How to - Gardening Basics

6 plants to get your new garden off to a great start

Our senior horticulture editor shares six types of plants to help get this year's garden off to a great start.


As they survey their landscape, new homeowners often find themselves staring at a blank canvas: Dab hands tend to look on this as an opportunity, but for novice gardeners, the prospect can be daunting. Either way, the first order of business will be to evaluate your soil; if you’re in a new subdivision, it will almost certainly need improving before you begin planting. To get your new garden off to a great start, we’ve put together a list of plants covering the six major categories: shade trees, evergreens, climbers, flowering shrubs, perennials and groundcovers (they should be planted in that order). We think each one represents the best in its class: For example, the woody plants add “bones” to the garden, while flowering perennials embellish the gaps. We’re assuming a full sun site but have also included options for shady gardens.

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1 SHADE TREE
'AUTUMN GOLD' GINKO (GINKGO BILOBA 'AUTUMN GOLD')

Presented with a clean slate, your first job should be to choose a suitable shade tree. To ensure a cool oasis that’s protected from the blazing afternoon sun, site your new tree on the south or west side of your deck or patio (it will also help to keep your house cooler). Until ginkgos were discovered growing in Asia in 1690, they were known only from their 250-million-year-old fossil remains. ‘Autumn Gold’ is a male clone that grows 15 metres tall by 10 metres wide with an upright habit and bright gold autumn foliage. Introduced in California in 1955, it’s pest-free, pollution tolerant and adapts well to most soil types; Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit, 2012. Zone 4

SHADE ALTERNATIVE
STRIPED MAPLE (Acer pensylvanicum)

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2 EVERGREEN
NORTH POLE EASTERN WHITE CEDAR (THUJA OCCIDENTALIS 'ART BOE')

Evergreens maintain a year-round presence in the garden, so give careful consideration before positioning them in your new landscape. They’re often planted in threes, with one tall, columnar specimen and two lower-growing types, usually with contrasting foliage. North Pole has dark green foliage that doesn’t burn in winter and an upright, narrowly conical habit. Perhaps the thinnest and tallest cedar cultivar, it grows 15 metres high by 50 centimetres wide and rarely requires pruning. Surrounding it with a low, mounding golden falsecypress and a blue juniper will ensure reliable winter
colour. An open-pollinated selection of ‘Wintergreen’, it was discovered by Arthur Boe (Minnesota) and introduced in 2011. Zone 3

SHADE ALTERNATIVE
CAPTAIN JAPANESE YEW (Taxus cuspidata 'Fastigiata')

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3 CLIMBER
BLAZE IMPROVED CLIMBING ROSE (ROSA 'DEMOKRACIE')

Climbing roses are an excellent choice for adding colourful vertical accents to your garden, whether they’re climbing up an arbour, pergola, wall or fence. Often cited as the best of the red-flowered climbers, vigorous Blaze Improved produces profuse clusters of large, lightly fragrant, semi-double scarlet flowers from early summer to frost. Best sited in rich, well-drained soil in a full sun location, it grows three metres tall by 1.5 metres wide; regular watering and deadheading will ensure optimum performance. To develop long canes, avoid pruning for the first two years; thereafter, prune in late winter. Hybridized by Czech breeder Jan Böhm (1885-1959) and introduced in 1935. Zone 5

SHADE ALTERNATIVE

DUTCHMAN’S PIPE (Aristolochia macrophylla)

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4 FLOWERING SHRUB
PINKY WINKY HYDRANGEA (HYDRANGEA PANICULATA ‘DVP PINKY’)

Flowering shrubs are an important component of any new garden: They can be used as hedging and accent plants or mixed together with perennials in flowerbeds. Hydrangea paniculata cultivars are especially valuable due to their late season of bloom, from mid-summer to frost. Pinky Winky grows two metres tall and wide and will thrive in a full sun to part shade situation with good garden loam. An open-pollinated seedling of ‘Pink Diamond’, it was selected by Flemish hybridizer Dr. Johan Van Huylenbroeck and introduced in 2005. The two-tone 30-centimetre-tall indeterminate flower
panicles continue to produce white flowers at their tips, while older basal blooms turn pink; prune in early spring. Zone 3

SHADE ALTERNATIVE
BOTTLEBRUSH BUCKEYE (Aesculus parviflora)

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5 PERENNIAL
‘SMOKY MOUNTAIN AUTUMN’ DAYLILY (HEMEROCALLIS ‘SMOKY MOUNTAIN AUTUMN’)

Often called “gateway plants,” long-lived daylilies are some of the easiest perennials to grow due to their ability to thrive in a wide range of soil types and their immunity to most pests. They perform best in a full sun location with well-drained, good-quality garden loam. ‘Smoky Mountain Autumn’ grows 45 centimetres tall and wide and bears 14-centimetre-wide fragrant copper-rose flowers with a subtle lavender halo. A repeat bloomer (or “remontant”), it flowers from early to late summer. Although they're slower to multiply than cultivars that only bloom once, growing remontant varieties when your garden is new will provide you with division-ready plant material in subsequent years. Of unknown parentage and introduced by Guidry’s Daylilies (Louisiana) in 1986; deer and rabbit resistant. Zone 3

SHADE ALTERNATIVE

‘SUM AND SUBSTANCE’ HOSTA (Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’)

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6 GROUNDCOVER
‘PURPLE DRAGON’ LAMIUM (LAMIUM MACULATUM ‘PURPLE DRAGON’)

Groundcovers are usually planted at the base of larger plants, so most – including ‘Purple Dragon’ lamium – prefer to be sited in a part- to full shade location. As with planting daylilies and hostas, establishing some choice groundcovers early on will enable you to divide mature clumps for transplanting as your garden evolves. ‘Purple Dragon’ lamium was discovered as a branch sport of ‘White Nancy’ by John Vansanden (Michigan) and introduced in 2005. Its silver evergreen foliage is edged with green, and it bears prominent purple flowers from spring to autumn. Growing 15 centimetres tall, self-rooting stems may spread up to 60 centimetres. Deer and rabbit resistant; cut plants back hard in late winter. Zone 4

SUN ALTERNATIVE
BLACK SCALLOP AJUGA (Ajuga reptans ‘Binblasca’)

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