The Q&A Archives: Getting started!

Question: My husband passed away in December. I have just built a new deck, put up bird feeders and bought new deck furniture. Unfortunately when my husband was alive I liked the outdoors but did not learn very much about landscaping. How do I get started in designing a haven for me in my back yard? Do I need to hire a landscaper? I do know that I love color and low maintenance flowers. Could I have your input? Thanks!

Answer: I don't think you need to hire a landscaper - unless of course you want your garden planted by someone else. The first step in designing a garden is to take note of the exposure to sunshine your plants will be getting. Are there trees in the area? How does the angle of the sun change through the seasons? Once you've determined whether the proposed planting sites are in full sun, part sun (half-day sun) or shade, you can begin to choose your plants. Start by visiting several nurseries and just browsing through the plants. I like to go in spring, summer and again in fall, just to see how plants look through the seasons. Check the plant tags to see what exposure they require - sun, part sun or shade - and also make note of the mature size so you'll know how to space your plants to give them plenty of room to grow. I'd choose plants that bloom at different times of the year so you'll always have something in bloom. Since you're interested in attracting birds, you might want to plant a few shrubs that produce berries; holly is one, pyracantha or cotoneaster is another.

Some plants are evergreen; some deciduous. I'd plant both so you'll have some winter interest with the bare branches of the deciduous shrubs.

Consider planting Snow Storm or Pink Parasol spirea, Wine and Roses Weigela, or Forsythia for early spring color; Peacock or Purple Emperor Buddleia, or Brandywine Viburnum for late spring color; Sunshine Blue Caryopteris, Lil' Kim or chiffon Lavender Hibiscus will bring color in early summer; Quick Fire or Pinky winky Hydrange, or Fine Line Rhamnus will burst into bloom in mid-summer; and Coppertina or Summer Wine Physocarpus will brighten the autumn garden.

Of course there are hundreds more shrubs to consider. For seasonal color you can also plant favorite annuals and perennials interspaced between the shrubs or in containers that you can move around your patio or deck.

Hope the above suggestions get you started on your dream garden. Best wishes with your new garden!

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