A garden makeover is a very rewarding project. Whether a simple refresh or a major rebuild, improving your garden means that you’ll be able to enjoy the results for years to come.
The key to your makeover success is planning. Without a plan your goals may become overly ambitious and the results disappointing.
Planning is simple and only needs to be what works for your situation. It might be simple as a quick sketch or as complex as a detailed table of works. As you start to pull your ideas together, the level of detail you need will become more obvious.
Remember a plan isn’t just what you want to achieve this weekend. It should also encompass your longer-term goals for the space.
Here’s a summary of the points to consider when you’re thinking about a garden makeover.
Make a list
Start with a wish list. Think of all the things you’d like to have in your garden and outdoor space and make sure the whole family or household has some input. Available space, practicalities and budget will immediately rule some things out or put others into a long-term timeframe. But this process allows you to start filtering down to the core of what to include.
Random ideas can be fun, but a more practical starting point is to consider how you use your spaces already. Are there shady areas that lend themselves to being a chill-out zone? Do you have a flat open space that’s perfect for play or a trampoline? Or a sunny, sheltered spot that’s ideal for growing vegetables or fruit trees?
Part of this process will be to evaluate and consider things like aspect, microclimate and soil type as they play an important part in what is doable and practical. They impact everything from what you can plant to how you can use a zone.
Wants versus needs
It may be less exciting, but you need to address needs before wants. For example, if you have an area that is prone to flooding, your plans for the perfect lawn are unlikely to be ever realised unless you address the drainage problems first.
Tackle any problems in your garden first. This could include drainage, soil that’s too shallow or rocky, and access issues such as a lack of pathways. Even things like the amount of sunlight - which you might need to remedy with professional tree pruning or felling.
D.I.Y. versus professional assistance
You need to seriously and honestly evaluate what you are capable of doing yourself. For example, you may be okay with paving but need a tradie for a concrete slab. Or you might be fine building a small timber retaining wall but not a masonry wall.
Make these decisions early so you can talk with various tradespeople about prices and availability and get any suggestions about the best times for them to conduct their work to fit with other stages of your project.
It’s also wise to contact your council to get familiar with what you are allowed to do without approvals or formal plans. You want to avoid any messy and expensive complications further down the track.
Divide and conquer
Develop a rough timeframe by dividing everything into small, manageable projects. One of the main reasons people fail in their makeover dreams is that they look at the entire space as one project and it becomes too overwhelming and difficult.
First off, think about the makeover as two separate streams – hardscaping (the actual built stuff) and softscaping (your garden beds, soil, mulch and plants). In the majority of cases the hardscaping will come first, with plants being the very last thing.
Now divide your garden space up into areas that make sense – bite-sized chunks that become a project within a project. For example, a shady garden to the south might be one zone. The sunny spot down the driveway another. The area you want the vegetable garden yet another. This allows you to address each section independently and also budget for each. Most importantly, it also delivers the satisfaction of finishing an area before moving onto the next - avoiding that “nothing ever gets finished…” feeling of fatigue.
Remember that some hardscape projects may span over multiple project areas, such as a paved pathway.
You want to divide your projects by timeframe. You may need a retaining wall but the budget won’t allow that for another six months, so fit that into your planning.
Reduce, reuse and save
Plants and materials can get expensive when you start doing a lot of work. Save money by thinking about whether you can reuse anything such as plants, soil and rubble. For example, soil removed from levelling a lawn can be stockpiled and ultimately used for fill behind a retaining wall or for creating planting mounds. This sort of reuse can save hundreds of dollars in tipping fees and in buying new materials. Smart reuse also helps to make your project more sustainable by saving money and the environment through avoiding landfill and transportation.
Many plants can be either transplanted, even if it means putting them in pots for a month or two. Some plants can also be divided to get multiple new plants. You may even find it’s worthwhile establishing your own mini-nursery to save plants for reuse and to propagate others through division ready for planting once your gardens are finished.
The most important part of this planning is to remain relaxed and flexible. Don’t feel that you have to stick rigidly to timeframes or your project outlines. Often it’s being open to those diversions that creates the most amazing garden spaces. And if you need a hand along the way, don’t forget we are here to help.