Isabelle Palmer's Guide to Buying Your Plants – Where to Start? - Skize

Isabelle Palmer’s Guide to Buying Your Plants – Where to Start?

20 July, 2020

Here is an excerpt from Isabelle Palmer’s Book Modern Container Gardening: How to Create a Stylish Small-Space Garden Anywhere. To win a copy follow us on Instagram @skizebalconies to be in with a chance to win!

I suggest you do a little bit of research and make notes before you buy any plants. This is the best approach for gaining a clearer idea of what you need, so you don’t stand dumbfounded in the garden centre not knowing where to start – which I have done at times. I advise you to buy your containers first. This may seem a little odd, but it’s the best place to begin. Starting with the containers means that you can decide how much space you want to fill, where to put them and then how many plants you need to get. For advice on choosing containers, see pages 22–23. If you buy the containers before the plants, it’s a good idea to take them with you to the plant nursery or garden centre. If that’s not possible, make sure you at least take a picture of them on your phone. That way, you can match the containers to your selection of plants. 

If you’re choosing plants for the first time, I suggest always going to the nursery or garden centre in person. Although you can buy plants online, for me one of the most enjoyable parts of gardening is looking at and choosing them. That aside, it’s imperative to see the array of colour in the shopping trolley so you can check you’re happy with the combinations. The plants are going to become part of your home, so you want to get this right. It’s also important to pick the healthiest plants in order to give your containers the best possible start, which sometimes doesn’t happen with online purchases, believe me.

Most plant nurseries and garden centres will have someone there who can help you out, so don’t be afraid to ask. Typically, the plants are organised and labelled according to how much sun they require and which plants like shade to give you a starting point and guide you if you’re unsure of what to get.


Even though plants may be cheaper online, it’s worth selecting your own at a nursery or garden centre to ensure you’re buying the healthiest specimens. Here is a useful checklist of what to look out for:

Plant health — check for signs of pests and diseases. The eggs of insects, for example, are often attached to the undersides of leaves, so look over the foliage carefully.

Root system — if possible, remove the plant from its plastic pot and inspect the roots. They should be firm and look healthy. A plant that is pot-bound, with a mass of tangled roots growing out of the bottom of the plastic pot, is best avoided.

Leaves and flowers — make sure these look healthy, without any discoloration or markings.

Flowering plants  choose plants that have lots of unopened buds. That way, you know you’ll get great value, particularly from annual bedding plants.

Plants Sometimes Die – Don’t worry: Keep Calm and Carry On

Even the most experienced gardeners have times when their plants fail to thrive and even die. If rehabilitation, pruning, watering and feeding, and pest and disease remedies don’t work, then I’m afraid it is more sensible to throw the plant away and start again. It is an excuse to visit the garden centre, and buy more plants, so don’t feel defeated. Gardening is all about learning from your mistakes and moving on. Apart from anything else, if a plant in a container is diseased, then it is better to pull it out before it infects other specimens.