As flowering plants are the lifeblood of the garden, careful consideration should be given to the choice of species and their relationship to neighbouring plants.
Variety, it is said, is the spice of life but as with food, if the spice is too strong the end product might not be to your liking.
Obviously, location dictates the type of plant that can successfully be grown; flowers can be substituted by using leaf texture, colour and the “architectural” outline of the plant.
When selecting a plant consider its attributes and its negatives.
How long will it flower? Are the flowers fragrant? How long do they last? Is the plant a fast/slow grower? Is it prone to pest and disease problems?
Angel’s trumpets (datura sp>), for example, are more prone to caterpillar damage than others and, although they have large, white flowers, this is invariably offset by disfigured foliage.
Bougainvillea is another example — when in full bloom it is magnificent but any leaf damage is unsightly. However, if grown against a tree and its foliage is “lost” in the tree, the effect of branches dripping with flowers could be visually acceptable.
Even with run-of-the-mill plants such as hibiscus and oleander, aphid, scale and mealy bug can be very unsightly and damaging.
Interesting plants which are not used as much as they could be:
• Texas sage (leucophyllum frutescens). Its purple flowers and light grey foliage make it a great contrast with neighbouring plants that have green foliage and larger flowers.
• Rubber vine (cryptostegia madagascariensis) has masses of purple tubular flowers against dark shiny foliage; a rambling habit with branches intertwining with neighbouring plants to great advantage.
• Croton (codiaeum variegatum) is found in many leaf colours and is therefore a great contrast statement if planted in groups, especially with evergreen plants.
Among the smaller growing palms, if you can find them, are lady palm (rhapis excelsa). The slow-growing cluster palm has new growths emanating from its base and also has unusual foliage.
Neanthe bella or parlour palm (chamaedorea elegans) is another cluster-producing palm which grows well in mostly shady conditions. European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) is also a cluster-type palm with fan-like foliage. All the palms mentioned above need protection and are best planted in the garden but they can also look good in large containers, when strategically placed.
I like to use architectural plants to give visual effect as well as highlight an area; by making a bold statement, the eye is drawn to that spot.
A grouping of Spanish bayonet (Yucca aloifolia) offers a sharp focus on the upright rigidity of the plants. If they get too tall, prune them back to create a multi-stemmed statement with the same effect.
A grouping of sago palms (Cycas revoluta) and cardboard palm (Zamia furfuracea) planted in the centre of a lawn or a large open corner offers evergreen foliage and a diversity of foliage, especially as they mature. With the Cycas, you may get a male or a female plant, but won’t know until it flowers.
In small areas or large spaces with focal points, statues or artefacts can enhance the visual impact, depending on its size.
The artefact/statue should be in scale with the size of the bed or platform and be highlighted by plants which do not overpower the prominence of the centrepiece.
Low evergreen ground covers, such as trailing rosemary (Rosmarinus o. prostratus), tall-growing Mundo grass (Ophiopogon) and lily grass (liriope) — create a carpet effect around the base while allowing the statement of the statue/artefact to be the viewing point. Overplanting can detract from a design if too “loud”; the essence of success is how the plant is used in its setting.