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.

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