A well-designed garden serves the owner’s needs, and getting the design right starts with a proper understanding of what is needed. Needs do change, and your awareness of what you really need from a garden can change too. If your garden is not what you want, there are always changes that can be made to bring it more in line with what you need.
Start by Examining Your Current Situation
How is my garden currently used?
What problems are there (drainage, weeds, pests, unused features e.g. swimming pool, broken/damaged components e.g. paving, walls)?
What is redundant?
Is it difficult or costly to maintain?
How can you make better use of it?
My Best Solutions for Common Problems
Sometimes there is no perfect solution, but often minor changes can greatly reduce typical garden problems.
Problem – Unhealthy, unattractive lawn
Solution – Mow high, fertilise and improve soil
You need to be realistic. A perfect lawn requires a lot of regular weekly attention, but it is possible to have a relatively attractive lawn without as much work. Choose grasses that suit your climate, grow them on good soil, and mow high. Most people cut lawns too low which damages the turf grass. I set my mower as high as it will go and let the grass clippings spread over the mown surface. This returns organic matter to the soil and improves soil health. If soil is poor, top-dress when grass is growing well to gradually build the soil quality.
Problem - Garden edges looking shabby
Solution - Blur the edges
If a path or garden bed has well-defined or straight edges, it will look untidy unless it is always kept well-maintained. But if plants are encouraged to spill over edges, or path edges are not cleanly defined, the garden can look good even if it has not been attended to so often.
Problem - Garden beds looking drab
Solution – Intersperse contrasting foliage colours and textures
Garden beds often look drab because plant groupings lack a theme or any contrast. A mass of plants can look lacklustre and uninviting when thrown together with little forethought. To make a planting look attractive, try thinking of the plants you select in terms of their colour and texture. To make textures more visually appealing, try using mostly shrubs with rounded foliage but include a few architecturally different plants like cordylines to create a contrasting effect. If your rounded shrubs are predominantly green-leaved, red cordylines emphasise the contrast further. Similarly, if you have a lot of plants with red tones in the foliage, you could try punctuating this with a few plants with variegated foliage.
Problem – Redundant garden sections
Solution – Assign a new purpose
Home gardens are commonly made up of different sections, each with a different purpose. For instance, a family may use an area for children’s play when they are young and designate another area for the children to park their cars on when they are older. But an elderly couple might not need those areas for those purposes. Think how you can reassign different sections to make better use of garden space.
Problem – Weeds, pests, and diseases
A greater variety of plants, growing side by side, will always supress pests, diseases, and weeds. Pests and diseases tend to attack a limited range of plants. If you have too few species, they are more prone to serious infestations. Weeds compete strongly with some garden plants, but others will outcompete weeds. Growing more plant varieties means less chance of a problem becoming an overwhelming issue. Although weeds, and even some pests, can be controlled with mulches biodiversity remains an important tool for long-term control.
Problem – Uneven surfaces
Solution – Change or reconstruct surfaces
First determine why a surface is uneven. Common causes are subsidence, erosion, or root growth. When paving and walls are not built on a solid foundation the surface can drop or crack and lawns may sink as the ground below settles. This is common when gardens are built over “fill”. If the ground has settled and the subsurface is solid, a permanent solution might be to repair or reconstruct damaged areas. A solid foundation will limit any future damage. Large roots growing through an area can lift paving, crack walls, or make lawn surfaces uneven. Roots can be removed but may grow back. The better permanent solution may be to replace problematic trees and shrubs with something less invasive.
Problem – Poor drainage
Solution – Improve drainage
Improving drainage begins with understanding how water moves on and through the ground surface. It can soak into the ground to a point, after which it flows across the surface till it reaches a low point where it builds up. You can improve drainage by first optimising how much can soak into the soil before it starts running over the surface. Consider adding sand to soil, installing surface drains at garden edges, or underground soakaways. You could also add more plants to take up excess water from soil.
Problem – Plants which evoke biphobia (discourage people to contact them)
Solution – Replace with plants that promote biophilia (encourage people to interact with them)
Some plants are not friendly to some or all people because they trigger a barophobic response. Around 33% of all garden plants contain toxins. Many highly scented plants while loved by some people, cause allergic reactions in others. Other plants contain prickles or thorns. Some trees tend to drop branches or fruits, or their leaves might fall and create a slippery ground surface. There are tens of thousands of garden plants to choose from. For most home gardens, choosing ones that are not a problem is really a no-brainer!
Problem – environmentally unsuitable plants
Solution – replace with environmentally suitable plants
Environmentally unsuitable plants are not desirable. They include trees and shrubs that harbour pests (e.g. termites), catch fire more readily in a bushfire, easily fall over in storms, or reduce biodiversity by being too invasive. Choose plants that help the environment by supporting native animals and the soil biome, which resist fire, and which require less maintenance and chemical inputs.
NEXT STEP – MAKE YOUR GARDEN BETTER
Once you understand what you need from your garden and have identified any problem components, you can set about planning improvements.