"When I go into my garden with a spade, and dig a
bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health that I
discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time
in letting others do for me what I should have done
with my own hands."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) from Man the Reformer
Now let's help you prepare your garden bed and offer general maintenance guidelines. Remember, every garden is unique and perennials are living things that can be unpredictable.
It is always a recommended practice to have your soil pH tested. Soil tests conducted by professional labs are generally more accurate than those made with inexpensive kits. It may take a couple weeks to get the results back, but if adjustments are necessary, pre-plant is the time to do them. A pH between 6.0 and 6.8 is fine. Check with your local Extension Office or phone book for soil testing labs near you.
If time allows, fall bed preparation is ideal. Over the course of the winter, the bed settles. If preparing in the spring, you will need to allow sufficient time for the bed to settle before you plant. This takes about two weeks or after one good soaking rain. The reason being, after roto-tilling, your soil will have air spaces. If you plant in light fluffy soil, the crowns of the plants may end up above the settled soil line.
Your garden outline should be marked out with spray paint. But in the real world, this process may have taken you a bit longer than planned and the original lines are gone. Don't fret! You have your scaled drawing with the dimensions! Simply measure the bed out again with a hose and outline the edge with spray paint.