Methods of Plant Selection

by Katie Seidenwurm, ASLA

A plant combination: Pride of Madeira (Echium cadicans) and Orchid Rockrose (Cistus x purpureus) / Image: Katie Seidenwurm

As a landscape architect who focusses on residential design, one of my biggest challenges is guiding clients through the plant selection process. Each client comes to the project with different levels of knowledge and interest. I have had clients who are totally involved with the plants and have given me a list of specific plants that they want in their yard with placement ideas. On the other side, I have had clients proclaim that they know nothing about plants and just want something that “looks good and is low-maintenance … and by the way, I love the color purple.” Over the years, I have tried various methods with various degrees of success. Here, I describe some methods I have tried, and list the pros and cons of each. I would be very interested in feedback on this as I am always looking for new ideas.

Take client to a nursery to pick out plants.

Pros:

  • Client gets to see plant for themselves.
  • We can see what plants are available at the nursery and in what quantity and condition.
  • Client feels good about plant selection, because he/she has seen the plants for themselves.

Cons:

  • The plant is immature and in a pot. It’s hard to picture what it will look like installed and in a few years. I find myself motioning a lot to say, “Imagine this plant to be this high.”
  • Contractor may not be purchasing plants from that particular nusery.
  • If it’s winter, the plant selection is thin and the quality of the plants is often poor.
  • The nursery doesn’t have the plants that you were thinking of using in the design.

I have tried this method a few times. One time, I took a client to the nursery and they didn’t have what we were looking for. The nursery was large and one where you drive around to different areas for the various plants. The client got frustrated because we couldn’t’ find the plants that I had in mind, it was getting hot, and she was getting tired. I almost lost the client that day. I suppose, if I had called ahead and had the nursery pull the plants ahead of time, then we could have gone to one place and seen the plants.

Send client a group of labeled plant photos ahead of meeting and ask for input.

Suggest to the client, that they simply look at the images and note the ones that they have strong reactions to. That is, which ones do they love, which ones do they hate. The ones in the middle can be disregarded. With this information, I can start to create a plant list. These images can be uploaded to Pinterest, Google Docs, or Dropbox, and shared electronically. Jill Brown, ASLA, owner of My Landscape Coach and a landscape architect in New Mexico, uses Pinterest to convey her ideas. See her postings at https://www.pinterest.com/bgandmore/. Some landscape architects have a database of plant photos to choose from. Others, use images from the internet.

Pros:

  • The client has time to research the plants ahead of the meeting, thereby eliminating the time for the client to do the research during the meeting.
  • It’s possible to get feedback on plants pretty easily without having to go to nursery.
  • Client’s who have limited plant knowledge will at least have some reaction to images of plants, even if they don’t know the names.

Cons:

  • The client makes a quick judgement based on one image of the plant.
  • It is hard to describe a plant in one photo; that is, do you focus on the flower, the bark, the overall appearance?
  • Client wants to know exactly where the plant would be going. Often, that information isn’t available yet, because I haven’t done the actual planting plan yet.
Plant combination: Foxtail Agave (Agave attenuata) and Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria) / Image: Katie Seidenwurm

Send client a comprehensive list of plants in narrative form.

Pros:

  • Similar to the method above, the client can do their own research ahead of the meeting.
  • Narrative information is easy to compile

Cons:

  • Some clients have a hard time envisioning the plant without photos.
  • Creates work for client- they have to look up image of each plant.
Gazania hybrid- a popular groundcover / Image: Katie Seidenwurm

Create a planting plan that is complete and then ask for feedback.

Pros:

  • If the client is satisfied with the plan, then your work is done
  • Allows the LA to get a head start on the finished product

Cons:

  • The LA may have to re-do a lot of work if the client isn’t satisfied
  • Client may have a hard time envisioning what the plants will look like when faced with a construction document.

There are a number of methods for plant selection. Some methods are better than others for any particular client. Those clients who are super involved appreciate more information. Those clients who are not as involved don’t react well to an overload of information. I have even had some clients who are not computer-savvy and need physical pictures of the plant rather than a computer link. In the end, it’s about educating clients on the various plant material available to them and how it may look in their yard.

 

Katie Seidenwurm has been practicing Landscape Architecture since 1996 in both California and Oregon. Katie grew up in San Diego and considers it home. She has a passion for the native vegetation and has an appreciation for the unique climates and microclimates of the region. Focusing on residential design, she can tailor designs to clients’ individual needs. “Sometimes people just want a good view from their kitchen window – we can do that,” says Katie.

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One thought on “Methods of Plant Selection

  1. Pat Webster www.siteandinsight.com August 30, 2018 / 10:14 am

    Interesting post. When I was a novice gardener, just beginning to plan my garden with the help of a landscape architect, he used a variation on the first method. We visited the Montreal Botanical Garden together twice, at different seasons, and saw a range of plants that would do well in our climate. For me, this was the beginning of a love affair with plants and garden design.

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