My name is A. and I live in Irmo with my husband (love of my life!) and two children, Kayla -age 10 this month and Thomas -age 5 as of December.
I promise you that if you go to any of the plant nurseries in town and take photos of your house and your landscaping thus far, they will be more than excited to help you plan your landscaping. I have found Lowes or Home Depot are prety good with their knowledge of plants, not so much with Walmart or Kmart, or even grocery stores. You can go to the Farmers' Market out by the Collosiem in Columbia. Be sure to take notes as to what you would anticipate your finished yard.
You will find that you don't necessarily have to spend a fortune to find just the exact types of flowers you want, keeping in mind that there are some plants that thrive in the sun and others who do well in the shde. One thing that is the most important of all, don't forget to water whatever you plant! #1 cause of death of plants! #2 cause is overwatering, so check with the folks at the nursery to find how how much water the plant will need. I have come to the conclusion that here in SC, you could water the plants every single day, twice a day and still not overwater!
Go to the library and check out books on landscaping and discover flowers or foiliage that you've never even heard of before. There are certain flowers that will draw hummingbirds and other kinds of birds and then there are plants that will be a haven for certain kinds of worms. So you may want to keep all that in mind as you shop. I would read up on the plants and talk to the helpful folks at the nurseries before actually purchasing anything.
Keep in mind that plants usually look best in groupings of 3. Also, you will need to know the difference between perinneals and annuls. Perinneals come back year after year - like shrubery and flowers grown from bulbs or tubers, such as lilies or irises. Don't be shy about mixing the colors of foilage. Even non-blooming plants can set an awesome backdrop to the flowers in front of them! If everything in your garden is breath-takingly beautiful, you have no focus point. It will just look like a jumble of flowers.
As I said before, any reputable nursery will be able to walk you through everything you need, including any fertilizers or special care of each plant. I have always found "flower people" to be very eager to share their knowledge and their plants. Look through some books - Southern Living Magazine is a good place to start, but assess your yard for sunny spots and shady spots and decide what kind of conditions you have for optimal growth.
Also, don't know if you are aware of it or not, but Riverbanks Zoo offers master horticulture classes for a small fee. They even have a children's program.
Annuals come back year after year due to seeding. If you break of the dead flowers before they have a chance to seed, then you don't have as high a reseed rate. But annuals are pretty inexpensive, and you can buy most of those at ANY place, just look at the plants to make sure there are no yellow leaves and then look at the bottom of the containers to make sure they are not root bound. (Roots would grow out of the bottom of the container if root bound.) Also, if you are buying shrubs or trees or any kind of plant that is used to being in a container, when you cut away the planter, take both hands and gently rub around the sides of the root ball, loosening the roots so they can take off running and establish the plant sooner. #1 rule is to water them, even if you think it is about to rain, water them anyway. I've lost many a plant wating on rain that never occurred!
Good luck! You shouldn't have any problems if you start at the library and then take your favorite ideas to a smaller nursery to ask questions about how feasible it would be to plant the particular plants around your house - which you should bring the pictures of just in case. You would be stunned to know how little it could cost you. Don't buy all your plants in one day. Walmart's annuals are just as good as anyone else's, but you won't find a sales person who knows anything about the plants. Build your foundation- or backdrop- out of greenery - shrubs or some other tall greenery. Some people like Azaleas, but after they bloom, sometimes they look a bit ragged until the following spring.
If you need any monkey grass (border grass) or would like to have some black-eyed Susans or some Creeping Rasberry vines (not fruit producing, but are supposed to turn bright fall colors in the fall), or lamb's ear that grows fuschia colored flowers and propogate profusely, blooming all summer, please let me know and I will get some together for you. Every year I wind up throwing away LOTS of these flowers/vines. Just let me know at ____@____.com - be sure to put "plants" in the subject line because if I don't recognize the sender, I don't open the email. Hope that helps! A. Shaffer