Tried & True or Unique & New

by Ken Muellers

Ken Muellers is a NYSNLA certified Nursery/Landscape Professional and can be contacted at   

Ken Muellers is a NYSNLA certified Nursery/Landscape Professional and can be contacted at


Choosing what to plant can be a daunting decision for a gardener. Whether it is one plant to fill a blank space by your front door or planning an entire new landscape, you have to find a way to narrow the field of potential candidates. A trip to the local nursery or garden center may be a good way to start, but sometimes at a fully stocked nursery, the number of options may grow when you see all the beautiful plants you want to give a home. For someone who has done a lot of landscaping over the years, (yes, I’m older than I look) the choice comes down to two basic options – tried and true or unique and new. 

The safe bet, and the path most taken, is using plants that you have seen or had success with in the past. These “battle tested” plants form the backbone of suburban landscapes all around us. Plants such as azaleas, yews, hostas, daylilies and pachysandra, to name a few, are in every garden center and almost every landscape. With all the other plants to choose from, why do we just see these same plants everywhere? They live! With all the challenges a new plant in the landscape faces – not enough water, too much water, poor soil, insects, disease, the heat of summer and the cold of winter – these tried and true plants have survived. They have not only survived, but have been shown to have attractive leaves, flowers, berries or other attributes, that earned them the right to be planted again (and again and again). When planted in the right spots, in the right combinations, these usual suspects can make for a beautiful, low maintenance and long-lived landscape.

But is there something more? What about all those other interesting plants you see at that local garden center? What about the new hybrid varieties of plants that are just hitting the market? How about that unique flower you saw when you were traveling on vacation? Although these may be wonderful additions to your garden, when you find yourself saying, “Wow! Why have I never seen that plant before?” you may want to find an answer to that question before you plant them.

Sometimes these unique plants are rare gems waiting to be discovered. After all, someone had to be the first to plant a Knock Out rose in their yard. And what true gardener isn’t thrilled when they see a new flower for the first time? But sometimes these odd plants are just poorly suited, fussy or difficult-to-grow-plants that you don’t see because no one can keep them alive in the real world. Others require specific conditions and will only thrive in a particular niche. For every new plant success story there are plenty of plant obituaries to counter.

For me, the choice is kind of like picking what beer to have when I go out to dinner; do I order the local craft brew and get to experience new and interesting flavors or do I simply have a bottle of Budweiser? With the latter, I know what I’m getting, but with the former, I may find a new favorite. Happy drinking – I mean planting!