character. Remember: This isn’t about your neighbors. This is where you get to show your true colors.

You are the ultimate DIY type starting with the dog bed you upholstered from torn jean swatches. You are not afraid to plant a few seeds. 

In addition to planting a dedicated veggie patch, you might want to tuck some veggies between your perennials.

You check your outfit in the mirror more than once before stepping out. Your worst nightmare = mismatched socks.

Go with formal. The symmetrical style will fit within your comfort zone and you can jazz it up with flowers.

You’re still driving your grandfather’s Volkswagen bus and you have yet to buy your first piece of new furniture. Where will we find you on Saturday morning? Trawling yard sales.

Fill your garden with hand-me-down plants. Betcha your neighbors have hostas, daylilies and phlox they’d love to share.

Your table is set with a linen runner rather than a tablecloth and the focal point centerpiece is a steamy terrarium stuffed with ferns.

Make a woodland garden, lay out winding trails, and fill it with fifty shades of green.

When you visit your parents, your mother does a quick assessment of new piercings before attempting a hug.

Go crazy. Plant a garden filled with annuals in waves of brave shades and hand out sunglasses to visitors.


Layering different types of plants together

A whole lot of clients sidle over to Richard Rosiello, the award-winning landscape designer at Meadowbrook Gardens in New Milford, asking for help laying out a garden that works for their landscape. And when they do, Rosiello responds with the question, “What’s your long-term goal?” After assessing your site and pondering your preferred style, there are many ways to go. But at the bottom of it all, “Most homeowners basically want a place of reflection and beauty,” Rosiello says. He asks his clients to consider another very fulfilling payback. His shtick is building plant communities — to everyone’s benefit. “Take a look at plants in their natural habitats, they knit together to support one another,” Rosiello says. The resulting scene happens to look disarmingly attractive. “When a planting weaves together, it leads your eye around the space.” 

Beyond presenting a cohesive picture, creating plant communities is a low-maintenance way to go. So how’s it done? Try layering plants from groundcovers to shrubs, packing them together to create an ecosystem that dissuades weeds by interweaving the space. No mulch necessary. Here are Rosiello’s suggestions for components to fill each layer and stack up into a great nonstop display:

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Bugleweed, or Black Scallops (Ajuga reptans)

Groundcovers: Ajuga “Black Scallop,” Salvia lyrata, Sedum rupestre “Angelina,” hens and chicks (sempervivums), creeping St. John’s wort (Hypericum calycinum), and sedges.

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Achillea millefolium

Low-growing perennials: Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Veronica “Royal Candles,” Geranium “Rozanne,” Coreopsis “Moonbeams,” geum, any heuchera.

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Woodland phlox

Mid-size perennials: Woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata), summer phlox (Phlox paniculata), butterfly weed (asclepias), false indigo (Baptisia australis), echinacea, and penstemon.

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Winterberry

Shrubs: Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), hydrangeas, viburnums, highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and northern bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera). 


Finding Mr. Right Plant

Sure, you want pretty pops of color. But make sure you choose wisely for you and your space.

With 37 years of experience helping customers find the plants of their dreams at Natureworks in Northford, Nancy DuBrule-Clemente gets real about doing it right. What’s her advice to steer newbies? She urges shoppers to go for fulfilling on a broader, deeper basis. She’s all about the big picture. “Consider the ecological purpose that your garden can serve,” she says. “Your garden can be more than just a pretty face. Your garden can provide habitat.” In other words, not only do the plants she sells at Natureworks tickle your fancy, they provide nectar, food and shelter for insects and birds.

Nowadays, she urges her customers to consider going native. Why? “Native plants serve as food sources for native insects,” she says. “We have 340 native bees in Connecticut and they need native plants as their food source.” And it doesn’t stop there. “Birds eat insects; the two are critically intertwined.” But growing native is not only about the birds and the bees, it also benefits you. “These plants have evolved to live in Connecticut. They thrive easily in our environment — maintenance is easier, making your garden less expensive.”

How do you decide what size plant to buy? DuBrule-Clemente suggests taking the middle road for a “one size fits all” solution. Sure, you can start your annuals from seeds — it’s fun, fulfilling and inexpensive. But keep in mind that it takes time, patience, space and commitment. Plugs require too much upkeep and usually need repotting before being garden-ready. Large 2-gallon containers are overkill and expensive. Her solution: “Quart to 1-gallon containers will save you money while delivering the performance you need.”

How do you select healthy plants? Avoid plants that look wilted and stressed, urges DuBrule-Clemente. “Check for new growth and look at the crown — is it healthy?” Very importantly, check labels and ask experienced sales staff to steer you toward plants that perform later in the season. “You don’t just want a spring garden,” she says. Extending the season is particularly important if you hope to play the good host for pollinators. They need to eat/work throughout the growing season.

DuBrule-Clemente also counsels customers to get real about deer issues. If you don’t have a fenced area, avoid plants that are tempting to deer. Hostas, daylilies and rudbeckias might not be the best choices. “Plant smart,” she says. Her favorite deer deterrents? “I use granular Deer Scram or Deer Stopper spray. But remember to reapply every 3 weeks without fail.”