Step 1) How to Choose the Right Plants

“The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” –Isaiah 40:8

For all of the “more doing less talking” types of blog readers out there (me being one of them), this post may not intrigue you. But as I am finding that more and more of my friends want to become gardeners but are unsure where to start, I thought sharing where I started might be helpful to them. For the “doers” out there, you can read in a later post how I end up using all of these trees and plants.

To be upfront about my “gardening beliefs”, it’s only fair to share that I am more of a pragmatist than a dreamer. To say I am a down-to-Earth gardener is more of a pun than I want to express. I try to be as frugal and practical with all of my projects as time allows. I say that because having all the time in the world, I would go around asking people for starts to all of their plants and fill in my yard gradually (which I will still do some). But day light is short when you work full time; I will have to prioritize in the following order:


Perennial (comes back every year without much maintenance) vs. Annual (once a year-but sometimes you can save the bulbs and seeds to reuse)

Function in the Yard (does it provide shade, grow fruit, decorative, ground cover, good for wildlife, water absorption, erosion control, etc.)

Low vs. High Maintenance

Sun vs. Shade

Color coordination (with house and other landscaping)

To start your own plan, I would sit down and make a simple sketch of your yard. Think about the slopes, dips, hills, sun exposure, flood areas, existing trees and landscaping, and function of the yard. How do you want to use it? Will you be sitting outside a lot or is it just for curb appeal? Do you need to shade your house or a sitting area? Come up with a plan, even if it’s a 5-10 year plan, of the changes you want to make. And then order your plants to fit that plan in stages.

My yard has drainage issues. The house sits on the bottom of a hill, so all of the water comes down from the neighbor’s yard, down the slope, and into our basement. There were also some large trees the previous owners took down (we found out that one was for drainage and another for storm damage) but left the stumps to be ground out. We have an existing pine tree that has incurred a lot of storm damage also. So the priorities of our yard are as follows:

Control water to run away from the house

Rework the retaining walls on the sides of the driveway to leave more space for the cars, create beds for flowers, and slope water away

Plantings along retaining wall for erosion control & curb appeal

Space for vegetable garden with sun exposure

Plantings to encourage wildlife (feed them and provide shelter) (Nate’s request)

Cherry trees for cooking (and the birds will have their share)

Shade for lounging patio area

2 trellises attached to house to hold clematis and “lift” the face of the house

Flowering trees and bushes for curb appeal

Blooms for different seasons with color coordination

Grind out leftover stumps

Take down pine tree from storm damage

Your list will be different, but this at least gives you an idea of things to consider.

So the first thing I knew I definitely wanted no matter what is to order cherry trees. They provide fruit for us and birds, they have beautiful pink blossoms in the spring for curb appeal, and they are a smaller tree that can fit under power lines.

I have never ordered plants through a catalog before, but I remember my parents doing it when I was young. We lived on a farm and had a ton of mature fruit trees they had ordered from catalogs before I was born. A coworker had told me she ordered her trees from the Arbor Day website, so I compared their prices to everyone else’s. They won hands down. With any order they throw in a free red maple, and when you sign up for a 6 month membership they throw in 10 free trees, and somehow I ended up getting 2 free forsythia bushes as well (maybe for signing up for the newsletter?).

I got to choose what 10 free tree package I wanted, so I chose the Wildbird Garden selection. After ordering my two cherry trees, this is what I ended with:

2 Montmorency cherry trees (12-15′ tall & wide)

2 Forsythia bushes (4-6′ tall & 3-5′ wide) (grows 1-2’/year)


Red Maple (60-90′ tall)


2 Arrowwood Virburnum (6-10ft tall & wide)

1 Colorado Blue Spruce

1 Gray Dogwood (15′ tall)

1 Bur Oak

1 Northern Red Oak

1 River Birch (50-80′ tall)

1 Sargent Crabapple (6-8′ tall & 15′ wide)

1 Tulip tree (70-90′ tall) (Native to Eastern US)

1 Washington Hawthorne (20-30′ tall) 

They all come in a winter stem stage and are very young. It’s an investment in time and care, but for that price- totally worth it! 15 trees/bushes for under $40 (which includes the membership fee). Holy Smokes, what a blessing! I bought a 6′ cherry tree for the Slater house and it was over $100. Granted it was already big enough to produce a few cherries; so the ones I ordered are probably two-three years behind that. Arbor Day will ship them to me when our Zone 5 Planting season is ready (April-May).

There is no way we will be able use them all, our yard is not that big. But whichever ones we don’t end up using, I can share with family and friends.

About 2 months ago, a friend at work was sharing a fundraiser catalog for her son. Being frugal, I was feeling a little bit guilty that I was already spending money on my yard before I even technically had my new yard. But Nate gave me the green light, so I ordered a few things. Most of these are perennial bulbs (which means I won’t have to dig them up each year).

15 mixed glads (partial shade) 2-6′ tall

 10 mixed freesia (partial shade) 1-3′ tall, they don’t always come back the following year and some people put them in pots to retrieve the corms easier

16 orchid glads (full sun) 2-6′ tall

16 liatris spicata (partial to full sun) 2-4′ tall

10 blue anemone, 4-8″tall, 2′ span

10 blue gladilous, 5-6′ tall

20 queen fabiola, 15-20″ tall

Hummingbird & Butterfly Garden Mixture Giant seed packet (this is a mix of annuals and perennials, but it claims to grow quickly and is very beautiful. So I got this one for fun, and the husband will love it).

So with this order considerations need to be putting the tall ones in the back, shorter ones in the front, and placing them shade/sun appropriately. They will also attract critters, so somewhere we can see from the window would be nice too.

So about a month after that order, I ordered from the Gurney’s online catalog. My mom has used them I the past and was pleased. Also for each flower, there are online reviews, so I’ll know exactly what I’m getting for each one.
 1 red (pink) butterfly bush 6-10′ tall

2 bicolor butterfly bushes 6-10′ tall

1 spicebush 8-12′ tall (good for critters & birds for shelter and food)

2 hydrangea bushes 4-6 ft. tall

 8 zebra grass (these will come in 2″ starts) 4-6′ tall

 3 diamond grass (2″ starts) 4-6′ tall

2 maiden grass (2″ starts) 4-6′ tall

 6 creeping phlox (pink, purple, blue)

2 penngift crown (light pink, blooms whole season)

herbs in seed packets: cilantro, basil, parsley, & rosemary (I may start some of these in indoor pots or add some to flower boxes)

100 seed pack of Echinacea (good for critters, tea, & native plant)

 hardy lavender 15-20″ high (good for critters, oils, teas, etc)

 hummingbird & butterfly annual garden mix (I can save seeds in the fall for next year)

 2 orange butterfly plants (my favorite!)

 hosta mix (for shade and I will be able to split these and spread them

When I receive this order, the real fun will begin. What am I doing with all of these plants? Wait and see- it’s exciting stuff!


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