Written by Charlotte Grieve – Landscape Architect at Thomas Consultants
How do you go about choosing the best plants for your garden, development or public/ commercial project?
It depends upon what is being designed, the intent behind it and to what scale, whether a low-maintenance subdivision or a simple park. Ideally though diversity is best when it comes to planting. This encourages better ecological outcomes, and it ensures survival of the best species. For example, if one specified plant species struggles, then the others can act as back up and can fill in the spaces. They will also add more visual interest this way, through variety of textures and colour.
Where you can, choose native species and locally sourced, for better survival rates and ecological gains. These plants have evolved over time to be perfectly adapted to their surrounds and they require less maintenance as a result. You can explore or research what is locally occurring in the area and let that guide your plant choices. Of course, it’s nice to sometimes introduce a special flowering plant or edibles in amongst.
Below are five plant categories to start with when designing the landscape spaces for your project. It is often a good idea to choose a few of these categories together and start layering them up:
#1 – Groundcovers
These are like carpet for your garden. Although starting small if looked after these plants can spread quickly to fill in the gaps of your garden bed, in and around the trees and shrubs. They keep the moisture in and the weeds out. They can also look attractive, coming in a variety of colours and with small flowers occasionally. You can plant a few different ones together so that when they grow out, they blend in together. Alternatively, one species in mass can look great too. You can plant them next to pathway edges, to soften the hardscape and blend the garden with the pathway. They usually look their best after a rainfall. Some popular species suggestions are;
- Pratia angulata (Panakenake) for its lovely small white flowers
- Acaena inermis purpurea (Bidibidi) for its purple colour
- Coprosma kirkii for its hardiness and tolerance to coastal environments.
#2 – Shrubs
Basically, the bread and butter of your garden design. There are many shrubs to choose from but some of the most popular choices are;
- Hebes, again there are many sub-species of hebe but one popular suggestion is Hebe ‘Wiri Mist’ for its easy care and low maintenance. Hebes are hardy natives, have attractive flowers and are great for attracting bees and insectsFlaxes, harakeke, phormium (whichever name you want to call them) these are common and iconic throughout NZ. The original Phormium cookianum and Phormium tenax can grow to be very large so if you are after a smaller garden variety you can choose Phormium cookianum ‘Emerald Gem’ or for some colour Phormium ‘Jester Flax’ or Phormium ‘Yellow Wave’
- Libertias or the NZ Iris. There are eight species of NZ Iris. The most common ones used in gardens are Libertia ixiodes and Libertia grandiflora. Libertias have lovely flowers and look great planted in mass.
#3 – Climbers
Climbers are a great way to add greenery to a bare wall or fence and improve the overall lush verdant look of your project. They add the vertical green element. Some climbers that you can try are;
- Tecomanthe speciosa (Akapukaea). This climber has an interesting story. It is extremely rare and is endemic to Three Kings Island, where it got down to one known plant and was discovered in 1945. However, it is now quite a popular climber choice for commercial and residential projects. It is lush and tropical looking with large leaves and it grows relatively fast.
- Trachelospermum jasminoides (Star Jasmine) is another great climber choice, not to be confused with Jasminum polyanthum which is a weed. Although Star Jasmine is not native, it has many benefits in that it grows well, has even coverage, and is fragrant and stunning when it flowers once a year in springtime.
#4 – Native specimen trees
Trees are like the star of your garden design. They standout and provide visual amenity as well shade. Some picks for best native specimen trees are;
- Alectryon excelsus (Titoki tree). These are goto trees. They have a nice tree form, don’t grow too large, have nice foliage and are reasonably hardy. They are used often in residential and street projects.
- Kowhai trees are another less dense tree and are known or their swathes of vibrant yellow in springtime. They are good for planting around buildings in that they let light through and are not going to block views. With their flowers they may also attract Tui’s and other birds to your garden, if you are lucky. There are few sub-species of Kowhai but one pick is Sophora tetraptera for its larger leaves.
- Vitex lucens (Puriri tree) is a great choice if you are after a grander tree with more presence. These endemic NZ trees really have a perfect tree form, with lush tropical looking foliage and red berries too, again attracting native birds to your space.
#5 – Edibles
With the above ideas using mostly NZ native species, it can also be nice to add edible species and create a somewhat productive garden. Some best choices for edible fruit trees are;
- Macadamia tetraphylla (Macadamia tree). If you have the patience to wait for one of these to mature and produce nuts, then it is a great choice.
- Citrus trees. These are relatively easy to get growing in a pot or garden bed and will produce quite quickly. Lemon Meyer tree is one of the most popular choices for NZ gardens.
- Plum trees. These are a bit touch and go as to whether they produce fruit but none the less they will look great as amenity trees anyway. They can add an orchard country aesthetic to your design if you are after that. There are a range to choose from but you can start with Prunus domestica.
- Vaccinium corymbosum (or blueberry shrub) is a great choice for your edible garden. You can make an edible hedge from these too. Although they may require protection from birds when they start producing berries.
Of course, a herb garden, raised vegetable garden, or vertical growing garden is always a good idea too.
To find out more about landscape architecture, our services and how we can help with your property, please click here.
Need more help?
We have a highly experienced Landscape Architecture team ready to help you kickstart your next project. If you’d like us to help please contact us here.