Gardening can be a lot of work, but often the hardest part is simply deciding how to begin. Rather than starting by picking out whatever plants look good to you, choose an overriding gardening idea to organize your garden around. It will simplify your choices and give your garden a sense of cohesion and structure.
If you are new to gardening, laying out your plants can be a real challenge. Give yourself room to experiment with a container garden. Get terra cotta pots, glazed clay planters, wooden barrels, old pots and pans or even antique bathtubs. Fill them with potting soil and plant your seeds, bulbs or seedlings. Position sun lovers in sunny parts of your yard and shade-tolerant species in low-light areas. As your plants grow, rearrange the pots to get the best look. Move the pots around to accommodate new landscape features as well. If you build a garden path, for example, line it with containers holding low shrubs to create a decorative border.
Many of the frustrations gardeners experience are the result of trying to grow exotic plants in less-than-ideal conditions. Make gardening easier and do your part to preserve local biodiversity by planting a native garden. Pick out native plants from your area and arrange them artfully around your landscape. For example, if you live in western Oregon, grow sun-loving perennials such as red columbine and tiger lily in high light areas and shade dwellers like early blue violet in darker corners. Line your garden with serviceberry shrubs to attract birds and give your garden some definition. Plant a few deciduous summer specimen trees like big leaf maple and alder for summer color and shade and, if you have room, some local evergreens such as Ponderosa pine for height and year-round greenery.
If mere flowers aren't enough to satisfy your yearning for natural colors, create a butterfly garden. Grow host plants such as alfalfa, clover, milkweed and sweet fennel that butterflies will lay their eggs on, and young butterfly caterpillars will feed on. Add butterfly nectar plants such as butterfly bush, purple coneflowers and marigolds for adult butterflies to feed on. If you wish, add butterfly feeders with extra nectar or butterfly houses where the insects can find shelter from birds.