A well-designed garden can enliven outdoor areas with attractive features and varied colours all year round.
This guide shows you how to choose plants to suit your layout, garden size and climate. We also provide tips for plant buying.
Start with the garden layout
When planting a new garden or redesigning an established one, consider the layout of your outdoor areas. This may include hard landscaping such as paths, defining garden beds with edges, and features like driveways, lighting and even the letterbox.
Next turn your attention to the basic frame of the garden – the larger trees and shrubs that will form the backdrop for everything else you plant.
Limit large shrubs and trees
One of the biggest traps a budding gardener can fall into is choosing plants that grow too big for the average suburban plot. River Red Gum, Silky Oak, English Oak and Radiata Pine are beautiful trees and perfect for parklands or large estates, but they will grow far too large for a suburban home garden.
New native hedge by Adam_WAlthough these trees may be small at the time of planting, by the time they mature they can exceed 20m in height. Large trees are not only costly to remove, they may also be responsible for other major expenditure such as repairs to underground service, paths and driveways and even house foundations and walls.
Long-lived trees and shrubs form the basic framework of a garden, so it is important to do your research, read labels and limit your choices to those with suggested mature heights of no more than 4-5 metres.
Also check the location of overhead wires and underground pipes and cables before any planting. Leave a minimum of 3-4 metres between any structures and services and your planting holes so that roots have room to spread without causing damage.
The typical home allotment usually has space for only two or three medium-to-large shrubs or trees. The rest of the garden should be no more than 2-3m in height and spread.
What’s growing well in your area?
Deciding what to plant in your garden should not only reflect your personal preferences but also needs to be appropriate for the location. Consider climate and water availability, soil type, and the size of the intended garden and surroundings. The best way to get an idea of what to plant is to look around your neighbourhood and see what other people are growing well in your area.
Warmth-loving plants like ornamental gingers, frangipani, ixora, leopard tree (Flindersia maculosa) and poinciana (Delonix) are not likely to survive in colder climates without special care and protection. Likewise, alpine favourites that prefer cold winters like mini cyclamen, Chatham Island forget-me-not (Myosotidum hortensia), Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia) and even lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria) won’t do well in sub-tropical or tropical regions.
Hiding the fence and service areas
You can give the impression that an outdoor living space is larger than it appears by camouflaging fences with climbers and creepers. The green backdrop gives the garden a finished look while distracting the eye from the proximity of the boundary fencing.
Screening service areas such as the clothesline, garden shed or bin storage area with a fence or trellis covered with a flowering or fruiting climber will have a similar effect.
Add interest with colour
Feature plants with leaves in varying shades of green, grey, cream, gold, bronze and even purple-red create focal points, especially when highlighted with bright flowering plants.
Colourful garden plants by Noelle.A couple of deciduous specimen trees that lose their leaves in winter will allow light through to lower growing plants while offering protection from harsh sun over summer when in full leaf. These trees often put on colourful displays in autumn as their leaves develop brilliant hues before falling.
Seasonal colour can be added with flowering perennials, annuals and bulbs. These will add bright spots to attract attention throughout the year. Herbaceous perennials (dahlias, lambs’ ears and Japanese windflowers) will give you several years of colour and interest if they are cut back at the end of their season, and lifted and divided every few years. Seasonal or short-lived annuals will be at their best for three or four months before they fade. Choose from spring, summer or autumn bloomers to keep the garden looking attractive for most of the year.
Bulbs in the garden or in pots on verandahs add elegance as well as colour. Spring flowering bulbs that are planted in autumn include tulips, daffodils, jonquils, grape hyacinths, anemones, ranunculi and snow drops. Summer and autumn bloomers include gladioli, crocus and nerines.
What to look for when buying plants
When sourcing plants for your garden, look for the following signs of health:
Sturdy with no signs of stress or wilting.
Straight stems on trees and shrubs.
Disease and pest-free.
No roots growing out the drainage holes. Pot-bound plants often don’t do well when planted out.
No moss or weeds on the surface of the potting mix.
No yellowing of leaves on seedlings. This can be an indication of a lack of nutrition.
No long straggly stems on compact seedlings, which can be indicative of old stock.