Are You a Plant Whisperer or Accidental Plant Assassin?

Are you a totally new gardener or have established yourself as an accidental plant serial-killer? Perhaps you consider yourself so brown thumbed that plants stand no chance in your mere presence? Or are you just someone that has struggled to grow the plants that you want in your garden and don’t know why?

If the thought of learning about hundreds and thousands of different plants isn’t appealing to you, fear not, there is another way to learn what you need to know about plants that is much quicker and easier…

What’s the Quick Method to Learning About Plants?

Although I’m a UK-based garden designer, I do like to do international consultations whenever possible. People often ask me if I find dealing with plants in other countries difficult because I’m not familiar with them. The honest answer is sometimes yes, but mostly no.

This is because as a kid growing up, my father (who was a nurseryman) used to play an annoying game every time we went out in the car. The various plants and trees we’d see on our journeys he’d always be asking me lots questions. Things like “what do those plant’s leaves tell you about it?”

He’d always try to catch me out, but, after a while, I found I was usually able to work out what the answer was because I’d started to notice that plants with certain characteristics like to grow in the same conditions. So I’d learned which characteristics to spot rather than specific plants.

Take a Closer Look at the Leaves…

Grey leaf of Cynara (Cardoon)

For example, any plant that has silver or grey foliage likes to grow in very sunny conditions because the grey acts like a light-coloured blind pulled down on a south-facing window. Light still gets through but it is diffused and therefore not as strong, so it doesn’t scorch the plant leaf and there is less water evaporation as a result.

But there is a downside. By reducing the plant’s ability absorb sunlight, guess what happens if you put a plant with grey leaves into the shade where it hardly receives any direct sunlight?

Precisely! Reducing the light levels for a plant that already has the blinds down means it can’t produce the necessary food to keep itself healthy. Plants can adjust a little bit, the grey leaves will become greener, but it’s still a struggle for them to survive in shady conditions.

Now that may well be an example that you already know, but there are lots of little clues like this in a lot of plants, you just need to know what to look for. It’s actually surprisingly easy sometimes to work out the precise needs of the plant just by looking at its leaves.

Of course, not every plant is as forthcoming with such obvious clues, but sometimes that doesn’t matter because, by process of elimination, you can usually work out where a plant can grow (if the leaves aren’t grey, for example, you’ll know you don’t have to have it in full sun all the time).

Want to Learn the Easy Way to Become a Plant Whisperer?

Take a look at the 5 Minute Plant Expert page and see for yourself how easy it can to be knowledgeable about plants.



Rachel Mathews
Rachel Mathews

Professional international garden designer for over 30 years. My mission is to de-mystify garden design and make it easy for people to successfully design their own garden - without needing to spend a fortune!

    1 Response to "Choosing Plants for Your Garden"

    • iain kinrade

      Hi Rachel

      I always try to interest people into incorporating more indigenous( local) and especially endemic (really local) species to their gardens. Not only just the local species, as I believe a garden can be whatever you want it to be, but if you have native species, then they’ll just be so much happier in the garden.
      I generally cringe when someone proudly tells me that they spent an absolute fortune on “correcting the soil” for a specific plant. Don’t get me wrong -I love special cases, but we need to work more in line with Nature, generally speaking.
      Ok gotta go plant my rose bush, in my South African garden lol.

      Kind regards

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