Figuring out this gardening thing...need serious help

teapot100(5)May 11, 2013

Ok, I've dabbled here and there in gardening, but the truth is I really don't know what I'm doing. This will be our 3rd spring/summer in our house - there was almost nothing here when we moved in except for a couple of tulips and daffodils, a rose and orange daylilies. and now I am ready to learn more, but there are still many (basic) things I don't understand!

1. I know there are shade gardens, full sun gardens, partial shade/partial sun gardens, perennial gardens, annual gardens.... What about acidic soil/mostly shade/annual/perennial gardens? What can I plant in an area such as this that will give me blooms from spring until late summer/early fall?

2. How do you plant so you have blooms in your garden for the whole time? Let's say you have crocuses, tulips, daffodils, irises, roses, daylilies, and you want to plan other things too in this particular garden. What do you do with the plants once the foliage/blooms fade? Leave them in the ground or do you cut them back to make room for the next blooming plant? What about underplanting? Is that to maximize blooms in a space and so you get a variety of them at different times in the season?

3. Why do instructions on bulb pkgs say to plant a certain distance apart and then when you go look at plans online, they tell you it's ok to clump several bulbs in one hole?? How's someone supposed to know what to do?

My head hurts just thinking about it which is why my garden looks so sad and barren. I am paralyzed by all of it. I have tulips in a sparse row, not in clumps, a few crocuses and dwarf hyacinth dotted here and there, 2 little rose plants (they don't look like bushes), last year I had a couple of daffodils but they didn't come up this year after I tried to redo the garden in the fall and start from scratch (replanted things, not knowing what was what, threw some things out...). The only thing that I have had a tiny bit of success with is dividing and planting hosta. I thought I killed one last summer that was given to me as a present (didn't take it out of the pot and it died), but it's alive and now it's got a place in my yard!

So, I have a lot of questions and I am really so clueless.

I would also like to plant a garden in the back of the house that gets full sun and I think it would be easy enough to follow a garden plan that you see on other websites. It's the front of the house that baffles me. I've attached a photo link so you can see what the front garden looked like last spring. I pulled up a lot of the tulips because only foliage came up with no blooms. I moved them around so the 8 of the 10 that I did save are in the part of the garden to the left of the pathway. We've also since outlined the garden with bricks.

Here is a link that might be useful:

This post was edited by teapot100 on Sat, May 11, 13 at 13:53

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I inherited a yard with lots of existing plants when we bought this house. I've been learning a lot, and I'd say that, in general, you want to leave the leaves that died back. It seems to be far more useful to plant things which come up at different times in about the same place to cover up the previous plant's old leaves. Also, cutting the leaves is more work, and leaving them there turns into free mulch and keeps the nutrients in the soil.

I was going to check where you are (other than zone 5), as that might help in determining what to suggest. In general, I would suggest things which are locally native, simply because those are adapted to your area and are much more likely to live with little care once established. At a random guess, you're probably in New Hampshire in zone 5, so maybe would be interested to you.

For bulb plants, I really like old house gardens, and their advanced search will let you choose bloom time, shade/sun, and soil type.

Are you more the type for a cottage garden or a more formal type garden? That will also matter!

In the shady, moist parts of my yard, I have various hosta, lily-of-the-valley (this _will_ spread if it's happy), solomon's seal, false solomon seal, jack-in-the-pulpet, a native part-to-full-shade creeping phlox, lungwort (one of the early type plants), bleeding hearts, ferns, hellebores, astilbes, some recently added primroses, a recently added monkshead, grape hyacinth, scilla.

Note that my soil there is only moderately acidic (6.2 pH, buffer 6.6 pH). How acid is your soil?

Also, the organic matter in my soil is _amazing_, between the leaves from the trees nearby and I presume ammendments by the previous owners.

It looks like your shady area is shaded by a building, not a tree? How much sun does it get? In the part which gets very little light, I currently have hosta, lily-of-the-valley, and the aforementioned native creeping phlox. I am not sure what else might be ok there. It's also the north facing part of the yard. So it mostly gets blocked by the house and the fence.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 8:39PM
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Cathie3078(6b MA)

I have both inherited several gardens and started many beds from scratch. Here's what works for me. Use shrubs to anchor the garden: pick different blloom times and some evergreens, such as rhododendron and holly. I plant perennials with depth and height: tall, medium and ground covers and then use annuals to change things up from year to year. Again, with perennials, pick different bloom times so that as one thing fades, another comes into bloom. I always group plants by my favorite color combos and plant in odd number groupings: groups of 3, 5, 7 and never in rows (think triangle patterns). You can have a singleton here and there, but they should be stunners. You may want to get a good "go-to" book for different plants. The Sunset Northeast Garden is my favorite and has a section that categorizes plants by season, sun, shade, etc. with good descriptions of each. Also patience and lots of mulch is important. It takes time to get that full look you see in garden photos. For example, when redoing my front yard garden from scratch 5 years ago I planted a long swath of day lilies that bordered the road. They now are thick enough to not need any mulching. And trial and error is the best teacher. Ask any experienced gardener. We've all lost a few plants (over the years, maybe more than a few) and tend to move things around til it works. Look around your area to see what you like and what is doing well. Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 9:36PM
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mayalena(6 - MetroWest Boston)

First off, get a copy of Sydney Eddison's "Self-Taught Gardener". It was my first gardening book and it remains a favorite. She is a great teacher, and her chapters on easy perennials for sun and easy perennials for shade will help you get started. Your library can probably get it for you, or Amazon has used copies starting at about $4.

Next, you might want to map your garden -- know its orientation (is it on the north side of the house?), and observe when it gets sun (early am? late aft? for how many hours?). I actually drew my beds on graph paper, made several copies, and then illustrated on them where I had sun at different hours over the course of the day. This will tell you what spots have no sun, what spots have 6 hours, etc.

Once you know your sun, you might want to start visiting gardens to see if they have similar conditions and, if so, what they do with plants that you like. Are they using shrubs for height or structure? Perennials? Annuals? Do they catch your eye with flowers or foliage color or texture or shape, etc.?

Are there any gardens in your town that you can observe and hopefully chat with their owner? Does your town have a Garden Tour? Or do neighboring towns? Can you attend any of the Garden Conservancy's Open Days? Can you get to Tower Hill? Can you attend any of Mass Horticulture's Thursday evening talks at Elm Bank? There are many, many ways to learn!

Have fun!

Here is a link that might be useful: Open Days link

    Bookmark   May 12, 2013 at 9:55AM
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