Beginner’s Guide to Gardening

By Dana Cook
WSU Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener

wheelbarrow in yard with shade trees.
Knowing your yard’s sunny and shady areas is a vital first step in planning your garden space. – Unsplash/Krisjanis Kazaks
folding chair in garden surrounded by tulips with fence behind
Design your garden space to allow for maximum enjoyment of your efforts. – Caleb Woods/Unsplash
Dana Cook
Dana Cook – WSU Master Gardener. – Provided photo/WSU Master Gardeners

Do visions of salad greens dance in your head? Do you dream of the buzz and flutter of a pollinator garden? Does your fantasy garden have you seated on a white iron bench reading a favorite book surrounded by the lovelies of your cut flower garden?

Gardens come in all styles, shapes, and themes — balcony gardens, container gardens, raised beds and Japanese gardens. There are as many types as there are ideas!

The first step in creating any garden is assessing your space. The magic of gardening is that with a bit of ingenuity and creativity, you can garden anywhere. It truly is a work-with-what-you-have activity. And what you have determines what you can grow.

Sun and Shade

Begin your garden space assessment by determining how sunlight and shadow play around your property. Set an hourly timer from dawn until dusk to walk around your space. Take note of when the sunlight falls on an area and when the area is shaded. Take time-stamped photos or videos. For tech-savvy green thumbs, there are phone apps you can download that display the arc of sunlight and shadows for each season.

The sun’s arc changes with the seasons, so an area that may be shady now might have much more sun in summer. A sunny area may be full shade once a nearby tree sprouts leaves.

Pay specific attention to the cool morning sunlight versus the scorching afternoon sun. Where is the shady north? The south tends to be Sahara HOT. East has the lovely cool morning sun, and the west will catch hot afternoon sun.

Does your space have dry, full sun? Wet, full sun? Moist partial shade? Dry shade? Moist shade? Morning sun, afternoon shade? Morning shade, afternoon sun? Dappled shade? Full shade?

If your dream garden has sunflowers and tomatoes, look southeast of your space. For fresh herbs and greens, consider spaces with a bit more shade. Most veggies demand full sun, about eight hours per day.

Water, Water … Nowhere?

Wenatchee’s average rainfall of 9 inches per year will do little to sustain new plantings or even most mature plants. While sprinkling your green darlings with a watering may seem a delightful vision, about the third haul of a heavy pitcher in our July sun will have you pouring the water over your head.

Water accessibility may be the most critical factor in determining the success of your garden. Can you connect a hose to a water source? Will you need an irrigation system, or will you be able to water by hand? Can you collect rainwater? Embrace water conservation as a guiding principle in all your gardening decisions.

Also, consider water runoff on your property. Are there areas that are a soggy bog in the spring?

Protection from the Elements

Wind is a significant stressor on plants. Do you have areas of wind tunnels between buildings? Wind blowing against a solid wall or fence can create turbulence that will annoy your tender blooms. Containers can be particularly vulnerable to a drying wind.

A southern-facing, solid surface may reflect heat, causing your flora to wilt and gasp! Low-lying areas may create frost pockets, causing them to shake and shiver.

Consider how your children and pets move through your space. While I advocate exchanging boring lawn for a planting bed of flowers or veggies, don’t plant your precious pretties in the runway of your children’s adventures.


Once you have assessed your space to determine how well Mother Nature will help tend to your garden, think about the effort required to care for your greenlings. If you are fortunate to have acres to choose from, don’t plant your kitchen garden a day’s walk away from your kitchen.

Ensure there is space to move a wheelbarrow or cart around raised beds. If you’re putting plant beds around your house, ensure there will still be about a foot of space between your home and your lovelies when they are full size.

I encourage newbie gardeners to start small to keep their gardens manageable. Start with a mailbox garden or a cluster of herb-filled containers. As you gain more confidence and knowledge, branch out into other paths on this gardening journey.

Stay tuned next month when I will talk all things soil and composting.

A WSU Chelan and Douglas County Master Gardener column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. To learn more, visit or call (509) 667-6540.