If you have decided to start a new garden, for whatever reason, there are several things you need to do before you begin digging. Do not simply go to your local nursery, pick up everything that looks attractive to you and plant it. While, by some anomaly of pure luck, that might turn out wonderful it is far more likely that your will end up with a hodge podge of plants that do not thrive together, or simply do not look good together. The best bet is to start small, and when you conquer one area of your property and have a successful, thriving garden then take the next step and tackle another area.
The first step is to take a good look at where you want to place your garden. Take the time to learn the pattern of sun on the area, study the drainage speed and think about how you want the garden to look. Make a wish list of your favorite plants and colors. Look at gardening and horticulture magazines for ideas and look at books and web site to get some visuals. Talk to gardeners. Enthusiastic gardeners are like parents; they will always have a story and will gladly share what they have learned. We love to share our victories, and commiserate over not so successful experiments in gardening.
In planning your garden bed, keep in mind that there are a few things that will help your choices look their best. Each garden area should have a focal point, or interesting element intended to draw the eye. The focal point is dependent on the size of the garden bed. For a large garden a bench or sculpture would be good, an outstanding shrub or tall plant would work as well. A theme, such as color or intent to attract butterflies, is also a great planning idea. A sense of symmetry and some level of repetition are also important in making your garden work as a whole.
After you have all these grand ideas in your head, it is time to start some more research and get serious. Look at the plants that you like the most. Check the hardiness zones, sun requirements, and other care information. Discard the idea of using plants that will not do well in your intended garden location. If you have found pictures of plants you love and want to use, and then research the plants. Find out the names and growing requirements before shopping. If one plant is not viable research further and try to find something to take is place that will please you as much as the original idea. Create a list of what you want before heading to the nursery.
Once you get to the store the hard part is sticking to your guns. I find that plants tend to call my name and urge me to buy them, even if they will not thrive where I am planning on planting. Stick to your plans. When in doubt, or if something really catches your eye, do not be afraid to ask the nursery staff. They should be well informed and knowledgeable about their stock. When buying, try not to fall into the temptation of buying the more expensive, but oh so attractive, one gallon container full of blooming flower heads. Instead, you should stick with the smaller four-inch pot with only one or two open flowers. The smaller plant will use its energy to form strong, healthy roots and get set in your garden rather than spending all that energy on the flowers. It will only take a few months for that smaller plant to catch up to the size of the one-gallon container that might have caught your eye.
Finally, you have your plan, your plants and your shovel. You feel ready to plant. Before going ahead and planting anything be sure that you have taken steps to make sure your soil offers enough nutrients for your new plants. Compost, loam or other additives of your choice might be needed to offer the plants everything that they will need to thrive. When you start planting, dig a hole in your amended soil to a depth that is equal to the height of the container the plant came in. make the hole slightly wider than the container. Fill the hole with water and let the water soak in completely. Fill the hole and let it drain one more time. Gently remove the plant from the container; it is fine to tip it upside down to do so. Gently loosen the soil around the roots, place the plant base in the hole and fill in the rest of the hole with the original soil. Pat down gently to make sure the plant is secure.
I suggest keeping a journal through out this process and as the garden progresses. Your garden plans, ideas and desires for future projects. The journal can help you keep track of what plants do the best in your gardens, as well as which survive storms and your winters the best. Notes will allow you to learn from your mistakes, and further your successes.