When faced with a blank slate, start making a list of what you really love, even if you don't know where it will go. The best garden for you is the one that makes you happy. In this garden, Dean Riddle layered low-growing marigolds and petunias with tall and indestructible Verbena bonariensis. He bordered the beds with found stones and a salvaged lumber fence.
One recent wet spring brought a plague of beetles that munched Laura Dean's sedums to the ground. Undaunted, she's already planning their replacements: "I'm thinking pussytoes -- a tiny, gray-green ground cover -- or an iceplant (Delosperma floribundum) with bright red new leaves." A failed plant is an opportunity to find something new. Try to remember: They're just plants. Compost and move on.
Don't cheap out on soil amendment. Most garden plant problems are caused by poor soil. Organic amendments, such as planting mixes, composted manure, or plant humus are teeming with nutrients and beneficial bacteria, which is what your plants need to grow healthy and strong. Suck it up and pay the ten bucks.
Any gardener with little time to fuss over needy plants should embrace xeriscaping. The idea behind the practice is creating a lawn or garden that saves time and water. Look for drought-tolerant alternatives to thirsty plants and cluster plants with similar water needs together. Three to four inches of mulch reduces evaporation, keeps soils cool, and cuts down on weeding. Learn to make peace with a wilder garden style. It's more natural and takes much less work than the clipped and cleaned-up look.
Structure makes a garden function, work well, and feel comfortable. This fall, as your garden begins to die back, rethink your foundation plants and hardscaping. Incorporating strong stone walls for practical reasons, Laura Dean's little stucco cottage is tucked into the flattest part of her sloping acre. It requires retaining walls to stave off flooding. These walls, along with steps, a patio, and gravel paths, became the "bones" of her garden.