The concept of “right plant, right place” is simply choosing plants that are well suited to their location. This seems like a simple concept, but there are many factors which might affect whether or not the plant thrives and has a future in a given location. The most basic of these include sun exposure, water availability and the mature size of the plant (relative to the available space). On lower Vancouver Island, one should also consider if the plant will be exposed to deer, salt spray and wind.
The list of potential plants can be narrowed down significantly be determining the climate zone. In the Victoria area, it’s zone 8. This means that the minimum temperature should fall within the -12 to -7 degree Celcius range. This is important to know if you are using the web to search for plants. Sites like www.greatplantpicks.org list reliable choices for zone 8. Be aware that sometimes garden centers will have borderline hardy plants available. These are often meant to be planted in a sheltered location against a south facing wall; alternatively, they are meant to be “treated as an annual” (thrown out after a year).
Most plants require part to full sun, well drained soil and some water in the summer. Unfortunately, not every area of a garden meets these criteria. It is useful to walk around the site and determine areas that are in deep shade or full sun. Also, look at areas that are wet or dry at certain times of year. There are very few plants that thrive in dry shade (sword fern is one). Gathering as much of this type of knowledge up front will be invaluable in designing the garden.
Be sure to look at the mature size of a plant. Nowhere is this more important than when choosing trees. There are many varieties available that are suitable for residential gardens. Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia,’ for example, is attractive, medium sized and disease resistant. Acer macrophyllum (big leaf maple) on the other hand, can grow to 60 feet or more tall and wide. The same is true for shrubs. Just because a plant is in a small pot at the nursery, doesn’t mean that it won’t be 6-8 feet tall and wide in 5-10 years.
Planning can decrease the amount of time you have to spend after planting (pruning, transplanting, fertilizing, watering, replacing, etc). For major garden renovations, doing a scale drawing of the site can be invaluable in the long run. Choosing the right plant for the right place will produce a garden that thrives with minimal effort.