We contacted three experts from around the South and posed the question, "What advice would you offer to someone who is new to gardening?" Here are the responses we received.
Hire a landscape architect or designer to help you interpret and understand your parcel of land. The expense and time spent are well worth it.
Identify the existing flora. Often there are wonderful plants already in the garden. But there may be invasive plants such as English ivy (Hedera helix) that need to be removed.
Begin from the house, and work out. The exception is addressing privacy issues, where an evergreen planting of shrubs may be necessary along the periphery of the property. Designate play areas for the children where you can easily watch them from inside your home. Don't forget to include features or plants that purely please you.
Use the garden to create whatever mood you desire. Do you want to encourage birds and butterflies? Do you want to pick home-grown herbs for cooking? Allow your garden to reflect you and your uniqueness.
Kim Hawks has been proprietor of Niche Gardens in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, since 1986. Her retail mail-order nursery specializes in perennials for the Southeast.
Allan M. Armitage
Don't try to be an expert. Loosen up, and enjoy the experience.
Start with a small area. Include bedding plants; stick in a hydrangea and a few containers of those new specialty annuals. When you have the time, money, and inclination, take on another small part of the property. Don't try to re-create a landscape from a book or magazine; those people have probably been doing it for years or are able to spend more money on the project. A garden is a journey, and if you are lucky, it will never end.
There is nothing more beautiful than a weed-free garden, but usually that is somebody else's. Do your best--you will learn more details as you talk to more people. Meeting other gardeners is the most fun. Walk through the garden in the morning with a cup of coffee, and listen to the birds sing and the crickets chirp.
Allan M. Armitage is a professor at the University of Georgia in Athens, where he teaches, conducts research, and runs the University of Georgia Horticulture Trial Gardens.
Southerners have a unique opportunity to include plants in their gardens that are both historically important and easily grown. Good examples include the many kinds of antique roses and perennials that are making a major comeback in Southern gardens, in addition to crinums, old-fashioned narcissus, sweet olive, crepe myrtles, nandinas, flowering quince, mock orange, and hydrangeas.
Plants are not the only tangible remnants of our Southern gardening heritage. Structures such as fences, pergolas, arbors, walls, and paths provide relatively permanent "bones" for our gardens, often bridging seasonal changes and contributing visual stability throughout the year. And for generations, successful gardens have included ornaments such as urns, sculptures, architectural finials, birdbaths, trellises, and benches.
Bill Welch is an Extension landscape specialist in the Department of Horticulture at Texas A&M University and a frequent speaker to gardening groups across the South.