If you're a new gardener or just getting your fingernails dirty, you have several options for getting started.
You can just dive right in, make new gardens, plant to your heart's content. And hope for the best. That's option one. There's nothing wrong with just diving in. You may need to go back next year and enrich the soil differently or relocate plants that may not be working in their original location, but those are both fixable. The downside to this option is it could be an expensive way to learn as some mistakes may not survive. But this is probably how most of us started out.
Option two is to buy a book or two written for your area and do some research; educate yourself a little before investing in something that may not work. Or attend some gardening classes.
This type of education is good; it gives you a good foundation for the plants you might want to buy and the soil and other requirements needed. But if you spend all your time getting educated, you may never get a garden planted!
Option three is to visit a neighbor or a friend who's into gardening and ask for their advice. They might even give you some free plants! This is a good way to find out what plants will do good in your particular neighborhood. Keep in mind that all of Juneau is not one zone. We probably have hundreds of micro climates. I might be able to grow a clematis just fine here, but someone nearer to the glacier will not. As you learn about "zones" and plants appropriate for your area, keep in mind that means diddly.... Zones give you temperature variations but there's so much more involved as far as the weather is concerned: rain, wind, whether you live near the glacier or along the water. So much of gardening IS trial and error.... Sorry..... But it had to be said....
Option four is to visit your local nursery and ask them for help. Ask questions. The downside of this is, they're looking for a sale. They're in business to sell plants, lots of plants. BUT, if you get the right person to help you, this could be a great place for information. We get quite a few beginning gardeners at the nursery. The ones that admit they don't know the difference between annuals and perennials. I love these customers the best because they're like sponges, soaking up any information I can give them. Although I'm there to make a sale, my priority for a new gardener is information and they get my Gardening 101 spiel. I love to be their personal shopper and show them how to create a garden. We talk about their space, their soil, sunshine available. I show them how to create a room that's pleasant to look at from all sides, that has a focus point, that's arranged with layers and different foliage. And I don't mind suggesting that they go out into the woods and dig up a fern or two to include for a beautiful backdrop or filler. Once they've decided to buy, we talk about how to enrich the soil, fertilizing needs, how to get the plant out of the pot, how to gently loosen the root ball, how to plant, and, lastly deadheading for long blooming flowers.
I love beginner gardeners. They're so enthusiastic. They're just out having fun; they want to create something. And that's how it should be.
Gardening is such good therapy. It's good for what ails you. Diving right in is a good way to get started, but don't forget about the other options. To achieve that Martha Stewart yard, you will need to understand the soil content for different plants, the sun or shade requirements, good drainage, what plants will do good in your area. Just because a plant says "perennial" doesn't mean it is in Juneau. So dive right in, but also take time to educate yourself so you can ultimately achieve the garden of your dreams.
And remember: Rome wasn't built in a day and either is a luscious, gorgeous, beautiful cottage garden. It takes a lot of work AND a lot of love.