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How to Start

When I walk outside, I see them.
In my mind I construct pods, bean teepees, soft edges of marigolds and catmint, the hum of hummingbirds, the bzzzz of bees, the whisper of flapping butterfly wings. Did you know if you are absolutely quiet, you can hear a caterpillar munch? I see stalks of Foxglove, tangles of Canterbury Bells and Bells of Ireland. The Blackeyed Susans stand tall against the sun next to their friends Purple Coneflowers. Poppies and Cosmos sway in the breeze

Around the corner a spiral of herbs spin a web of tarragon, lavender, rosemary, thyme, peppermint, sage, basil, marjoram….As an added twist, the clove grows wild entwined with nettles. St. John’s Wort and Lambs Ear stand at the ready.

Forsythia bursts as a blanket of tulips dance below. The wild pansies peep through.

So many people go to a store, pick some annuals, throw them in the ground and call it a day. For many, it works. But some of us just want more.

For me, I didn’t start out wanting a butterfly garden. Our house came with gardens all of the way around. Granted, not taken care of, but beds already existed. I responded to the wildlife already here, and decided to provide for them.

One of the first questions to ask yourself when deciding a garden is- what will its purpose be? Will it just be pretty? Cut flowers? Will it draw in a specific bug or bird? Do you want it to provide something to you? The answer to that question is where you start.

If you want to draw in hummingbirds, there are a multitude of lists online where you can research what kind of flowers hummingbirds enjoy. You should always aim to provide native plants as well. For me, Penn State and PA Native Plant Society, have great resources on native plants to attract various pollinators. It’s worth noting most of PA is zone 6.

Using those lists, I start googling. I simply look up the various plants. If you wanted to, you could create a catalogue. I often use my collection of seed catalogues to look up plants/flowers as well. I denote which ones I like. Which leads me to the next question:

Are you going with a color or height theme? In my front gardens, I’ve planted all white/green flowers the last 2 years. In the butterfly garden, I’ve tried to get a blend of as many colors as possible. All of them. You can create a purposeful garden WITH a color theme if that’s your thing. Last year, I also grew very large cosmos and zinnias in that front bed. I had 6ft Cosmo plants. But it became wild and unruly verses a beautiful sea of white blooms. So this year, I tried to keep it to shorter plants like poppies, snapdragons, petunias, daffodils, and tulips.

After creating my list, I have a column for sun needs, approximate plant/start time, and about when they bloom. I do this on a spread sheet so I can manipulate as needed. For example, Ethan’s grandmother has her front beds planted so that the flowers bloom in waves. She has SOMETHING blooming from early spring straight on through. If that is something you are considering, you can organize your plant list by “bloom” to decide how you want to plant.

Any elementary school student can also tell you that a seed and plant need water, soil, and SUN to thrive. Though there are many shade tolerant plants, most need at least 6 hours of good sun. Another rule of thumb is to plant shorter plants in front, and go taller as you go back. This ensures your plants aren’t overly shaded by the one in front of it.

You’ve now got an idea of WHAT you’re going to plant. You have some direction. You’ve probably spent some time scrolling Pinterest for garden ideas. If you’re on the crazy side like me, you’ve watched hours of Monty Don, Martha Stewart, and have read a few books. You’ve been inspired by Le Quatre Vents, Beatrix Farrand, or even Erin of Floret Farms.

I found these garden plans right on Pinterest. I like to have the additional visuals, even if I don’t follow it exactly.

Now grab some paper and start planning!

Part Two is on its way…

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