1. Live in a place for a year, and watch how the sun angles and exposure changes during the seasons.
2. Decide what you want to do in the yard. Do you want let the children play, do you want to sip Chablis and watch the sun set, or party with friends? Think this over carefully. If you want to concrete over the place and dismember old automobiles, you are reading the wrong article, and possibly living in the wrong place.
3. Hang herbs and vegetables from baskets, if rabbits are a problem. If the rabbits in your neighborhood can rappel down from the porch roof, then they are better men than you are, Gunga-Din.
4. Ivy is a plague and an invention of the Devil. So are St. Augustine’s grass, Chinese jasmine and mint, although you can put mint in ice-tea, and mint sauce. (Serve mint sauce with roast lamb.)
5. Mulch is very good, but the free stuff at the city brush-mulching facility is usually full of trash and dirt, which is ok if you need topsoil, too. Cypress mulch is best, but the no-float stuff will float after four inches of rain has fallen on it.
6. Plant invasive stuff on the nastiest, most unpromising soil you have, or with something equally invasive. Let ‘em fight it out.
7. Defunct grocery carts, dead automobiles, and old plumbing fixtures are not acceptable lawn ornaments, but old truck tires turned inside out, painted and planted with seasonal plants, and pink flamingos decorated for Christmas, pulling a sleigh and wearing Santa hats have a certain funky charm. So does a statue of a saint in a bathtub set on end and planted with day-lilies.
8. Grass lawns outside of northern Europe, or the eastern United States are an aberration, high-maintenance and water-thirsty. A wildflower meadow, xerioscape plantings or gravel interspersed with native shrubs would be an acceptable substitute, but green-painted gravel or Astroturf is emphatically not.
9. Given a choice, buy, perennials rather than annuals … unless they self-seed generously.
10. You can acquire nice stone and brick for pathways and flowerbed edges by watching building sites carefully. Chatting up the construction crews when the brick or stonework is nearly finished, and getting permission to take away the broken stone or excess brick when the work is completed will pay off handsomely. Keep a pair of garden gloves in the trunk for occasions like this. Doing this sort of thing is a better reason to own a pickup truck or an SUV than most owners of such usually have.
11. A good source for native stone is wherever they are widening the highway: again, the gloves and the pickup truck come in handy.
12. Look around at what your neighbors are growing. If you don’t see lilacs in South Texas, or cacti in the Pacific Northwest, consider that a clue and plan your own garden accordingly.
13. Whatever the municipality plants in the park, and the highway department puts along the roadsides is guaranteed to be tough, self-sufficient, water-wise and idiot-proof.
14. The varieties of antique rose that were discovered growing on old home-sites and graveyards are similarly tough, self-sufficient, etc. If something looked after itself for 80 years, it shouldn’t have a problem in your garden.
15. I don’t want to waste time fussing over something exotic, high-maintenance and which requires a lot of chemicals. If it can’t cope without a lot of help, you probably shouldn’t bother. Die-hard enthusiasts for out-of-area exotica will disagree, but this is a free country. We are free to select our own perversions.
16. If it’s stupid, but it works, then it isn’t stupid.
17. Consider the views from each window, and arrange something nice to look at from inside the house.
18. Consider growing jasmine, almond verbena, roses or other scented plants where the perfume will drift in through an opened window. Pots of scented geranium placed where you will brush against them as you walk by are another aromatic thrill.
19. Pottery pots breath, but plastic ones don’t dry out so rapidly in mid summer.
20. Don’t disdain big-box store sources like Home Depot, Wal-Mart, et cetera. They carry the commoner plants at a good price, during the season, but they are not set up for long-term care. Buy ‘em the minute they off-load them from the truck.
21. Once you work out a grand plan, and decide on the varieties and colors you want, buy the plants as you see them coming available. Some day, I shall be rich and be able to buy all the plants I need, all at once, but until then it’s a case of a few at a time, fitting into the scheme like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
22. You can’t do it all yourself, all at once. Just pick one little space to improve at a time. By the time you have finished it all, it’s time to go back to the beginning and re-do it.
23. If not planted immediately, re-pot into a larger pot. Having a lot of plants in pots lets you move them around and discover where they work out best. Think of it as moving furniture around.
24. When it’s really hot, the stuff in pots needs to be watered morning AND afternoon.
25. Put all the garden porn.... you know, all those lavishly illustrated books of wonderfully lush, landscaped acres on the grounds of a historic home... on one shelf, for easy inspiration and reference.