By Molly Day
Landscape designers recommend that you begin any outdoor improvement project by looking at pictures to identify the highlights of your dream garden.
You can tear out magazine pages and make a collage that will become the basis of your plan.
The skeleton of the garden can be installed first. These features include storage, irrigation, trees, shrubs, sidewalk, outdoor dining patio or deck. Other specifics to consider are playground area, raised beds or brick planters, or a sunny, fenced place for vegetables and herbs, and a compost bin.
Good landscaping adds 10 to 15 percent to the resale value of your home, so the enjoyment you receive while using the additional outdoor living space, means getting paid twice for your efforts.
When shopping for suitable plants, pay attention to size at maturity, sunlight needs, water requirements, and durability in your microclimates.
For example, heat accumulates on the west side of a building or fence in the summer, making it less suitable for plants such as hydrangea shrubs or Japanese maple trees. Other examples of microclimate include a part of the garden protected by evergreen shrubs or places where rain naturally flows after a storm.
Each year, members of the Perennial Plant Association nominate the best perennials based on four criteria: Suitable for a wide range of climate conditions, low maintenance, easily grown from seed or cuttings, and, good appearance over the seasons. Perennials are plants live for more than one year. All of these grow in zones five to eight or nine.
In 2009, the Plant of the Year was an ornamental grass, Hakonechloa macra Aureola, or Golden Hakone Grass. It grows well in full sun in cooler climates but needs the afternoon shade provided by trees in hot summer areas. Since it prefers to be kept moist but not soggy, plant it in beds that are easy to irrigate but that drain well.
The pointed leaves are stripes of bright green and gold that cascade over pots, edge a sidewalk or flow over rocks at the front of the bed. Native of Japan, Hakone grass, grows 18 inches tall, is not favored by deer or destructive insects.
The 2008 selection was Cranesbill Geranium Rozanne with 2-inch violet blue flowers and marbled leaves. Rozanne can be grown in hanging pots, patio containers and as a ground cover or edging plant in full sun with afternoon shade in the hottest part of the summer. From England, Rozanne likes moist, well drained soil and will grow to 20 inches tall and 2 feet wide. Not bothered by deer, rabbits or insects.
The 2003 Plant of the Year was Leucanthemum Becky, a Shasta daisy variety with bright-white, 3-inch flowers on 3-foot tall, sturdy stems. Becky wants average watering and will bring butterflies and birds to your garden but not deer.
Grown from cuttings and root division, Becky does not come back true from seed, meaning the seeds that fall will not produce identical plants. It blooms July to September.
The 2001 Plant of the Year was Calamagrostis xacutiflora Karl Foerster, or Feather Reed Grass, a low maintenance ornamental grass from Denmark. The leaves are deep green and the flower heads are light pink in June. As fall approaches, the 4- to 5-foot high seed heads turn tan.
The clumps are 18-inches wide, can grow in clay soil in partial shade. Good air circulation and fertilization will produce the most attractive plants so plant in the open rather than against a wall or solid fence. It has been called perpetual motion grass because it moves gracefully even in the slightest breeze.
Read about the winning qualities of all the Perennial Plants of the Year at www.perennialplant.org.