Hi! I'm new to gardening and Gardenweb. Some advice please?

darkbeauty_k(9)May 10, 2005

Hello :)

I'm new all around pretty much. I have a huge yard (3 lots in a suburban neighborhood). I have dreams of it being a serene and tranquil escape from the run down-ness surrounding us (I live in an older but quiet neighborhood). I have no idea where to start though. I want to landscape and have flowers in the front yard. It's the backyard that I want to be my escape though. I don't really want any annuals because I've got the idea that if I stagger my perrenials correctly, I will have blooms all year long.

Money is also a huge huge problem. My budget is maybe $20-$30 weekly. I'm not sure where to start or what to do. I suppose I should know.. I'm a "Certified Nursery Consultant" at Home Depot... But honestly, I'm still learning and there is really noone there to teach me but the customers. Those poor plants...

I want some old fashioned flowers. I'm not too much into tropicals. I was thinking roses, hydrangeas, magnolias.. things that are fragrant and soft looking.

I ramble, because I'm not sure exactly what I want or what would be a good, inexpensive starting place. Please help?

Here is a list of what I DO have (I know I said I disliked tropicals but... *shrugs*)



Sansivieria trifasciata (it might die. It had made several babies and outgrew it's pot. I cut the roots to dislodge the babies because they had all grown from a central root and repotted them)


Geranium (it doesn't look like your typical geranium. The leaves are very thick, the stems are woody, and the flowers are tiny tiny.. clusters just a little bit bigger than lantana flowers)

Tulip bulbs (forgot to plant them)

Basket with Basil and Oregano that won't die

Sago Palm (I pulled it out of a friends trash. She bought it and it sat in her trunk for a month. The crown is not soft. It is still really hard. I gave it some water and some plant spikes and sat it outside for some sun. Maybe it will live)

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vetivert8(NI-NZ zone 9a)

If that's a Cordyline australis you've got - it has hungry roots and drops long leaves that will give you hours of 'fun' trying to get them out of the lawn mower blades. In exchange for very nicely scented flowers and an 'exotic' appearance.

The cheapest place to start is with a big block of paper and pencils and a wish list. Forget the 'software'(plants) for a little while and go for the 'hardware' - paths, watering, shelter, glasshouse and potting shed, pergolas and outdoor sites such as a barbecue area, water features - ponds, fountains, bog gardens, secret gardens and retreats, paving.

Think about how much time you can put in to get it going. Then keep it going. Those gorgeous green swathes of grass can take hours of precious time to keep looking great. They make lovely settings for 'traditional' gardens - but the work required can eat your leisure time.

The budget fairy is not going to deliver your garden in anything much under five years and you'll probably end up as creative, make-do, and inventive as the rest of us. So go for the things that matter and leave space for what comes later 'in the scheme of things'. (And expect it to change as you pass through all the phases...)

I'd personally put all-weather, four season key paths as the highest priority. Not everywhere. Just to get you to the vegies and herbs on a dark winter evening without any slips or sprawls. Or move your barrow around without going axle-deep in soft places.

Get to know your soils and sunshine patterns. You can nearly guarantee that there'll be patches of great stuff and others you'll eye askance for a long time.

Also get to know your garden's weeds. Especially the perennials. You do not need the misery of planting a treasure just where the bindweed erupts every spring.

For the 'software': make some small trial beds and a nursery/recuperation bed for growing on many of the things you've listed - perhaps with some shade and wind cloth. For a garden the size of yours it would be prudent to begin collecting cuttings, remaindered plants, pieces from friends, and growing from seed.

If your time is limited, do not amass lots of pots. They take too much work over summer. If you can plant out your treasures in spring then that leaves you time to do the Very Important Pursuit of wandering the garden to see what you'll shift, or like to buy, or increase your stock of as soon as time and the budget fairy allow.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2005 at 4:43AM
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gabehart(5a OH)

Get a good garden book and analyze what type of sun and moisture you have for your beds. Our library has a big fat green Readers Digest book about gardening and lots of info on specific plants.

Learn to compost and you'll have happy soil and plants.

Learn how to propogate plants. Rooting hormone is cheap.

Beg, borrow and steal cuttings or pieces of plants from friends, neighbors and realatives.

Try your local freecycle. There may be someone who wants to get rid of or thin a plant you'd like to have.

Don't disregard annuals. Simple things like marigolds can fill in a spot while a perennial grows bigger. Seeds are cheap and you have a good climate for fast growing.

These are some of the things we did when we bought this house 4 years ago. Our gardens are happy and pretty now. You have a lot more space than us and I am very jealous.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2005 at 11:58AM
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gabehart(5a OH)

What types of gardens do you want? Veggie, formal, cottage, shade? There's a forum for anything here and we all have opinions to share LOL.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2005 at 12:00PM
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start on paper. collect shots of gardens that you love (the only magazines I will pay for are 'garden design' and This Old House, I might add) and invest in a large sketchbook, and maybe some 'quadrille' pads, or graph paper. that and a box of colored pencils will do more for your garden than all the money you can throw...

because it starts with the bones. if you know that you want a living fence blocking off the perimeter, it's much easier to start looking at options (a fence and vines, or hedges of evergreen plants?)

start by laying out the area as it is, marking the locatin and size of existing things- the palm over there, the way the ground slopes, where your back porch is in relationship to all this...

definately learn from your customers- and learn from other nursery workers (ie people not at Home Despot) and look into local garden clubs (I just found one when I stopped by their plant sale- gotta love women who gave free gifts with each purchase, and had one plant marked 'free if you can tell us what it is' which I couldn't, but it's got chocolate foliage, and I snapped it up for $4!)

there's a lot of 'classic' garden plants that will do well in your clime- and well thought out beds will provide year round color ( well- the camillas bloomed in january, when we had them :)

    Bookmark   May 10, 2005 at 12:53PM
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the only thing i would add to this is that (allow me preface this by saying that i save my money for things i can find or for a parent plant that i plan on taking cuttings from.) everday i drive to and from work always seeking out side roads and different ways to get to and from. while im out i look for stuff that i need ie bamboo mulch oak leaves for the herbs, plants to take cuttings also i odsreve the way others have done there yard.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2005 at 2:21PM
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It is wise to concentrate on the planning, lay-out, & "hardscape" factors first.

But if you're like most of us, you probably want some immdeiate gratification, too.
The good news is that you can get it pretty cheaply!

gardenweb is an excellent resource for plants & seeds:
some gardeners post their surplus & ask for plants in exchange, & sometimes they just ask for postage.

There are Plant Exchange, Seed Exchange, & Texas Gardening (complete with an Exchange "sub-forum") forums that will be most helpful.

The Texas forum has lots of friendly, knowledgeable, helpful people, & you can get lots of zone-specific guidance there.

Have fun!

    Bookmark   May 10, 2005 at 4:31PM
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Kellie, the main thing to remember is that it is YOUR family's garden, and YOUR time, money and energy being put into it. Do a little bit of what feels good to you, along with trying to do the planning/drawing/thinking and all that jazz.

Also remember to take all advice with at least a grain (sometimes a whole pile) of salt. None of us has the answer as to what's best for you and your situation. All we can do is tell you what we've learned, deduced, or just stumbled upon. Remember the definition of "expert": "ex" is something that once was, "spurt" is a drip of water with a littl pressure behind it; therefore, an "expert" is nothing more than a "has-been drip under pressure". ;o)

I've been known to plant things that "everyone" tells me won't grow--just because I wanted them to grow. Occasionally something that's not supposed to grow does. Of course, sometimes things that "everyone can grow" don't.

Whatever you do, keep it fun. Spend as much time as you can outside with your kids. Anytime away from the boob tube in into the fresh air is time well spent.

Good luck to you.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2005 at 9:13PM
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urthshaper(z3 alberta, Can)

I started my very first all by my self garden last year. Congratulations! I know it's exciting. I started out with a compost pile and a vague notion that I wanted some veggies in a patch that consisted of quack grass and dandelions. (still fighting those buggers off. Would that I knew about lasagne gardening at the time!) I had a budget of about $10 Canadian every week, and went mostly for seed, and scrounged plants. Figuring out and observing your ecosystem is valuable, but I think at the very least, get some deck chairs and a couple of fragrant herb containers for the summer. Breathe deep and daydream!Use your imagination, and take on what you can bit by bit, or I think that much garden could get overwhelming all at once. Roadale's Organic Gardening is another good mag. Lovely photography.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2005 at 1:11AM
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If I were doing this, I'd probably focus some of the budget on an initial stock of plants that multiply like mad (preferably short of being really invasive), and encourage that multiplication.

For example, tulips often fade away after a year or two, whereas irises, daffodils, and some other bulbs multiply and can be divided to make an increasing number of clumps. Some annuals will self-seed and come back forever with minimal effort, while some have to be carefully hand-raised and therefore probably repurchased every year.

So while you're working on your overall design and hardscape, you could be buying plants selected for ease of propogation and increasing your stock. If the plants are easy enough to propogate, you might also be able to get them from neighbors that have far too many, rather than having to buy them.

Some random things that multiply rapidly for me would be:

Annuals that reseed like mad: Four O'clocks. Borage. Calendula. California poppies. Sweet peas and nasturtiums, if you give them a little encouragement or save seeds. Bachelor's buttons.

Things that seem to be ready to divide every twenty minutes or so: Irises. Chives. Garlic chives. Lambs' ears. Cranesbill. Violets. Oregano.

Shrubby things that can grow fast, sometimes from a small, cheap start: Lemon Verbena, in a warm zone. Buddleia. Bay doesn't grow so fast, but it does grow _big_, and you can often buy it as a tiny cheap herb-sized plant. Lilacs (in a colder zone) may cost money but they try to propogate themselves with suckers.

Old-fashioned roses can make nice big shrubs and can be propogated from cuttings.

Wisteria and grapevines will clothe a mighty large structure.


    Bookmark   May 12, 2005 at 4:36AM
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lisa455(z9 LA)

Kellie - The most important thing you can do is improve your soil if it needs to be improved. I killed many a plant in my early days because I have dry clay soil. I added lots of compost. Also, see what is growing well in your neighborhood and around town and identify those plants in similar shade/sun conditions as you have. Indian hawthorne, Lorapetalum, crepe myrtles and variegated dwarf pittosporum comprise most of my shrubs. I also buy and plant mostly perennials that return every year - Great ones are yellow and blue flag iris, gingers, daylilies, eucomis, agapanthus, crinum, stokesia, ruellia, etc. I really like Southern Livings Garden Guide. To start, I only bought perennials suitable for the coastal south and that can tolerate a lot of rain. They ones that require good drainage and moderate rain I stayed away from because of the rain in coastal Louisiana. You might want to start perennials in mid summer from seed and plant them in the fall, as they will have time to settle in before it freezes where you live. Also, you can buy bulbs online that are reasonably priced. Identify those that you think will do well and ask for comments.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2005 at 8:06PM
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katielovesdogs(z5b/6a Indiana)

Buy "The Well Tended Perennial Garden" by Tracy DiSabato Aust. It's a comprheensive guide to perennial gardening that is highly readable (well written). I also agree with the soil preparation comments. You can take small starts of plants and put them in well amended soil and have large plants by the end of the summer. I add lots of coffee grounds, chopped up leaves, grass clippings, and shredded paper to my beds before I plant in them.

You can also get the best deals on perennials, shrubs, and trees in the fall. Except for an occassional trip to nurseries in the spring when I lose my mind, I buy perennials in the fall because they are so cheap. I would also check out the winetrsowing forum to learn about an easy way to propagate from seed.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2005 at 12:31PM
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meldy_nva(z6b VA)

So many good suggestions have already been made, but here are some more:

Get a large 3 ring binder with blank paper and those plastic "protector pages" (the kind with the opening on top; you'll use it for lists and for records, and the plastic pages will hold everything from receipts to plant tags to cut-outs from the catalog of plants you like and/or plants you buy.

Take photos of every thing, from all directions. Label and *date* them and store in the notebook. Add pictures every time you make a change. Next year and ten years from now, you'll refer to those pics and they will be worth their weight in platinum. Also note where the shadows fall each season (you'll need the info to plan the beds).

Keep a tiny in-the-pocket notebook just for writing lists of things to do and things to remember.. best if used while taking a simple 10-minute stroll around the yard every day or two.

Learn about your community's resources: libraries are a starting place, but there are schools, colleges, and garden clubs full of more-or-less knowledgeable people; most communities have free-for-the-taking mulch - probably not in a convenient location but the price is right.

*Before* you buy bags or loads of soil, etc. learn about lasagna gardening from Patricia Lanza's book (you can buy the books, although her website is pretty informative) or learn from all the postings about lasagna here on GW. Same foot, other shoe: *do* buy Mel Bartholomew's book on Square Foot Gardening before you plant veggies.

Dream in banquet-size portions, but plan to accomplish just one small bite at a time. Remember that gardens evolve, plants grow [or not], and people change; that's all normal, so don't insist on doing something that you thought you liked last year unless you still like it this year.

Some hardscape should start softly -- the first year, use mulch to make paths -- once in use, you may find that you want a straight path from point a to point b, rather than the picturesque curve you think looks better - or maybe you learn that you are willing to walk around a swath of lawn just to keep it pristine. Or you learn that an 18" wide path is okay for a wheelbarrow and useless for a cart or wagon. Believe me, it's easier to move mulch than to move concrete.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2005 at 3:05PM
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juliaw(7b/Sunset 5 -- PNW)

I'll reinforce some of the others' suggestion, and maybe change some. If you're looking for the cheapest possible way to create a landscape, try the following:

Go to your library and check out some books on garden design. While you're there, get one or two about plant propagation. Read, read, read. Take notes.

Plan on paper. Keep in mind when you plan that what you're planning isn't cast in stone. If the yard is completed slowly -- to accomodate your budget -- then you'll have plenty of time to change your mind. And in the end, there's something very satisfying about seeing a plan become a reality. Also, it's not necessary to buy nice paper or colored pencils. Printer paper and crayons work just fine. Or notebook paper (you can draw lines the other direction to make a grid and use the grid to approximate space in your yard so you're not overplanning the space). And if you have a computer, that's even better: I don't know about Macs, but the IBM version of the Windows operating system comes with a very basic program called Paint which works just fine, and you can change the layout to your hearts content without throwing away a scrap of paper.

If your soil is heavy, start collecting leaves and plant material scraps *now* and create impromptu compost piles. Get stuff from your neighbors: grass clippings, fallen leaves, trimmings, etc. If your yard is unplanted you have plenty of room to create piles for composted material. With time, patience, a lot of hard work, some indulgence from your neighbors, and a few large and unsightly piles, you can have a decent amount of soil amendment for cheap or free. (Though you may have to compost for as much as a year to generate enough for your purposes).

I definitely second the getting-cuttings-from-your-neigbors approach. Or drive (or walk) around town and find plants that really strike your fancy instead of limiting your selections to your neighbor's tastes. And make sure you understand propagation (getting and using cuttings) before you go, not just so that the cuttings survive and thrive, but in case the owner of the plant you lust after takes some convincing because they don't understand propagation and need it explained that what you're after won't damage their plant.

For pots to grow cuttings in, yogurt containers work fine, and you can pot up to gallon milk containers when you need to.

The things that will be tough to find for cheap or free are the hardscape items. One recomendation I have is for mulch paths (or mulch in general): you can usually get mulch from power companies when they have to cut down brush or trees for maintenance purposes. If you tell them you want the mulch from the next job, they'll make it and drop it free of charge (or exceptionally cheap), though you have to be willing to accept an unknown (usually large) amount and you'll have no control over the timing. If you're worring about getting too much, try making arrangements with your neighbors for taking any excess off your hands.

With patience, time and (sometimes huge) effort, you can have a nice landscape for the price of rooting hormone, soil-less sterile mix (for the cuttings) fertilizer, and some hardscape materials. Now, you may not want to go about it in this bare-bones a manner, but I took my suggestions to the extreme just as a reminder that landscapes do not need to be store-bought and expensive.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   June 19, 2005 at 4:25PM
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littlekinder(z8 DFW Tx)

Kellie -

Most definitely visit the Gardening in Texas forum. Texas poses many unique problems, and the people are so nice. In fact, I noticed syviatx posted - I don't even know her but she emailed me to offer some plants she was getting rid of that I was looking for - if we can find a central place to meet. She just happened to see me mention it in a post. Nice people! And they don't care if you are new to gardening - they help me so much and I'm only a few years into it.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2005 at 1:08PM
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Recently I purchased a peach colored flower hibiscus plant. I planted it outside. Now my worry is will it survive the freezing temperatures of winter?

    Bookmark   September 18, 2006 at 3:05PM
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