When I moved into my new house last October I knew I would be adding a flower bed to the front of the house… I did not know I would be going completely crazy and adding flowers to everything. I have officially caught the gardening bug now that I have the space to plant my own flowers!
Luckily while I’m still a new (beginner) gardener my Mom is an excellent gardener. I grew up as an army brat but Mom would plant a beautiful garden everywhere we went… she knows her stuff. So of course my first step on my gardening journey was to recruit her help. She helped me work on a design, taught me about creating a layered garden, told me tip after tip for beginner gardeners and went over the benefits of compost vs mulch as a top dressing.
Which was perfect since I literally started from nothing… zip, zero. My land was literally bulldozed to create a flat, sturdy foundation before my house was placed. (While putting the house together took a few weeks the lot was bulldozed and my house was delivered in a single day. Check out the entire process here!). This bulldozed surface meant allllll the grass was gone (which isn’t terrible for a new garden bed) but there was no definition. No clear edges between garden bed and lawn.
Mom helped me layout new edging to create a divided space… 12 million bags of compost later (and new grass on the other side of the edging) and we have a space that looks like an actual garden bed! Plus it helps my house look like… an actual house.
All in all creating a brand new flower garden was a lot of work with a lot of steps. I think I spent more time in the garden this summer then I did in the house. Which isn’t a horrible problem to have! In the long run starting a garden takes months (if not years) and you’ll want a mix of annuals and perennials as well as trees, bushes, plants and flowers.
Steps to Starting a Garden:
- Design your Flower Beds
- Purchase Bushes, Plants and Flowers
- Layout your Flower Beds
- Add Edging to Divide the Space
- Plant your Flowers and Bushes
- Add Compost or Mulch for Top Dressing
But when you boil it down there are only a few steps to actually starting a garden… the size of your space and the complexity of your design will determine how much time it actually takes to complete these steps. PLUS if you’re planting perennials that take several years to mature to their adult size you may have space between your plants even once you’ve planted everything.
That’s ok! Gardening is definitely a marathon and not a sprint… you may even end up doing some of the steps out of order (I started planting before I put up edging!. Not to mention your garden may look drastically different from year to year as plants grow and mature. You may find yourself switching out annual plants from the sun loving plants you use in your first year of growth to shade loving plants as your larger trees and bushes start to shade the space.
All of this is perfectly normal (or so Mom says). As a beginning gardener I am just fascinated by the lapse of time. I want to see how my garden evolves… so I took lots of photos! Here is the progression for the first season of growth in my garden. Next year this space may look completely different but I think the before and after photos are already pretty striking!
Ready to go through a few steps of our own?
Step 1: Design your Space
Do you SEE my blank canvas!? Just installing the house on my land was amazing… but the sandy ground around the house didn’t look that great. I knew I wanted to plant a garden around the house to help it look like part of the land… but having never planted a garden I wasn’t sure where to start.
Luckily Mom helped me (and I’ve gone over all her tips in this Designing a Garden for Beginners post) but the basics are to plan 1) the shape of your garden, 2) the plants and flowers you want to have in your garden, 3) what type of watering system (drip, soaker hoses, a watering can) you’re going to use to water alllll of these new plants.
I wanted a layered look to my space with taller bushes, crete myrtle trees and rose bushes in the back and flowers up front. So Mom helped me think about which plants/trees/flowers would would look good together, grow in my type of soil and perform well in the sun/shade around my house. Once we had a plan we could start looking for the best deals and buying plants!
Step 2: Plant your Trees, Bushes and Flowers
This step could take a while… but it’s addictive! I found that even with a plan I wanted to stop and see what the garden center had every week. Maybe that had something new that I could work into my garden design! This means that even though I started with a set number of plants for the first month or so I was able to add flowers and annual plants all season.
Of course, the sooner you get things in the ground the longer they’ll have to grow and look fabulous BUT Mom also had to constantly remind me that plants don’t always work according to plan. Sometimes a flower that grew like a weed at her house hated my soil and died. That’s ok… remember that your garden is a living thing and while making a plan is important you may have to adjust it as you go.
It’s definitely a learning process. Especially for a new garden!
At the beginning we started by planting the bigger pieces: the perennials that are going to grow at the back of the garden. These trees and bushes aren’t huge right now but they’ll come back season after season and keep growing until maturity. Then we planted a few perennial plants and flowers… and then I bought several flats of vincas (a pretty annual that grows big, has lots of blooms and isn’t super expensive) and filled in a lot of the holes in the front of the garden.
I may not use vinca’s in such large numbers every year but they’re great for beginners (super hardy!) and they look amazing while not breaking the bank. Planting all these flowers was fun and I loved watching them grow… but it’s hard to remember that planting an entire garden from scratch means things won’t be perfect at first. Things will take a while to grow in… and that’s ok.
Step 3: Install Edging to Define the Border
Y’all… there are so many ways to add an edge to your garden. You could use bricks or pavers… a hedge of monkey grass or something man made like this black metal edging. In my case I was having a horrible problem with the grading of my front yard. Which meant water flooding my garden every time it rained!
So I picked this black metal edging because it’s several inches tall and would help keep all that water out of my new garden while I worked on growing grass, adding pea gravel and generally grading the rest of my yard.
This black metal edging looks sharp with my little farmhouse and was easy to install (check out all the steps of installing this particular black metal edging here). Plus it was pretty cost effective!
Along with looking awesome and keeping rain out of your garden a border is important in other ways. Visually it helps break up the space, physically it can help keep a lawn mower out of your garden (giving the lawn mower a definite edge to mow against), plus (depending on the type of edging) it can even help keep out pests like bunnies, dogs and husbands.
For me the biggest advantage is that it contains the compost/mulch we’re going to put down! Keeping mulch on one side of the border and grass on the other side of the border is a big enough challenge on it’s own!
Of course, you don’t have to have a border but I think you can agree from the photos… it makes a big difference!
Step 4: Adding Compost or Mulch as Top Dressing
This may not be a fun step but it is definitely the instant gratification we’ve been looking for! Ideally we would till the compost into our soil and then add mulch as a top dressing. Unfortunately for me I couldn’t quite afford both compost and mulch so instead I chose to add compost as my top dressing.
The compost I picked had a dark brown color and looked a lot like mulch once spread BUT unlike mulch as it breaks down and decomposes it will leak nutriants down into the soil that will help improve my soil quality. You may not need this in your area but my “soil” is really sandy and hardly soil at all so this was a great improvement.
On the other hand instead of compost or mulch you could use pine straw as a top dressing in your garden beds… either way your top dressing helps keep rain and heat in the soil for the plants while looking a-m-a-zing.
Of course, this a-m-azing result took me days of work and over 100 bags of compost… I’m definitely having my compost delivered by a truck next year. So. much. cheaper.
Step 5: Watch your Plants Grow
Now that everything is in for the season it’s time to sit back and watch nature take it’s course. You may need to adjust your water schedule from time to time or take out a spring plant that’s run it’s course and add a fall blooming annual instead…
For example you can see the foxglove I planted to the left of the stairs in the earlier pictures… they were beautiful but they bloom in spring and early summer. They are a biannual so after they stopped blooming I cut them down to see if they’ll come back next year… but I also planted 4 gomphrena’s around the foxglove. They are an annual but when they mature they’re super tall and full. They were too small to make a difference when the foxglove were in bloom but mid summer they really started to take off and now (late summer) they’re huge!
Beautiful and completely filling the area where the foxglove use to be the star. Layering seasonally like this is a an entirely different topic then starting a garden but it fascinates me. I love to see how everything works together like this… and I LOVE to see the progression of the plants themselves.
Ready to see a few more photos from the end of summer… into fall? When everything is really blooming and taking off? My favorite time of year!
PSST… if you notice the new pallet walkway I installed and want more info you can check that out here. It was a fun project and really made a huge impact on the garden even though it’s not necessarily a garden project. Another fun gardening project (that’s not neccesarily part of starting a garden) are my pretty new window boxes! I wrote an entire post about installing window boxes here and another post about planting a window box with a low budget for a high impact here.
Hope that helps!
As you can see the flowers have really matured… that is the benefit of annuals! While the trees and larger bushes are still growing you can see all of the pretty flowers really growing into the space.
All those vincas are killing it!
Before I go here’s one more look at the end of the season. While the pallet walkway went in late July here are a few photos from early September… still looking fabulous!
Especially alll that grass that I carefully watered and watered and watered as it grew!