Solution Gardening — It’s Not About the Plant

Eupatorium (Joe Pye weed) attracting pollinators

Perennials such as Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed) are the solution to many problems, such as how to add color in the fall and how to attract pollinators.

Winter is here with its gray skies, cold air, and white ground. For some, it is difficult enough to think about ornamentals in the spring, let along in this weather. We will soon be fielding a ton of questions about color, containers, and curb appeal. But we won’t be fielding many questions about the new cultivars of hellebore, snapdragons, or Deutzia.


I find that as a new generation of potential plant users comes along, the questions are seldom about geraniums or hostas; the questions are usually about solutions. Many people don’t understand enough about annuals, perennials, shrubs, or vines to know what to ask, but they all recognize they have issues with deer, they need to cover space, they want more fragrance, and of course, they want low maintenance plants and landscapes.

Match the Plant to the Purpose
Our clients recognize that they need specific solutions, not specific plants. One of the tools we have as professionals is to choose the plants to satisfy those solutions. That is called Solution Gardening.

Let’s not get too complicated in our marketing programs by offering an alphabetical list of annuals. Let’s start marketing an alphabetical list of solutions. For example, people like season-long color. Under the heading “Season-Long Color,” offer your annuals, shade plants, sun-loving plants, etc.

People want low maintenance. Under that heading, offer your best perennials, shrubs, and annuals, remembering that low maintenance to my neighbor actually means no-maintenance. Be conservative.

Perennials Can Fill Many Roles
Perennials offer some of the best solutions to the landscaper and gardener. Solutions include fragrance (use Agastache or thyme), winter interest (try Panicum or Carex), butterflies (recommend Buddleia or Asclepias). The plants are far more important in what they solve, rather than simply being a pretty thing in the garden.

Anyone reading this can come up with half a dozen problems in the garden/landscape that a judicious selection of plants can solve. I mentioned a few that I keep hearing about and there are many others that make Solution Gardening a useful phrase.

Certainly, one of the problems perennials can solve better than any other group of plants is that of groundcovers. From Ajuga, Lamium, and woodland phlox for shady areas, to Campanula, Dianthus, and Lysimachia for the sun, there are a ton of options.

How do I solve the problem of no color in the fall? No problem. Perennials such as Scabiosa, Sedum, and Eupatorium are solutions.

Deer in a field

Deer present a challenge for many gardeners. Try recommending plants like hellebores, geraniums, beebalm, Perovskia, salvias, Muhlenbergia, and Panicum as a solution.

How about deer? Nothing easy about this, but much easier than it was a few years ago. Recommend hellebores for spring, geraniums, and beebalm for summer, Perovskia and salvias for fall, Muhlenbergia and Panicum for winter.

The most important thing in this age of no-time-to garden is to think solution, not plant. The plants are easy for us, and the most difficult for our clients.

I am a believer that solution gardening is our next big trend. I may be wrong, but next time you see me doing a plant talk in your area, solutions, not plants will rule the day.