Basic Questions for Beginning Gardeners

Whether you have a passion for plants or want to spruce up your lackluster yard, this series is for you. Gardening is not something you learn in a day, a week, a month, or even a year. It involves a lifetime of learning. This may be part of the reason why it’s difficult to find easy-to-follow ‘how-to’ resources about how to garden for beginners, including basic questions for beginning gardeners.

Our approach is different. This series will focus on the basics. Every article will address a basic issue that needs to be considered about how to build and grow a garden. The articles will be short, but give you something to think about each week as you get started.

At a minimum, a garden is an area of your home where plants and flowers are grown but it can also be a place for storage, for dining, for reading — it can serve a function beyond being a collection of flowers and shrubs. Thinking about your garden and its purpose, no matter how large or small, can be helpful in coming up with a plan.

This article is designed to get you thinking and planning.

When we first started gardening, we found it overwhelming. We can’t tell you how many times we visited the garden center and filled up a cart with flowers, only to come home and have them die in a week. It took time and studying to avoid wasting a great deal of money. It also required planning.

You can certainly rush out to the garden center and spend a lot of money on flowers and shrubs and then wonder why your purchases don’t perform or simply die when you bring them home and get them into the ground. Or, you can think and plan.

Trust us on this. Thinking, planning, and learning are the most important things you can do when gardening.

Let’s start by answering two basic questions:

Why do you want a garden?

Some people want a new hobby, others want to attract wildlife to their yard, some want an adult space away from kids in the yard, others want a neighborhood show house. Think about what you want from a garden and write it down.

What’s your garden style?

Garden tastes in New England tend to fall into nine major style categories:

1. Woodland – great for wooded lots, clusters or trees, or shady areas

2. Wildflower/Naturalistic – low cost, low maintenance and great for wildlife. Tends to prefer poor soil.

3. City – typically found on balconies, in courtyards, and on rooftops

4. Formal – has a clear geometric structure with an emphasis on symmetry

5. Contemporary – focus more on straight lines and architecture than classical gardens

6. Mediterranean – typically found in France, Greece, Spain, and Italy. Made up of gravel walks and drought-tolerant plants.

7. English/Cottage – typically showcases informal loose boundaries, lots of colorful flowers, and fences made out of natural materials.

8. Japanese – tend to include stone, water, and clipped hedging designed to inspire calm and renewal.

9. Cape Cod/Coastal – known for silvery foliage, abundant flowers like rosa rugosa, hydrangeas, and other plants and flowers that can withstand strong winds and salt air.

We’ve created a pinboard containing images of the various gardening styles, to help you get a sense of what you like. You can find it here:

Exploring your taste and preferences in garden styles is a great deal of fun. In fact, if you love the visual aspect of gardening, we recommend starting with this because it will absolutely sustain you when delving into the more scientific aspects of gardening. Having the image in mind of what you’re trying to create at the very beginning, will help keep you motivated.

Use Pinterest

We recommend creating pinboards on Pinterest of garden styles that appeal to you. Make notes or categorize which aspects of each style appeal to you. You may like a combination of styles — Cape Cod style with a contemporary twist, for example. And yes, for those of you who are wondering, your garden style preferences can affect every decision, including how to layout your vegetables.

As you collect your images, think about where you live and the style of your home. Beautiful gardens have a sense of place and connect to the look and feel of the home and the neighborhood. For example, when you visit Chatham, MA on Cape Cod, almost every home has either roses or hydrangeas in the front yard. During peak visitor season, these flowers burst into bloom creating a sense of continuity, summertime, and timelessness throughout the town.

Pay Attention to Nearby Gardens

Start paying attention to gardens around you to get ideas about what you like and what you don’t like in a garden. Notice gardens when you’re out for walks or visiting different communities.

Here are a few links to inspiring gardens in New England to get you started:

Garden in the Woods – Framingham, MA

Blithewold – Bristol, RI

Hildene – Manchester, VT

Florence Griswold Museum and Gardens – Old Lyme, CT

The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens – Boothbay, ME

Fells Historic Estate and Gardens – Lake Sunapee, NH

Heritage Museum and Gardens – Sandwich, MA

Green Animals Topiary Gardens – Newport, RI

That’s all for right now. We’ll be back again soon with more information. If you missed our first installment in the series, you can find it here.

Fresh New England

Get inspired to love New England.

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