Recently, we focused on three basic priorities for landscaping: develop a short list of plants, install significant numbers of each kind of plant, and select some unfamiliar plants that will fit into your plan.
A complementary strategy emphasizes the strategic use of specimen plants, which are “unusual or impressive plants grown as a focus of interest in a garden.” A specimen can thought of as an example of a category, but
A plant could function as a specimen plant if it is sufficiently large, especially showy, striking in form, or quite unusual. Note that a plant doesn’t qualify as a specimen plant simply by being an isolated instance of some plant. In other words, a garden of single examples of various plants does not work as a landscape of specimen plants.
Conversely, a plant that works as a specimen because it is large, showy, striking or unusual probably would not work as a component of a mass planting. Instead, a specimen plant complements a mass planting.
Many plants could qualify as a specimen plant. Garden designers often will choose a tree of appropriate size as a specimen plant. Japanese maples, for example, are popular selections for this purpose.
The placement of a specimen plant contributes significantly to its effectiveness. In many cases, the specimen will succeed best as a contrast to a fairly large grouping of plants, especially foliage plants, e.g., hedges.
A “large, showy, striking or unusual” plant that is apart from other plants also could function as a specimen plant.
As an example from my garden, we have a Kennedia beckxiana ‘Flamboyant’, which is an evergreen climber in the Pea Family (Fabaceae), and one of the UCSC Arboretum’s Koala Blooms Australian Plant Introductions. The plant’s common name, Cape Arid Climber, refers to a region in western Australian.
The plant’s generic name honors a British nurseryman, John Kennedy, and its specific name honors Gustav Beckx, a 19th century Belgian consulate General in Australia.
It earns the variety name ‘Flamboyant’ with its 2-inch long orange-red flowers with a showy large lime-green central spot at the base of the reflexed keel petal.
I acquired a five-gallon plant about a year ago from the Arboretum, and installed it to climb on a stairway. It has grown vigorously there, and will soon reach its mature height of ten feet.
My online research into the cultivation of this robust plant suggests that it should be cut back heavily after flowering to prevent invasive growth.
Given its prominent location and showing blossoms, my Cape Arid Climber will hold its own as a botanical focal point.
Look for a spot in your garden where a specimen plant could attract the eye and add interest to your landscape. You might have a fine selection already in place, or one that could be moved to such a special location. If you have “spotted the spot” but don’t have a specimen plant in hand, you can anticipate the pleasure of choosing one for your garden.
Mark Your Calendar
The Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society will hold its Fall Show & Sale on September 29th and 30th, in nearby San Juan Bautista, where there is enough space for Society members to fill some eighty tables with fascinating plants for sale or display. We’ll have full details about this event in next week’s Home & Garden section, so be sure to schedule the date for this opportunity to acquire succulent plants for your landscape.