If I have to choose some ornamental garden plants I start by looking at the ones I like best. It is normal, logical, but it is equally logical that this cannot be the only criterion for choice of plants.
Between ornamental garden plants, as among plants in general, there are species with very different needs from the point of view of climate, exposure and the type of soil. Each garden has its own characteristics and the good gardener has the duty to take them into account (under penalty of failure of the project) except for small changes for his own aesthetic taste.
In the 'scientific' design of a garden, two levels of priority can be identified which, on a scale of importance, condition the choice of ornamental plants:
- level 1: climate, exposure to light, soil, compatibility with other pre-existing species;
- level 2: personal tastes, surrounding landscape, maintenance needs.
Both levels are important on two different floors. Failure to comply with the conditions of level 1 would lead to the failure of the garden project because plants would not survive or fail to develop healthily.
Failure to comply with the conditions of level 2 would instead lead to a garden that is inadequate in terms of emotions, a garden that does not touch and does not represent our self, or that clashes with the context or forces us to work more than what we are willing to do. to dedicate to garden care. At level 1 there are plants, at level 2 there are us.
Climate and microclimate. Above all, the presence or absence of frost in winter, and the intensity with which it occurs, affects the possibility of growth of a plant. Rainfall and the direction and strength of the winds also matter.
Speaking of Italy, given that the peninsula is divided into climatic bands (there are 7), you can place the garden in one of them and immediately get an idea of the minimum and maximum seasonal temperatures, rains and winds.
However, the climatic zone may not fully reveal the characteristics of a place. In the same band there can be strong differences between a valley floor and a high point. And the proximity to a body of water, for example a large lake, greatly changes the conditions. In short, different microclimates can exist within a climatic zone.
Best if you have to design a garden and choose the ornamental plants more suitable is to observe the site for a year taking note of all the relevant data - temperatures, rainfall, insolation - and build a climatic micro-map of the future garden. This way you will know where to place each plant with the greatest success rate and lush growth.
Exposure to light. Sunlight is critical to plant life, but not at all ornamental garden plants you need the same amount of light and some are less interested in prolonged direct exposure. As a rule, where there is so much sunshine, you can prefer lush trees, roses and creepers that give you some shade. Where winters are colder, low essences can be preferred, which provide little shade and allow the sun to reach the ground.
Ground. The soil can be clayey, silty, sandy, peaty or humiferous. Knowing the quality of the soil is essential because there are plants that adapt well or badly, but there are others that just cannot live in a land that is not theirs. Another important factor is the pH of the soil.
Some ornamental garden plants, such as rhododendrons and azaleas, are very demanding from this point of view and need a highly acidic pH (less than 5 on a scale of 0 to 14). Just as there are plants, such as hawthorn or ash, for which the pH is irrelevant. However, it is important to know the Ph of your land.
For a trained eye, analyzing the structure and permeability of a soil is quite easy. For pH analysis, there are classic litmus papers or hobby equipment that can be purchased at the garden center or on the internet (for example, an analog soil pH meter can be useful ). Different is the situation of a degraded land on which there are doubts about possible spills or other.
In these cases it is advisable to take a soil sample and have it analyzed by a specialized laboratory. The physical, chemical and biological characteristics of a soil can be corrected to a certain extent with the use of soil improvers. For a polluted land, instead, reclamation is needed.
Landscape context. Here we are between level 1 and level 2 of the selection criteria, with an observation that is independent of aesthetic tastes: the garden will seem larger if it is homogeneously inserted in the surrounding context, vice versa it will seem smaller and limited if the deadlift is strong.
Given all this, for a good choice of ornamental garden plants, here is a small selection of some of the most common species in Italy with the relative characteristics.
MIMOSA. Mimosa is an evergreen tree that easily exceeds 10 meters in height in the open ground and in suitable environmental conditions reaches 25 meters. The well-known flowers are small and fragrant gathered in globose yellow heads.
- Soil: slightly acidic (between 6 and 6.8), humid but very well drained, absolutely not calcareous.
- Exposure: in full sun and in a well ventilated position.
- Temperature: does not tolerate cold; in regions with a harsh climate it can be grown in tubs and withdrawn in the cold season.
WISTERIA. It is one of the most beautiful and vigorous climbing plants, with clusters of fragrant white-lilac flowers in spring and bare in autumn-winter. Wisteria is suitable for covering walls, pergolas and railings with load-bearing branches that can reach 12 meters in length.
- Soil: deep, fresh and light, poor in limestone.
- Exposure: in full sun or partial shade, considering that the branches will tend to the sun.
- Temperature: it is a rustic plant and resists well in all Italian climates without particular protection.
VINE DEL CANADA (VIRGIN VINE). It has an ornamental appearance even when it has lost its leaves, which in autumn take on a beautiful brown or yellowish color. It can exceed 10 meters and is suitable for covering walls and pergolas. It should not be confused with the Parthenocissus, which is a similar genus.
- Soil: fresh, deep and preferably clayey. It can also be planted in large pots placed at the base of the wall to be covered.
- Exposure: likes full sun exposure.
- Temperature: not too rigid, after the fall of the leaves it must be repaired if the climate is too cold.
BOUGAINVILLEA. It is a shrubby plant with long branches that reach up to 8 meters in height that allow it to climb walls, coloring them in summer. To give the colors magenta, red, orange and purple are not the flowers, insignificant, but the bracts even more than 2.5 centimeters long.
- Soil: it prefers clayey and calcareous soil, but it can also be cultivated in neutral or subacid soil. It grows best in cool, deep soil.
- Display: it loves full sun, but the variegated cultivar prefers partial shade.
- Temperature: it is a plant for hot climates. In winter, the minimum must be between 6 and 10 ° C, which makes it suitable for coastal and Mediterranean areas.
CALICANTO. If you want an ornamental plant to color and perfume the garden during the winter, plant the calicanthus. It is a shrub about 2.5 meters tall with thin branches and pale green leaves that take on a golden tint in autumn. The fragrant flowers appear between January and February.
- Soil: likes all types of soil and tends to prefer poor ones that are not too fertilized.
- Exposure: it grows well everywhere but in a sunny position (south-west) during the beautiful winter days.
- Temperature: tolerates the cold well, but it is good to place it in the shelter of a wall.
AZALEA. The azaleas seen in gardens are almost all hybrids of the species Rhodendrum indicum with the Chinese species Rhodendrum simsii. They are dense shrubs that can exceed one meter in height that in April-May bloom in colors ranging from white to yellow, to pink to purple.
- Soil: acid, amendable by mixing peat, leaf soil and sand. Absolutely not calcareous.
- Exposure: good light, in full sun or partial shade.
- Temperature: loves cool areas, especially during the flowering period, but humid. It tolerates winter frost well but fears sudden changes in temperature.
RHODODENDRON. The same applies to the azalea because the genus Rhodondendrum, consisting of over 500 species of evergreen deciduous shrubs and trees, includes both rhododendrons properly called and azaleas, which in floriculture (but not always in botany) are considered a separate genus. The ornamental difference between azalea and rhododendron is that the former have smaller leaves and the latter larger leaves and flowers.
HAWTHORN. There are about 200 species characterized by rustic trees and shrubs. The flowers almost always bloom in spring and are white, pink and red. The fruits, round and similar to hazelnuts, arrive in summer and can be bright red but also yellow and black.
- Terrain: easily adapts to all types of terrain.
- Exposure: it grows best in full sun, but tolerates partial shade.
- Temperature: withstands the winter cold well.
FORSICE. It is a shrub with erect or slightly weeping branches with deciduous leaves that appear after flowering. The flowers appear on the branches of the previous year from February to May (depending on the species) and are of a beautiful intense yellow.
- Soil: the substrate must not be too calcareous, the best soil is garden soil with the addition of a little sand.
- Exposure: it grows well in full sun or partial shade.
- Temperature: tolerates winter cold well.
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