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On starting your new garden

You may have just bought a new house. You may have bought an old house You may have a bare lot and are waiting to build, or you may simply want to revamp the garden of your existing house. Whatever your reason for wanting to start a garden you have to answer the question: am I planning this garden for me, or for the neighbors to see and admire? You can, in fact, accomplish both, but the point is that your attention to this question will help you focus in on what you want the garden to do for you. It’s important to know the space around your house and how you want to use it. If you have a family of six young rambunctious children, two dogs and a cat you may be forced to plan accordingly and design a soccer field - at least until the children have moved on to cars. If, on the other hand you are heading for a leisurely retirement and want to potter for hours in your garden you may be able to design a labor-intensive garden with lots of flowers to take care of. Whatever your current life style the garden should reflect that. And remember, it is your garden to do with as you wish.

“Whatever your current lifestyle the garden should reflect that.”

Spend some time thinking about the garden -- really thinking. Walk around the space as it exists now. Take a chair out and sit in different areas to see how they feel and how they look from different points in the garden. Look out of your windows at different times of the day and think about what you want to see from them. Observe how the sun plays around your house. Is the garden shady, sunny, or both. Are you happy with the amount of privacy you have, or would you prefer a little more. Do you want to create a privacy barrier (a nice one, of course) between you and your neighbors. Are there existing trees on the property - do you like them? On this one, however, you may be financially forced to like them since removing trees is costly. Which brings us to the next question you have to ask yourself - how much are you willing to spend?

Size of budget does not dictate beauty of garden. Having a design and a plan of action will do more to dictate that, and will help you spend your money wisely. An immediate, and not expensive path to take is to hire someone knowledgeable to walk around your garden with you for an hour. You might ask someone from a local nursery or garden center, or a landscape designer, or even a knowledgeable friend to give you some time and advice. Don’t expect the gem of a fellow who mows your lawn to necessarily know about landscape design. He may well know, but just be sure. During that hour you will come to know your property more intimately, and get a good sense of a design direction in which to go -- or even get a couple of options to choose from. This is a minimum investment but is time and money well spent.

“Size of budget does not dictate beauty of your garden.”

Now, do you intend to do the gardening yourself, or is it your intention to get a gorgeous garden but have someone else tend it. Be truthful because a large garden can easily become a burden if it requires too much maintenance. Don’t put in a huge flower garden thinking you will do the planting, weeding, fertilizing, pruning, and dead-heading if your husband and children are expecting you to go canoeing with them every weekend. Adjust the size of your garden workload to your lifestyle. Don’t become hostage to your garden. Gardens beckon and seduce the unsuspecting - it happens all too easily. You should know, however, that there really is no such thing as a maintenance-free garden. Anything you plant will need some maintenance whether by you or by someone you hire.

Are you an obsessive enough gardener to want to go the whole nine yards yourself in designing and creating your own garden, or are you more comfortable seeking the services of a professional landscape designer? If it is the latter you have options. You can hire a professional to do the whole job: design, installation and maintenance, or just a portion of the job, such as the design. Some designers prefer to do everything, some are more than happy to create a garden design and hand it over to you to implement. Just know which way you want to proceed, and take your time. Creating a work of art is a process and change is inherent, but changing your mind four of five times will cost you money so make sure you know your mind. When you work with a professional you are not just paying for a garden design you are paying for that persons knowledge of plants and also of people in the nursery industry. If the landscape designer is not going to install the garden for you they will still be able to advise you on where to buy your plants, or who to hire to plant them for you.

“Don’t become a hostage to your garden.”

Creating a garden takes time. Enjoy the process, even over years. Taking a garden from design to mature growth spans years, and the garden will get better as time passes. While it is hard to imagine that a new garden freshly planted with 12" plants will ever grow into the lusty perennial border of your dreams (or of the original design) chances are it will. Patience pays off in gardening. Your excitement about your new garden is understandable and appropriate, but don’t go the seductive route of immediate gratification buying the biggest plant at the nursery. The plants will be healthier and better adjusted to your particular garden if they grow to maturity in your garden, not in the garden center. Allow your garden to mature naturally. Don’t force it. It will pay off in spades in terms of longevity, and beauty.