Starting a garden from scratch is a challenging, but rewarding experience. It is your chance to create something from nothing. Try to see gardening from scratch as an opportunity. Look on your yard as a blank canvas for you to fill with trees, shrubs, vegetables and flowerbeds.

You can approach your empty yard in several ways:

1. You can pay a landscape contractor to come up with a plan or even to do all the work

The landscape gardener will happily design you a garden. You will need to decide on a budget and say how you intend to use the yard. The design will cost you a few hundred dollars. If you want the landscape contractor to do all the work it becomes expensive because of the labour costs involved.

2. You can grass it all and chip away at the grass as new ideas come to you

This is what most people do. They order a truckload of turf and cover everything up. This does make the yard look better and it becomes usable, but it tends to limit the imagination and most people never do more than digging a few flower beds around the edges of the grass.

3. You can sit down and plan your garden yourself and start everything rolling at once

This is the most rewarding approach, where you make decisions and start various long-term projects all at the same time.

Gardening from Scratch – Where Do You Start?

Start your plan by thinking about a few questions:

How much grass do you need? If children are to use the garden, a lot, otherwise, leave this until later to decide.

Do you intend to grow vegetables? If so they will need a sunny spot, close to the kitchen. These will be easier to pick and to weed if you use a raised bed. You will need to put topsoil in your bed and then construct a wall around it.

Will children use the garden? If so, you will want to avoid poisonous and irritating plants. You will need to think hard about ponds and water features, too.

Does the yard need screening from neighbours? If so then a fence and boundary shrubs become more important.

What garden structures do you want to include? You will need a large shed, compost heaps and perhaps a built in barbecue grill. You might need a timber store and a work area, too. Decide where these are to go first.

Do you want a garden that attracts birds? If so then you will need to plant native shrubs and trees that will attract insects.

What is the soil like? You will need to buy topsoil if your garden is just builders' rubble or rock. Buy the best you can find, but only once you are ready for it.

Is the garden overgrown with weeds? If so, buy a few sheets of heavy guage black polythene Damp Proof Membrane. Spread the sheets over the weeds and leave for a few weeks. The weeds will disappear. The longer you leave the polythene in place the more deep-rooted weeds will die.

Gardening from Scratch – Making a Start

Order a large shed. Small sheds are a waste of time. The minimum size you need is 10ft x 8ft, and that will be full to overflowing in two years. Your shed needs to be easily accessible from the house and will need a path to it.

Buy a few tools. Buy the best quality you can find, because these tools will outlast the cheaper ones many times over. You need; spade, garden fork, Dutch hoe, draw hoe (swan-neck hoe), rake, trowel, builders' wheelbarrow, buckets to start with.

Find a few old wooden pallets and use them to construct compost bins. Ideally you will need more than one. You need to one 'In Use' bin, one for 'Maturing Compost' and at least one more for turning the maturing compost into to aerate it. Plastic compost bins are not big enough and are a waste of money.

Buy the trees you need and plant them. Trees grow slowly, so get them in the ground as soon as you have decided where they are to go. Consider buying fruit trees rather than flowering cherries and the like. Fruit trees give you blossom, attract insects and birds and give you apples, cherries or whatever.

Decide where your paths are to go. You need to link all the high traffic areas, including shed, compost heap, timber store, dog run and work area. Use curves, rather than straight lines.

Buy a roll of black heavy-duty polythene as 'Underlay for your paths'. Cut off 4ft lengths and lay them where your paths will go. Put in edging stones, set in concrete and weigh the polythene down with large stones or bricks.

Order gravel or pebbles for your paths. Pebbles look good but are difficult to walk on and are impossible for wheelchair users.

Gardening From Scratch – Your Yard Takes Shape

Taking stock, you now have trees planted, shed, wood store and compost heaps constructed and your paths laid: An excellent start.

Buy native shrubs and small trees for screening off work areas and to divide up the garden. Choose flat flowered varieties such as yellow flowered hypericum to encourage hoverflies. Hoverflies eat greenflies, so just by planting certain plants you prevent a plague of greenfly.

Erect a fence to provide screening from neighbours. Think about putting up two fences, a timber one for screening purposes and a wire one to keep out dogs for when the timber one has rotted in ten years time. Plant shrubs, at least two deep along the fence for when it falls down. In ten years time these shrubs will be fully-grown and provide privacy. Include some evergreen shrubs and trees along the boundary fences, for winter color and privacy.

Construct your raised bed vegetable garden, be sure to include plenty of compost. You will probably need to buy topsoil for this bed.

Put black polythene down to kill the weeds where your grass is to go. Leave it there for two weeks, then dig and rake the ground level. Sow grass seed, preferably in spring, but certainly not in a drought. String cotton above the newly sown grass seed to stop birds eating it.

In two years time your garden will be well developed and you will find it difficult to remember how difficult you thought creating a garden from scratch was going to be. Take pictures regularly to mark your progress, because it is so easy to forget all the steps along the way.