ARTICLE Sharon Stephenson

“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.” So said Alfred Austin, the 19th Century English poet.

Auckland-based Zones Landscape Designer Rachael Farthing couldn't agree more. “It doesn't matter if your garden is only large enough for a few pots or a generous lawn with flower beds and a veggie patch, it's still possible to create a tranquil space that can be utilised in a number of different ways,” says Rachael.

But how do you achieve your dream garden? Here's some of the most common questions Rachael is asked about gardens and planting.

How do I get started?

Don't do anything until you've got a plan, says Rachael. “First, ask yourself what kind of garden you want and the type of look you're after – for example, a formal, flower-heavy English style garden or a low-maintenance space with lots of native plantings.”

The kind of space you have and how you want to use it is also important. For example, do you have children or pets who need space or is a pint-sized green area enough?

“Also, do you want to update your current garden or redesign the entire space, how much shade or entertaining space do you need and how much are you willing to spend? A professional landscaping specialist can work with you to advise on which plants work best for your garden's location and soil,” says Rachael.

How much will it cost?

Costs can range from not much to $20,000 for a basic garden room, with a simple louvered roof. Adding features such as a retractable roof or fireplace can raise that price significantly.

When it comes to plants, a budget-conscious option is to opt for smaller grades of plants or take cuttings of annuals and perennials. Rachael suggests hydrangeas, roses, lavender and rosemary work best with this method.

Planting hydrangeas in a pot

What are my planting options?

This depends on a range of factors, from the type of garden you like and how hands-on you want to be to the soil, climactic conditions and size of the space.

The best time to plant is autumn and spring. “Summer can be too hot and dry for plants trying to send out their roots and can get dehydrated quickly. However, some plants, particularly vegetables such as garlic and potatoes, can be planted in winter.”

What kind of soil works best?

Like people, plants are all different and like living in different conditions. Rachael's advice is to “go with the soil” - ie if your garden has poor, sandy, free-draining soil, then there's little point trying to grow plants such as camellias or azaleas. Or course, you can always change the pH of your soil to increase alkalinity, but you're really better off selecting plants based on your natural garden and soil type, as these will always thrive the best in the long term.

Pots and plants are a good way of growing plants that don't thrive in your particular soil.

I've got a tiny garden, what can I do?

The good news about smaller spaces is that you can splurge a bit more on plants, says Rachael. “Just be aware that a small garden can quickly become messy with too many species or plants that are too overwhelming for the space. Climbers are a great idea for smaller gardens as they can create a thick wall of green without the width of a hedge.”

For a lush look, use layers of planting in different heights, use climbing plants on the fence or trellis, fill in the beds with perennials for year-round colour and invest in a few larger shrubs in the background for depth and structure.

How often should I water my garden?

The basic answer is to water as often as your garden needs it. “Stick a finger in the soil to see how dry it is. In the drier seasons, if water conservation is an issue, concentrate on watering anything planted that year as those plants should take priority over already established plants.”

Rachael also suggests planning your garden so that a lot of it can survive on rainfall once it's established.

Raised vegetable garden bed

How often do you recommend fertilising?

There isn't one rule for all plants. The key is to look for plant specific fertilisers to get the best from your garden.

“General fertilising of the garden should occur roughly every month during growing season. Lawns can be up to four times a year. There are a variety of fertilisers, such as slow release and water soluble, which can alter the frequency. How you want to manage your garden maintenance will depend on how much time and effort you want to put in.”

How do I deal with weeds?

One of the most natural ways is to plant a mix of root systems which can help combat weeds and filter water. “When our gardens are thick with plants of varying heights and leaf structures, weeds can get crowded out because the leaves and plants above ground steal the sunlight.”

What's a good way to keep slugs and snails under control?

Slugs and snails are some of the most common pests we have to deal with in our gardens. Rachael suggests using organic products first. “It's always best to try products that are good for the environment. However, some infestations may need a heavier hand. Consult an expert at your local garden center for the correct product.”

You might be interested in reading: Create an urban garden and use your space.
 

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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.