Best Way to Start a Garden

Where to begin with a garden? “Begin at the beginning,” says the King, in Alice in Wonderland, “and go on until you come to the end; then stop.” When it comes to gardening, however, there are two problems with the King’s approach: first, there is no “end” to the garden year; second, though more important here, is deciding when the beginning is.

In many gardening articles, the seasons provide the organizing principle. Spring certainly looks and feels like the beginning. There are all those green shoots piercing the earth, buds opening on trees, and so on. But that suggests there was nothing going on in the garden until that moment.

Start Garden Best Way to Start a Garden

For me, a better approach would be to begin in the autumn. September is the ideal month. After looking at other people’s gardens all summer, you decide you want a flower garden. You may have anything from a small backyard to an acre or two of overgrown grass, with some ho-hum shrubs and, if you’re lucky, a nice tree or two.

You’ve probably thought about where you want the flower beds, in full sun or partial shade.

If you’ve just moved into this house, you’ll need to watch where the light falls, remembering the seasonal differences in the sun’s trajectory across the sky. Fooled by twelve hours of sun in June and July, you can end up in September with barely enough sunlight to open the blooms on the late perennials.

Know where you are on the compass. Parts of your garden, open to the east, are going to make early mornings a joy. Other parts will come into beauty in the setting sun.

This is your chance to provide a good home for the plants you’re going to have. Some of the perennials will be there for a long time, and the preparation you do at this stage will be of inestimable benefit in the long haul.

You’ll need to remove the turf and break up the soil thoroughly. If you’re starting really small, with a flower bed no bigger, say, than fifteen feet by three feet, then by all means clear it and dig it by hand if you want to. There’ll be some advantage to this—you’ll get the feel of your soil. But that pleasure will most likely be offset by how much time it takes and how your back feels afterward.

Start Garden 1 Best Way to Start a Garden

I recommend mechanical tilling for all but postage stamp gardens. Unless you already own a tiller or are planning a sizable vegetable garden, I’d suggest calling a local garden service to come and do it for you. The turned soil, left open to the alternate freezing and thawing and (one hopes) the snows of winter, will break down and will be easy to work in the spring.

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