Specimen plants are plants which are grown as exhibition pieces in the garden. They are typically isolated from other plants so that they stand out, rather than being situated in a mass of plantings. Specimen plants are one of the key aesthetic elements of the garden, and in some cases they can be decades or even hundreds of years old. In antique gardens, the specimen plants may include rare and unusual species, such as heritage roses and unique tree cultivars.
Many specimen plants are trees or large shrubs, for a number of reasons. Bigger plants tend to stand out and look appropriately scaled when they are planted alone in an open space, for starters, and they also tend to be more long-lived. Since a specimen plant is intended to be a permanent display piece, a plant with longevity is desired so that the plant will stay healthy for years. Large plants can also be more showy, with features like bright flowers, unusual foliage, peculiar twists and turnings of their branches, and so forth.
A specimen plant can be isolated in an open area and surrounded by grass, low ground cover, moss, gravel, wood chips, sand, or other materials, depending on the aesthetic in the garden. Lower plantings may be situated nearby to set the plant off without crowding it, and a large garden can have several specimen plants which create focal points and areas of interest in the garden to keep visitors occupied and interested. Specimen plants can be used anywhere from a small courtyard with relatively limited space to a large country estate.
For people designing a garden from scratch, choosing specimen plants can be very exciting. Many nurseries carry mature plants for people who want a well-established garden from the very start, or people can purchase saplings and seedlings which will mature over time. In an existing garden which is being relandscaped, people may opt to retain current specimen plants and trees, or to relocate them or install other specimen plants.
Gardens in all environments can have specimen plants, ranging from a low water garden with native plants in a desert region to a formal European-style garden. Gardening stores may have recommendations for specific types of ornamental plants which may be suitable to particular areas or types of gardens. Such plants can also be ordered from nurseries which ship their products if nothing suitable can be found locally.