I'm new to gardening, new to these forums, and new to the climate I now live in. Basically, I could use some (let's not kid ourselves, any and all) help!
I grew up in Sydney, Australia, with a garden full of acacias, murrayas, jasmine, camellias, hibiscus, plumeria, banksias and bottlebrushes and the like. I never really gardened, however, and then moved into an apartment built on top of my old house which only had a balcony, and a very windy/shaded one at that. I then (as in, just 3 days ago) moved to Beaverton, OR, which is far wetter and colder (though right now it's not too bad) than it is back "home". I think it's Zone 6, according to something I read.
So here's the thing: I don't know what I can, or would want to grow here. My boyfriend has given me carte blanche to grow anything I want in the yard, but I don't really know where to start. We have rather clay-y ground I think, and I'm told we're not likely to get frost again this Winter. Our back garden gets sun pretty much all day in some places, and half the day in others.
Can anyone give me some suggestions as to what to grow here? I love things with great colours, and contrasts, and perfumes (I love the look of dahlias, peonies, lilacs, gerberas, tulips, camellias, murraya and plumbago - that kind of thing), and would like to grow some edible things, too. I figured I could start growing some things in pots, and some in the garden itself, too.
Any suggestions would be most gratefully received and appreciated. Thanks for taking the time to read this.
Well, the 'what to do first' advice will likely be, contact your county extension agent to learn about local growing conditions, get a soil test to see what your soil needs, and start amending your soil to get it ready for planting.
But that's no fun, I say plant something! I can't be much help on the flowers, but for the 'edible things', why not start with some leaf lettuce and radishes. Both grow fast, like cool temperatures and are pretty easy to grow. You can get seeds at about any nursery or big box store this time of year. (If you don't like to eat lettuce or radishes definetly pick something else)
To get the soil ready to plant... Assuming you have no power equipment, get your boyfriend a shovel and a rake. Have him dig up and turn over a small area 8-12" deep (start very small like 2'x6' or you'll lose him here) a couple times and then rake it smooth. Was it hard for him to do this? If so get a few bags of something with organic material from the nursery or big-box store. Wood chips, peat moss, something like that to loosen the soil. There's probably something called like 'Garden Soil' that will work well. Pour this on top a few inches deep and have him dig and rake it again.
If you want to stay organic and not fertilize with chemical fertilizers use some cow manure (bagged and non-stinky) to help lighten the soil in the above step.
You're ready to plant. Don't plant the seeds too deep and keep them moist until you see the seedlings pop out. Lettuce and radishes will respond fast and assuming it doesn't get real cold you'll see them in 3-5 days.
If I'm remembering my Oregon geography correctly, isn't Beaverton close to Portland? If so you're probably more like zone 8 rather than zone 6. If you're interested in trying to grow some of your Aussie favorites, try looking at Cistus and Colvos Creek nurseries--they both have some available but since they're located in the Pacific Northwest whatever they sell should do OK with your temps and amt of rain (they have lots of other great plants too--unfortunately their online catalogs don't come with pictures so you'll have to google things if you want to see what they look like). There are a ton of other great mail order nurseries in the Pacific Northwest--I think Joy Creek is another one, and also Big Dipper (some of these I may be remembering the locations wrong, but I know there are a bunch of great mail order places up there and most of them should have plants that would do well for you)
If I were you, I would first start with digging a pond and locate it where you can watch all the wildlife it will attract from your house.
Then I would focus on the main structure of the garden, that means planting trees and shrubs. To give them a good start make deep and wide planting holes, make the soil loose and improve it in a way like Jkeyl and Ecrane suggest. To get inspiration of what types you should plant, have a look in your neighborhood to find out what attracts you and what thrives well and like the above suggestions visit a local nursery.
Once you are that far, you will find it more easy to find the right place for perennials, bulbs and eventually annuals and a vegetable plot.
I just realized why you think you're in zone 6--I was looking through my new Sunset Western Garden Book last night and realized that you're in Sunset zone 6. They've done a set of climate zones which are actually better and more useful than the USDA zones because they factor in things like summer temps, rainfall, etc in addition to winter temps which is what the standard USDA zones use. But it's good to know your USDA zone too--most of the info you find here and elsewhere on the internet is going to refer to USDA zones. I highly recommend picking up a copy of the Sunset Western Garden Book, it's a great reference and has thousands of plants and lists which Sunset zones everything will grow in, so it can be a great reference to check on plants that you think you might like to buy. They just published a new edition, so you can either get that one, or the next older version will probably be available used for a pretty decent price if you'd rather save some money and still get most of the benefit.
Hi! Welcome to the Northwest! I'm your neighbor, in Tualatin (my husband works in Beaverton). Alot of the plants you mentioned that you liked dahlias, peonies, lilacs, gerberas, tulips, camellias are growing in my yard - dahlias are fantastic, after you plant them they just come back better every year ! I've had great luck with the dahlias from Breck's and even Home Depot. Make sure your lilac gets considerable sun, powdery mildew is a problem because of our rain, but if it dries out in the evening you'll be fine. I do have tons of tulips (plant in the fall, tho). Gerberas grow well. My camellia is full of big plump buds right now, they really do well here as well. Cannas grow well, altho I have not been successful wintering one over, alot of my friends have (more mulch!) I've had alot of luck with lillies and angel trumpets - they are quite showy and smell heavenly. I have no knowledge on the last two murraya and plumbago, maybe someone else can help you with those. Good luck with your yard - I agree that its a good idea to start with some trees. Al's Garden Center in Sherwood (not too far from Beaverton) is fantastic and HUGE. But there are alot of great nurseries in Beaverton as well. My soil is clay, I've added tons of compost and manure and continue to do so every February when we get a nice day. We've tried quite a few fruits and veggies, but the ones my kids love the most are the watermelons, strawberries and especially the raspberries (my fav!). We do get a considerable amount of slugs during this time of the year - they especially love my hostas (beautiful foliage - and the blooms attract Anna's hummingbirds like crazy!) and of course they love tulips. So I get some snail bait - sluggo isn't toxic to kids or pets out soon. Bleeding heart is another plant that does extremely well and is graceful and pretty.
Sorry If I rambled on, so - just wanted to give you a warm welcome, have fun!