where do I start?

suzan30April 19, 2010


I am new to this forum and new to gardening. I am longtime condo dweller from Chicago and have just recently moved to a townhouse with a small backyard. Much of it is paved, but there is a big u-shaped bed, which currently has nothing in it but a few scraggly bushes. I'd like to make a perennial garden that is butterfly friendly, but I am not sure where to start. Any hints? Are there good books or websites that I can look at it? There is a tree that hangs over from next door so I would say it is a partial shade situation.

Any and all advice is welcomed.

Thank you!!!

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Before the internet, I went to my local library and checked out some books. You could probably google butterfly garden, or perennial garden and get a start. You need to find out what zone you're in so you'll know what plants will survive the winters. In my early gardening years, I joined the local garden club. That was educational and a good way to get free plants! This forum is great also!

    Bookmark   April 19, 2010 at 8:57PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Hello from a former Chicagoan.

Some questions to establish the amount of sun: which direction does the back of the house face?

Which direction (back, right, left, etc.) is the Big Tree? How far over the fence does it hang?

I assume there's a fence on three sides of the backyard. How tall is the fence? Is it a more-or-less solid fence, or the open "wrought-iron" that's been so popular lately?

Also, how deep is the bed?

If the bed is deep enough, do you want some evergreens for winter interest?

Do you know what USDA zone you're in? If not, you can go here:
type in your zip code, and find out your zone.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2010 at 9:04PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Let me also point you to GW's The Butterfly Garden forum:

    Bookmark   April 20, 2010 at 2:33AM
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Possible sources of info:

Chicago Botanical Garden
Chicago Garden Show (held in March, so next year)

What is the size of your backyard?

You say you are new to gardening. Do you know how much interest you have? Just want things to take care of themselves with minimum maintenance, or are you hoping to dig and play in your new outdoor space?

It can be very satisfying to work with a combination of plants in containers as well as in the ground in a smaller space. What else will you be doing in your back yard? Meditating? Entertaining friends? Will you need some sort of seating arrangement?

It can be really fun to work with a smaller space. Still makes sense to start with a drawing. Since space is at a premium, planning it to work for you may be even more critical in a way. But keep in mind that this is play. You are just playing with ideas. Sit outside with pen and paper. Or pencils? Drag a chair out if need be. Maybe bring out some of the magazines and books from the library that show patio and townhouse gardens or small parts of larger gardens that you like. What seems to draw your attention? Any pattern to what you seem to like best?

Jot and scribble. Try to put your ideas into a preliminary "plan". First attempts could be simple "bubble" diagrams. What do you imagine yourself doing here? What do you imagine it looking like?

Take note of what the other posts said. Indicate directions. The north side of a house gets lots of shade. Afternoon sun can be particularly brutal. So what's the orientation of your space? Put in the dimensions. Note anything you really like, or don't like, about what you already can see and hear and smell in this space. Do you feel private or exposed?

Begin to get an idea of what you want to accomplish. Do you need to do more than figure out plants for the U-shaped bed? What? Improve privacy in some way? Reduce the sense of an empty, sterile space? More to create a space for you to play with and learn about plants ... or more for creating a space for you and friends?

Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2010 at 7:57AM
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Butterfly bush for a plant.

Do a search on blank slate on this forum and enjoy!

    Bookmark   April 20, 2010 at 9:44AM
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