Starting a garden from the bare earth can be a daunting experience. It’s even more knee trembling if you are a novice gardener and walk into a large hardware/nursery and cast a glazed eye over the 100’s of different products that are hurled at the apprentice gardener.
If you were enthusiastic before entering the gardening world, you will be completely confused by the time you look at 10 different soil products, 3 different clays, 30 types of granular fertiliser, 10 types liquid fertiliser, sheep poo, chicken poo, 12 different wetting agents etc. etc.
Then there’s all the gardening programs, most of them filmed over East which have no relevance to gardening in WA and recommending plants that will sizzle and die in the first summer.
So, for all you beginner gardeners, here is a very condensed version of what you need to know before embarking on your first gardening challenge.
Have a Plan
This can be a simple as you want or a full-blown scaled drawing. Ask your builder for the site plan, it will be to scale and mark out where you want the garden beds, lawn, clothes line, chook pen, swing, sandpit, shade trees, veggie garden and the BBQ. Just get an A3 drawing pad and start marking out the spaces.
Mark out NSEW points so you understand where the sun travels across the sky. If you intend to grow fruit trees and veggies the only full sun spot may be the front verge. Don’t think about the garden as an afterthought, it should complement the design of the house and provide different spaces for different times of the year. A garden needs to have beauty, longevity and provide a peaceful respite from the daily grind.
Remember the garden should be seen as the most valuable room in your house, particularly if you have kids and pets. It can be the most efficient air conditioner to your house. Many people work inside offices and being outdoors relieves the stress associated with work.
It’s all about the soil, unless you tend to it like a newborn child you will experience years of disappointment, anxiety about your plants performance and constantly compare your greenness to your neighbours.
If this is a new build in a development project and you have been offered a landscape package, I recommend you use the money to upgrade the lawn so you don’t end up with couch which will invade every space in your yard and you will spend the next 10 years trying to kill it. The plant palette is also usually very limited and undesirable so look over that carefully. Tell your landscaper that you would prefer to spend the money on soil conditioner; compost, good lawn and that will just about meet most build budgets.
If you have control over your own new build let your builder know if any paint, cement, plaster, lime and other building products are just buried in the ground (that will be your future garden) you will be very disappointed and they need to come back with a bobcat and a skip bin to remove the debris and replace it with good quality soil!
You want the pH of the soil to be around 6.5-7 (pH testing kits are around $20) with added compost or soil conditioner and clay of you are in coastal sands or gypsum in the hills or clay soil. Manure and other organic material will always improve the physical makeup of the soil and feed beneficial soil microbes. By far, the best product to mix in with the existing soil is aged compost. It is imperative to get your new plants established, that can be assisted with soil microbes and granular or liquid wetting agents. Remember you pay for what you get, it’s better to get a better-quality product that actually works and does what it says. Grow Safe® Gardener fertiliser is a great all-purpose fertiliser that can used with all plant types including Australian natives.
I know this is the fun bit but seriously plan your garden first before venturing out into the nurseries. I cannot stress enough how important trees are to put into your garden. We are experiencing warmer, longer summers and a tree will make the world of difference to the temperature in and around your house.
My Top 5 trees for beginners
- Melaleuca viridiflora (Red flowering paperbark)
- Eucalyptus todtiana (Coastal Blackbutt)
- Delonix regia (Poinciana)
- Plumeria (Frangipani)
- Bauhinia blakeana (Hong Kong Orchid Tree)
My top 5 shrubs for beginners
- Acacia Burgundy cascade (weeping acacia)
- Cistus Sunset (Rock rose)
- Eremophila nivea (Silver emu bush)
- Eucalyptus synandra (mallee)
- Dodonea Mr Green Sheen (Slender hopbush)
My top 5 ground covers for beginners
- Casuarina Cousin It (dwarf sheoak)
- Myroporum parvifolia Yareena (creeping myroporum)
- Banksia Roller Coaster (Caostal dwarf banksia)
- Arcototis (flame flower)
- Scaevola purple fanfare. (Purple fanflower)
Remember all plants will need to be planted with a compost or soil conditioner, wetting agent, manure and slow-release fertiliser, even natives, such as Grow Safe Gardener. They are coming out of a nursery that is water and fertilised so pitting them straight into the soil without any preparation may be fatal.
Spend as much time researching plans before you purchase them and think if your garden as a long-term investment for your whole family.