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10-year logoBy Stephanie Rose

‘In looking back over several recent projects,’ observed Stephanie Rose at the start of her Natural Companions column in September 2006, ‘I noticed that I’ve been using one particular genus of plants more frequently than just about any other.’ 

‘Its name probably evokes thoughts of petri dishes and bacterial colonies for most of us, but this plant   genus – Pittosporum – has truly held an extremely valuable position in most of my plant palettes in recent years and is one of the most useful of all plant types I install.’  She continued:



‘I find myself pointing them out every time I take clients to a nursery to view and select plants, and it seems I’m always trying to find ways to fit one or more of its many varieties into my planting plans.  I treasure them for their great variety in color, form, texture and even scent – a versatility that often lets me use several types within a single design.’


‘Pittosporum is a genus composed of evergreen shrubs and trees and in my experience is among the hardiest groups that grow in California.  It’s been used extensively since the 1960s and is a standard selection in many commercial designs because of its hardiness and visual appeal.  In color, the leaves range from a very light gray-green to an intensely dark green; in form and size, they go from low, mounding shrubs to large, graceful, slightly arching trees.’


‘I consciously and conscientiously use these variations to my advantage, placing these plants in the fronts of borders, using them as anchors to an entire design or placing them as filler shrubs in the middle or back of borders where a plant is needed to blend in.  I’ve also used them as specimens against a wall, where their forms can be highlighted vividly.  On occasion, I’ve used five or more varieties of Pittosporum in just one design.’


‘Too many of us tend to find a favorite plant within a genus and use it over and over again.  For me, Pittosporum broke me of the habit – and if my experience here can be translated to yours with any genus, take a look at what’s available:  You might just find something else within a genus that might make a valuable addition to your designs.’


‘I’ve found all these Pittosporum varieties by observing others’ design work and conducting regular nursery visits during which I ask lots of questions and pay particular attention to what I see in the “hold” section where plants await pickup or delivery.  In Pittosporum, I’ve discovered a workhorse for my designs that offers many different visual forms, low maintenance and an ability to transform my clients’ gardens into something never before seen in their neighborhoods.’  


‘This genus doesn’t thrive in cold climates,’ Stephanie concluded, ‘but the underlying principle is the same.  If your region supports a genus that contains several hardy plants, do a bit of research and see if there are plants within that genus that have the same general characteristics but different qualities when it comes to colors, textures, sizes and forms.’

‘It may add just the edge you need to make your designs stand apart from everyone else’s.’

Have you had plant-selection experiences similar to those Stephanie describes here?  Have you found yourself in a rut, using just one favorite plant to excess?  And do you find inspiration in similar places, from other peoples’ gardens to the ‘hold’ areas of your local nursery?  Please share your insights by commenting below!  


Stephanie Rose wrote her Natural Companions column for WaterShapes for eight years and also served as editor of LandShapes magazine.  She may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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