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My prerogative
If you’re a gazer or a doer, experts recommend plants to match your gardening personality


May 2006

How simple or lavish your garden grows depends on your gardening personality.

When it comes to gardening, not everyone has the skill, time or interest in covering new ground.

"Every client says they want low maintenance, and they want all the colors in the world," says Peter Kudlata, owner and principal landscape architect at Flagstone Landscape Design, Cedarburg. But you can’t have both, he says, and you need to decide early on whether you merely want a visually appealing garden or one that’s going to challenge you mentally and physically.

If it’s low maintenance you want, Kerry Mattingly suggests "embracing the concept of native restoration."

"The point is when you can utilize native material in your landscape ... and work that together in a harmonious way with the more manicured, I think you can have the best of both worlds," says Mattingly, co-owner of Treetops Landscape Design Inc., Grafton.

By that, he means using low-maintenance grasses, such as No Mow, to create a lush meadow look. Then add some hardier perennials, like purple cone flowers, black-eyed Susans and asters. "That’s what I like to do — use a combination," he says. "Take your cue from nature and see what you have."

Kudlata agrees that ground cover — pachysandra, for example — keeps weeds out and looks lush. "If you plant in masses, it’ll be a lot less maintenance," he says. "I think you get in trouble, maintenance-wise, when you get into ‘two of these and two of those.’"

Todd Stapleman of Milwaukee’s Northouse Landscaping Co. also recommended perennial grasses, such as Karl Forester, in combination with three basic flowers: the purple cone flower, black-eyed Susan and the Becky Shasta daisy. "It’s instant prairie," he says. The flowers bloom at different times and take a minimum amount of care; all you need do is water them twice a week until they’re established. "I have planted them in my front yard and watered maybe twice last year," he says. "They’re very pretty — even standing in the winter time."

And Karl Forester, which he says was the plant of the year in 2003, is low maintenance as well; it doesn’t require a lot of water, and you can get by with mowing it just once a year.

On the other hand, if instead of being all thumbs you’ve got a green one, Stapleman says you should opt for showier perennials. He recommends salvia and Desdemona Ligularia, which has dark maroon leaves with deep purple flowers. "It’s something your neighbors won’t have," he guarantees. Both require more homework to determine where best to plant them, and they require more finesse to grow. He also suggests the delicate Vera Jamison Sedum, which is a rich burgundy color that goes well with the Desdemona Ligularia.

If it’s a challenge you want, Mattingly says the yew, which needs constant pruning, should test you. Also, Bonsai-type trees and topiaries take constant maintenance, and hybrid plants "are fussier."

Kudlata says perennial or water gardens can be the most rewarding but also the most challenging as you’ll have "a succession of blooms."