The choice of garden plants is enormous, but the sites you can offer may
be more limited. Matching the plants you choose to the varying
conditions in your garden, from full sun to damp shade, is the key to
Discovering plants’ natural habitats is an important part of planning
flower displays, helping you to place them in their optimal position for
health and vitality.
When plants are in the wrong place, they suffer stress, are more vulnerable to damage during adverse weather conditions, and are more susceptible to pests and diseases. Fortunately, there are plants that will thrive in even the most extreme conditions that you might find in your garden. In the wild plants occupy almost every possible niche in a range of habitats, and there are varieties that will fill the most troublesome areas in the garden: waterlogged soil; dry, shady places; windswept or sun-baked spots.
Wild plant hunters collect plants from a wide variety of natural environments in countries around the world. The species and varieties growing in our gardens today might have originated from places as varied as high alpine slopes, woodland, meadow, marsh, shoreline, or desert.
Plants adapted to full sun and parched soils are useful if you find yourself with an open garden and very free-draining soil. Where winters are relatively mild, succulents, silver- and gray-leaved plants, perennial herbs, and flowering bulbs adapted to Mediterranean climates would do well.
You might find damp, shady spots due to poorly drained clay soils next to buildings. Plants adapted to this environment tend to be those that originated in forests and woodlands. In warmer, sheltered areas the only limiting factors are nutrients and light, so a range of large-leaf ferns would do well.
The area where you live has a general climate, but every garden has potential microclimates created by its exposure and surroundings. In cold regions a sheltered, south-facing plot will experience higher temperatures than average for the area; cities also generate heat, keeping temperatures high. Even in a north-facing garden the area around a house may remain frost-free in winter. Walls and fences cast shade and may trap cold air, causing frost pockets, while mature trees may provide some frost protection. The four main conditions found in various combinations in most gardens: low-lying damp areas where plants such as Gunnera thrive; arid conditions suitable for drought-tolerant plants; deep shade beneath tree canopies; and hot sunny borders for bursts of exotic blooms.
Plants can be used to perform different functions if chosen carefully. An ugly shed could be camouflaged by a vigorous climber, like Clematis montana or a rambler rose, but you would be less likely to use the same plant to decorate a small wooden arch. For this, pick a compact-growing, large-flowered clematis hybrid or a modern, repeat-flowering climbing rose.
For ground cover beneath trees, self-seeding perennials, bulbs, and bamboos with a rhizomatous habit would work, but these same plants behave like weeds in a flower border. Check plant dimensions when designing borders to avoid ending up with large bulky plants at the front, obscuring others.