A primer of garden plants

Use this compilation to help you choose the right plants for your garden

Selecting which plants you want to grow can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of gardening--and one of the most confusing, too, thanks to the thousands of possibilities.

Presented here is basic information to help you choose and care for plants in a number of categories, from trees and shrubs to annuals and perennials. For each group of plants, you'll find a sampler of good choices, complete with photographs.

The samplers present certain information in an at-a-glance format. Each entry begins with the plant's botanical name; any former botanical names (under which it may still be sold) are also mentioned. Entries that contain references to a number of species and hybrids are headed simply by the plant's genus--Acer, for example. Other entries cover just one plant and are headed by genus and species, as in Ginkgo biloba.

After the botanical name comes the common name, if there is one. If the plant is popularly known by its botanical name--as for magnolia and zinnia, for example--no common name is noted.

All entries also include information about climate adaptability (see the Climate Zone Map to identify your own gardening climate). Each plant's preferred exposure is also noted, as are moisture needs.

Entries for some plants include other information. For trees, we note growth rate; for vines, we tell you just how each plant climbs. For many groups, we indicate whether the plant is evergreen, with foliage present all year; semievergreen, losing some leaves in fall; or deciduous, losing all its foliage each autumn. As you'll learn, certain plants are evergreen or semievergreen in the warmer parts of their range, deciduous where winters are colder.

You'll find much of this at-a-glance information is also summarized on the section introductions to help you quickly narrow down which plants will best adapt to your gardening environment.