Answer: First off I would suggest you work with your local county extension to run some basic soil tests and also ask them which plants tend to do best locally, especially for beginning gardeners. Soil preparation and selecting plants that are suited to your growing conditions are the secrets to success. The Home Horticulture portion of their web site is at
Then you might also look at a book or two on gardening and landscaping, there are several in the Dummies series that are quite good. Generally speaking, it is best to start out with an overall plan for your landscape, identifying where it would be best to have for example, an outdoor seating area, a shade tree, a flower bed, how much lawn area is needed, and so on. In your area you would also need to think ahead about water usage.
The Dummies series also includes excellent books on annuals and perennials as well as bulbs and even lawn care. Each book provides detailed information with a very practical,no nonsense approach and assumes no prior knowledge. Many libraries and bookstores carry them.
Gardening and landscaping are usually long term projects because the plants need time to become established, grow and mature. But for quick color, you would probably use annual flowers. Many of these can be started indoors; the annual marigolds are among the easiest plants to grow and bloom well all summer and into the fall. You would be starting the seeds about 6 ro 8 weeks before your last frost date. Seed starting indoors does require that you have supplemental light (such as ordinary shop lights) and a place to harden off the plants before planting (such as an unheated cold frame). Here are some seed starting instructions you may find helpful. You may need to cut and paste the complete url into your browser to make it work correctly.
Additional fast growing annuals such as sunflowers can be direct seeded in the ground where you want them to grow, or started indoors just a few weeks before they can go in the garden.
Roses always help a garden look interesting and grow relatively quickly. If you wish to try roses, look for varieties from among the Parkland, Explorer and Morden series and purchase plants grown on their own roots rather than grafted. They will need a location in full sun, well drained soil, and wind protection in the winter. Another good option would be spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils and crocus, however you would plant these as bare bulbs next fall for bloom beginning in spring 2007. You may also find that a spring flowering crab apple tree is worth considering as a colorful addition to your yard; your local sources can suggest varieties that seem to do well in your local area.
Your local professional nursery staff should also be able to help you analyze the growing conditions in your yard and help you identify plants that would thrive there. Then you would select the ones you like and that meet your design goals from among those.
Keep in mind also that gardening is usually somewhat a matter of trial and error until you learn what works best for you. If you can visit and learn from public gardens, your local garden club, and gardening neighbors, it will help you see what seems to work best in your local area.
Enjoy your new garden!
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