What Should I Plant?

NO MATTER HOW MANY years you have spent working, learning and living in the garden, the most perplexing question a novice gardener can ask you will always be, “What should I plant?”
You feel like telling the aspiring green thumb that you are at pains to answer this question for yourself. How could you possibly answer it for someone else?
As your experience increases, your planting decisions are complicated by your knowledge. You know the positives and the negatives of more and more plants.
For example, you know that bougainvillea in the Valley blooms most of the time but you also know that it is a thorny, intractable beast when it comes to pruning.
You know that rosemary can grow lush and produce an abundance of flowers with hardly any attention but that it can also die practically overnight after a late spring thunderstorm or even after a late-in-the-day watering if the soil it is planted in does not drain well.
You may love the taste of heirloom tomatoes and grow them to perfection for a year or two, only to see subsequent plantings die as a result of fungus that has gradually built up in the soil.
The best way to learn to garden is by doing it. Plant a little bit of everything and see how it grows. You will need to dig the soil well and put some compost into it before planting, but other than that you do not need to do anything special or have any extraordinary gifts to be a successful gardener.
As far as flowers go, there are flowers and then there are flowers. Usually when people say flowers, they mean the flashy sort you get with annuals like pansies, snapdragons and English primroses. Then again, you might opt for white “Iceberg” roses, planted ad nauseam all over the Valley, but reliable year-around bloomers nonetheless. To complement long-blooming roses, you may want to plant lavender, which seems ceaselessly festooned with blue flowers.
If yellow is your color, you might be pleased with feathery cassia (Senna artemisioides). This is a 4-foot-tall shrub that blooms nearly without interruption in full-sun Valley locations. In addition to its dark yellow flowers, this plant boasts finely cut gray foliage.
Speaking of gray foliage, you might also wish to consider bush germander (Teucrium fruticans), which produces lilac flowers throughout the year. Bush germander also makes an excellent 4- to 5-foot hedge. Two other germanders are much loved as garden ornamentals. Teucrium x lucidrys is the classic herbal medicinal germander; it has small, deep green aromatic leaves and grows to 2 feet. Teucrium cossonii majoricum grows into a perfect low mound with silver foliage and is constantly blooming with scented, rose-colored flowers. All germanders do well where sun is plentiful.
Novice gardeners should be aware that whatever they create with plants is best understood and appreciated as a work in progress. Unlike conventional art forms, a garden is a living masterpiece that remains forever in an unfinished condition. Just when things are looking perfect is typically the same moment when flowers begin to fade, overgrowth demands pruning, and some mysterious disease or insect pest overcomes your favorite plant.
Remember that the paradisiacal picture of a garden you see in a plant catalog would have looked much different if the photographer had come two weeks before or two weeks after that picture was taken.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Think small when starting a garden. Plant a few flowers or a few vegetables and see them off to a strong start before planting more. Thanks to our mild climate, we can plant all year long. A gardener I know plants a few flower or vegetable seeds every week because he maintains that watching plants develop from seeds is the most soul-satisfying experience he has yet encountered in the garden.

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