Planting a New Garden

It’s not easy to wait before you
plant a new garden, but there are some good reasons to do it. Also, there are a surprising number of ways
to keep yourself occupied while you let a year pass, watching what happens, waiting
to make the most critical decisions. If
I was starting over right now, here’s what I would do:

Mark your calendar. I admit that I am not much of a
record-keeper, but this is a good time to make an exception. Buy a wall calendar or a desk planner and
make some simple notes as the year goes by. What perennials are starting to bloom? When do berries and fruit emerge? When does the first frost hit in the fall, and when does the last frost
depart in the spring?

Make a sun map. Once every few months, go outside and draw a
sketch of the garden. Mark the areas
that receive morning shade, those that get afternoon shade, and the glorious
spots that enjoy full sun all day long. You’ll be surprised by the results. Over the course of a year, those
areas will change significantly, and this will help you figure out where to
plant sun-loving perennials.

Note the wildlife. If a neighbor is attracting every
hummingbird in town, you might want to support those efforts by planting
whatever she’s growing. If you see a
lively crowd of robins down the street, but none near you, think about ways to
lure them. Pay special attention to the
butterfly population—I made the mistake of planting monarch-friendly plants in
a new garden once, not realizing that I’d moved off the monarch’s migratory
route and should have been trying to please swallowtails instead.

Sow cover crops. Make good use of empty beds or abandoned
areas by seeding in fava, vetch, or clover. You’ll enrich the soil, smother weeds, attract pollinators with the
flowers, and create “green manure” to help start your compost pile.

Know your weeds. I battled an unfamiliar weed for years until
I realized that it was a perfectly lovely pink fuchsia that just wanted to
bloom and be beautiful. Had I taken a cutting to the nursery for identification
(or just stopped to compare it to the other fuchsias in my garden), I could
have been enjoying this shrub from the beginning. Like any new garden, the plants knew what to do—they just had to
wait for me to figure it out.