How to start designing your garden yourself and why it doesn’t have to be too expensive

It’s a big deal to build a house, let alone buy a property. From securing financing for a build to making a thousand and one decisions and selections… time and money add up quickly.

Did you consider the garden during this process?

More often than not, your beautiful new home overlooks a patch of land that is now your “garden“.

So where to start ?

These horticulturists believe that with proper planning and patience, you can grow a beautiful yard without much expense. Then, within a few years, you can have a thriving area with beautiful trees, vegetable beds and a cottage garden.

Consider These Things Before Planting

South Australian garden designer Amy Vaughn started her own garden design business two months ago in the suburb of Penola. She has been busy.

The first step in planning a garden is thinking about how you want to use it, says Amy.

She asks customers to tell her which places and plants in her local garden they like, and wonders, for example, if they have children or want to grow vegetables?

Amy Vaughn enjoys helping people plan and implement their new garden.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

Starting from scratch can be overwhelming and costly, as can deciding how to structure your garden and build “green spaces”. But Amy suggests tackling one project at a time.

“Just start with the lawn… Then you can move on to making the line [paint] spray, figure out where your beds are, and clean the lawn.”


The next thing to consider is the right support system you need to ensure long-term success.

“The first thing I usually check with people is if you have any plumbing installed? Do you want to install drippers? Amy says.

“Water usually doubles your growth rate. So if you have the right water levels for a lot of your plants, you’ll get foliage very quickly.”

“There is no garden without maintenance… it’s just a matter of getting it right.”

Planting is pointless if they don’t get the right amount of water.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)


Find out what soil you’re dealing with.

“There’s no point trying to grow a beautiful English garden on the coast because you’ll waste a lot of money on plants that won’t grow,” says Amy.

Tube stock is an affordable way to buy plants. With the right amount of water, these types can thrive. Patience is a virtue! (ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

Sandier soils are likely to have less organic matter and need more amendments than other, more loamy soils.

Loam soil is an ideal mix of coarser and finer particles of sand and silt, with some clay and varying degrees of organic matter, according to Gardening Australia.

New homeowners should be aware that most builders will lay sandy loam on top of heavy clay to try and break up the soil. It doesn’t do much.

Adding gypsum or organic matter (like compost) is a good way to help the soil retain a little more moisture.

Amy Vaughn’s garden after five years of work, in Penola, SA.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

When planting, dig holes in the soil at least twice the size of the pot to break up the soil, then add organic matter.

This is especially important near porches and patios where builders tend to use a lot of fill.

And don’t forget the fertilizer.

“I know that we [garden people] talk about it a lot. But fertilize twice a year, in autumn and spring. Always do it,” Amy says.

Sun, shade and wind

Mount Barker horticulturist Patrick Gove spends much of his time helping people select the right plants for their Adelaide Hills climate.

Patrick Gove grew up in Mount Barker, one of South Australia’s fastest growing areas with many property developments.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

Aspect (which way parts of your garden face) is a major factor, taking into account where and when the sun will hit.

Say you want to plant something a little softer like a Japanese maple on a north-facing block: “I would suggest planting it where it’s going to get the sun from the east,” says Patrick.

“And then use the house or a fence to block that [harsh] western sun at sunset.”

A Japanese maple.(Provided: Unsplash via William Milliot)

Similarly, planting a sturdy tree in the right place can protect you from the heat of the afternoon sun. Energy and money saving!

Grow your garden fast

If you want tall trees, plant them in the ground first. Ground cover grows quickly and can be added later.

As for medium trees, lipstick maples, crepe myrtles, crabapples, magnolias, and flowering plums and cherries are all fairly fast growers. And pretty!

Patrick Gove at Mount Barker Nursery where he works.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

When it comes to evergreens, most native options like acacias and eucalyptus are also relatively fast.

But be careful when dealing with real fast growing trees. Although a tempting option, fast growing trees tend to get very large.

‘Bare root transplanting’

You can start growing deciduous trees before you plant them.

“Bare root transplanting” involves keeping trees in a pot during the winter months while they are not actively growing.

“Once you potted them, they committed to it for at least six months to a year before you could really transplant them. [again]“, says Amy.

“They have to get over the trauma they just went through.”

Hardwood trees with bare roots in the nursery.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

Make sure they go in a pot with potting soil that day.

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Terri S. Tomasini