Spatial distancing: know before you grow
Furnishing a room needs attention to detail – too much, the room becomes cluttered and excess furniture is removed.
The garden is often referred to as an extension to the house, an outside room and so it may be.
However, that is where the similarity ends. Relocating plants is not as straightforward as lifting a few chairs and placing them in another area. And therein lies the solution ‘to do it once and do it right’ ie the need to think, plan and then plant.
Over-planting is a long-term costly exercise. You buy the plant, dig the hole and plant it and, often in a short time, it needs to be lifted and relocated elsewhere on the property. This is not only an accumulative double cost but can also have a side effect of damaging neighbouring plants’ root systems.
‘Know before you buy’ not only educates the grower but it is also a cost-saving exercise that enhances maturity in the garden. When visiting a nursery it is good to know what your intentions are regarding selection and, more importantly, the function of the plant as they will dictate your purchases to a great degree.
Plants, by their very nature, have location preferences – sun, shade, a protected versus an exposed area, soil depth and soil type. Bermuda is not the easiest place to create an Eden. It offers salt-laden winds, poor soils and questionable soil depth; selection is of primary importance to achieve success.
Coastal areas are ‘full on’ to salt-laden winds whilst areas of high ground can have a 360-degree wind exposure – plant selection is critical to withstand these elements. When developing a design, consider wind patterns; neighbouring buildings and structures can create wind tunnels. View the garden from each room in the house as plant choice is most important in creating a ’picture frame’.
Plant groups include trees, shrubs, palms, ground covers, vines, cacti, succulents, bulbs, herbaceous perennials, ferns, bamboo, grasses, roses and annuals.
Trees are limited as to their use in Bermuda as they require a large area in which to prosper and mature. Shrubs play an important part in garden design as they comprise a high percentage of plants in the average garden. Cacti and succulents will grow in most areas. The other groups – except for vines – combine to complete the finished product of the garden bed as ground covers in controlling weed growth and cooling the soil.
Knowing the growth habit of plants enables you to plant at on-centre distances. This allows plants to grow freely in their own space without being crowded out – which is what happens when plants are placed too close to each other. Such planting often creates poor growth development as the plant fights for light with its neighbour.
Crotons have a fairly uniform growth habit of around five feet so should be planted on six-foot centres; hibiscus is similar in habit and should be planted accordingly. Ground covers can be shrubby with ‘sideways’ growth so planting distance should accommodate their spread; agapanthus, dietes, day lily and similar are of an upright habit but do spread and so are best planted in groups, at 30 inches apart.
Hedge plants should be planted at recommended on-centre distances as per the species. Hibiscus, for example, should be planted at five-foot centres and allowed to fill out naturally; they should also – as with most hedge plants – be planted at least three feet in from the boundary to allow to fill into boundary line.
Growth is a natural outcome. It uses space, which allows for natural development and often less pruning; it can reduce pest and disease problems by creating more air availability and in the long-term, increase the visual impact of the garden whilst reducing maintenance and weed control.
Malcolm Griffiths is a trained horticulturalist and fellow of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture in the UK. He is also past president of the Bermuda Horticultural Society, Bermuda Orchid Society and the Bermuda Botanical Society