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How to give your garden a makeover

Workshop Legend



Now that you have finished planning your dream garden, it’s time to get on the tools and transform your space.


Here’s a simple guide to ensuring your garden makeover is a big success.


Before you start


The awful realisation that you can’t proceed because you’ve forgotten something can be very frustrating. Before you break ground, it’s wise to create a tools and materials checklist. Write down everything you need and make sure everything is ready.


Keep it achievable


One of the most common reasons a project is left unfinished is overreach: too much is attempted in one go. Planning is obviously crucial, but you also need to be flexible and adapt as your project progresses. Some things may run smoothly and be finished faster, others can take longer than expected.

Break your big overarching makeover project into bite-sized chunks that can be completed in as short a timeframe as possible. Most importantly, finish one task before progressing onto another. Jumping from one task to another just leads to project fatigue and a yard filled with half-finished projects.


Sensible sequences



As much as you may want to plant that screening and privacy hedge first, it’s not wise if you have to walk through it to access the next stage of your makeover. Always take into account all stages of your project before you commit to starting on a task.

Remember that foundation work – essentials like fixing drainage problems and building structures like retaining walls - should always take precedence and be completed first.


Easy access and avoiding clutter


It is absolutely critical that you have clear, safe and easy access to your work site. Ensure at least a couple of metres around the area so you can keep your project running smoothly and safely.


If trucks need to be backed in, make sure they can do so easily and materials can be dropped as close to where they are needed as is practical. If materials are coming in by hand or wheelbarrow, make sure you can get an easy, unobstructed run through.


A simple mistake made by professionals and rookies alike is forgetting where they want to be working next. Materials, either new deliveries or waste from an excavation, are stockpiled in a place where they have to be moved again. Aim to avoid double-handling wherever possible.




It doesn’t matter if you are simply adding a new garden bed or undertaking a mammoth makeover, you’ll need the right tools. Getting into these projects is a great excuse to be buying loads of lovely new tools and when selected wisely they can be an asset for years to come.



One of the best investments is spades and shovels as they are such multi-use tools. Look at a mix of long and short-handled. Make sure you select the right tool for the job. Some shovels are designed entirely for shifting materials and some spades are just for light garden work. Take the time to assess the options.

Avoid buying tools that only have a singular purpose unless a particular task cannot be properly completed with them. An exception might include a rubber mallet for paving – it’s essential.

Consider hiring tools and equipment to save money, time and make your job a lot easier and less stressful.


Saving money


Reusing materials on-site can be a great way to save money, whether its transplanting and dividing plants or putting excavated soil to use. There are plenty of other smart ways to save, too.


Estimate forward with materials to get bulk deliveries. For example, the project you are finishing this weekend might need 2 cubic metres of soil but next weekend you need another 3. If you have the space for bulk materials, get it all delivered at once as this can save in delivery fees. You might also be able to get multiple products delivered at once.


Choosing plants


Plants are one of the most important (and potentially most expensive) parts of your garden makeover. Most selections are made according to flower and foliage colour and plant form, but there are other important considerations.


Make sure you choose the right plant for the right location. Take the time to understand both the conditions your garden offers and the plants you are looking to use. There’s an old gardener’s saying: “Just because you love it doesn’t mean you can grow it.” In other words, you can’t force a plant to perform well in the wrong spot.


Some plants are tough and will grow in just about any soil you stick them in. Others are much more particular. Make sure your soil suits your chosen plants. And remember that you can amend your soil. For example, for natives that prefer free-draining soil, you can blend some coarse, washed river sand.


Ongoing maintenance



Ask yourself what type of gardener you are. Do you want a garden that all-but looks after itself or are you someone that likes getting out there every weekend pruning and trimming? Maintenance requirements are an important element of plant selection and use.


There are always lower maintenance ways to achieve the look you want, so make sure you familiarise yourself with the demands of the plants you choose and make sure they suit your lifestyle. The three big ones to keep in mind are feeding, watering and pruning.


Make sure you understand the growth habits of the plants you choose. You do not want to plant something that is going to be a problem down the track because of its size.


Professional help


Always be honest about your limitations and know when you will need to call in the tradies to assist with some of your project. To have a professional do the job for you will be faster and cheaper than calling them in to fix something you didn’t get right.


And always be aware of any council or other regulations which may impact what you are allowed to do and how you do it. Just because you are doing it yourself doesn’t mean you don’t have to stick to building code specifications or council rules.


Now you can enjoy the makeover and the satisfaction of a job well done. If you follow these tips then I’m sure you will find your project will run faster and more smoothly. And if you need a hand with anything, please don’t hesitate to ask.





Master the maths


Remember calculating areas and volumes in high school maths? It actually comes in handy. These simple formulas will help you to get your quantities right to avoid over or underestimating on bulk materials.

There are two simple formulas you need to know: area and volume. Area is a measure of two dimensions. Volume is a measure of three dimensions. Put another way, one is the measurement of covering, the other is the measurement of filling.


Surface area


Use this for calculating your needs for jobs like paving or laying turf. Basically, any material that you would order in square metres uses the formula. It’s a simple length times width. So 3m by 4m is 12 square metres.


If you have irregular shaped areas, just break them up into measurable shapes. An L-shape, for example, can be easily estimated as two rectangles. For triangular spaces, measure the two sides that join with what is closest to a right angle and multiply these, then divide that by 2. So our 3 x 4 example would be 12 ÷ 2 giving you 6 square metres.


Remember that it’s good practice to always order a little extra, such as 10 percent, to cover for breakage, cuts or materials that aren’t up to scratch.



This is the formula for calculating quantities of items like soil, sand and concrete. If it’s a material ordered in cubic metres this is the formula you apply.

The formula simply adds a third dimension to the area formula – depth. You need to multiply length by width by depth. So 3m x 4m x .5m = 6 cubic metres.


Again, break one awkward shape up into a number of easy ones, while triangular or wedge-shaped areas can be measured as width by height and then divided by 2. And don’t forget to add that extra 10% as a buffer.


If you are trying to estimate quantities to buy material in bags, you’ll find that soils or potting mixes are generally sold by litres. Use the same cubic calculation and then remember that 1 cubic metre is 1000 litres, so divide your cubic volume by bag size. As an example, 1 cu/m = 1,000L so divide this by 60L (if that’s the bag size) to get 16.6. So you would need 17 (60 litre) bags per cubic metre.


Measurement mistakes


Mistakes are most often made when estimating quantities if measuring units are mixed up. The metric system uses metres (m) centimetres (cm) and millimetres (mm). Unless you’re cutting timber, where you’ll talk in millimetres, most lengths are listed in metres or centimetres. Just remember not to mix them up and that one metre is 100cm or 1000mm.


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