Steve Strawbridge's Planting Planning Tips

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PHOTOS: John Nicholson/Fairfax Media FEATURED IN: The Dominion Post
Zones Landscaping Featured in Dominion Post
FEATURED IN: The Dominion Post

Providing a complete design and build service in all aspects of outdoor landscaping means Steve Strawbridge, from Zones Landscaping, has seen many properties undergo transformations.

Landscaping Expert Steve Strawbridge recommends some careful planning to achieve the great outdoors in your backyard.

Landscaping can transform a property but it takes time, effort and money to get it right, says landscape specialist Steve Strawbridge.

Together with his wife Rochelle, Steve owns franchise Zones Landscaping, which is based on the Kāpiti Coast.

Providing a complete design and build service in all aspects of outdoor landscaping means the couple have seen many properties undergo transformations.

However, Steve has also witnessed a number of “botch-ups” which his team of experts have been called in to fix.

“Landscaping can be a nightmare for people, they don’t really know where to start.

“They’ll go down to their local plant shop and buy heaps of plants, not really thinking about how big they grow, how they grow in the conditions they have or what the site actually allows or doesn’t allow in terms of light, soil type and wind.

“The plants may look lovely when they first plant them but in 12 months they will more than likely be dead or overgrown.”

Before stepping foot in a plant shop, Steve says homeowners must first determine the purpose of their outdoor area and what they want to achieve.

“Are you landscaping because you want to tidy up, do you want it low maintenance, are you going to sell, do you want vegetables and fruit trees, or do you want a green area for kids to play in, they are all considerations.”

Next, bring in the experts, if possible, for advice, and if money allows, even coming up with a planting plan is a worthwhile exercise.

“Wellington is so diverse in terms of soil types, sun and wind, that there’s no plant that’s right for every condition.

“We’ve seen so many disasters where people have gone in boots and all, and it’s not working.

“It’s really about getting sound advice as to where to spend your money = a lot of people spend money in the wrong areas thinking they’re doing whats right but it’s not creating anything worthwhile longer term or add any value.”

New builds are a good example, says Steve.

planting

“Generally the building guys will put in pathways and patios and low-growing shrubs might have been planted because they look pretty, but once other houses have been built up around them, there’s no privacy.”

He speaks of one job in Upper Hutt, where the client’s home was the first on the street in a new subdivision.”

The other houses that were built were really close, the utility areas were all only one metre away from the boundaries, there were paths and a massive patio with no real purpose.

“They couldn’t sit out on it because the neighbours were right there and the path led to nowhere - they felt boxed in, it didn’t work for them.”

Steve’s team redesigned the area, removing paths, planting tall specimen trees in pots by the utility area to create privacy, and adding pavers with stones in between that led to vegetable bins, a garden shed and utility area down the back.

Also out the back was a sunny spot where Steve built a “little oasis”, a pergola and patio with a path leading to it from the master bedroom so that the owners could sit out and read a book.

“We planted the property in such a way that it gave them depth, it was a lot about layers, we had high plants at the back and lower hedging at the front, and along the fence line we planted different varieties of fruit trees.

“That property has gone from one with no purpose and a feeling of claustrophobia to one with purpose and different spaces – and when the trees grow up it will get rid of those neighbours and feel like a little oasis.”

In Churton Park, the qualified builder talks of other subdivisions with small sites, big houses and banks up the back of the properties.

“People often wonder what to do with banks – do they terrace it, plant it and use it, or plant it out and have it low maintenance?”

Steve usually leans towards the planting / low maintenance option, and often opts for natives with both colour and texture, depending on conditions.

“You’ve got to take into consideration the main three elements - wind, sun and soil - of each property and make sure the plants you choose work for those conditions.

“Wellington soil is traditionally quite clayey and rocky, Churton Park is clay/rock, in Ngaio there’s a lot of rock, Hutt soil is a bit better, and Kāpiti is really sandy, there’s a diverse mix.”

Adding a good layer of topsoil before planting is a must.

“Put the time and effort into the soil to give them something to grow into rather than grow on top of clay.

“I’ve seen that in Upper Hutt, where the developers took the good top soil off and left only 20mm, which meant plant roots grew around on themselves because they couldn’t break through.

With advice from Steve team, many clients are planting themselves, but n stages with a planting plan.

“The plant tells them what they need, how many they need and where they go and they can chip away at that as they need to.

“We go on-site first to better understand conditions, and we take into consideration their plant likes / dislikes – they might have had a bad experience as a kid, or grandma had a certain plant that they hate.”

On trend are natives, and green areas. People are trying to create these little flat grass areas wherever they can, particularly in the hilly suburbs, and we’re putting down more artificial grass which is obviously green year-round and doesn’t need to be mowed.”

Some people are keen on being self-sufficient, that is growing their own fruit and vegetables, while others want pretty gardens that require weed pulling now and again and not much more.

Whatever the case, Steve says people are clicking on to the fact that well-landscaped gardens can make a huge difference to properties and to the amount of time homeowners need to spend in them.

“People understand how to do kitchen and bathrooms inside a house, there are heaps of programmes about how to do that, but when it comes to the outside, they don’t know where to start.

“Tricky terrain is too much for people, and there really is nothing worse than going outside and seeing a lot of work to do in the garden.

“If you can take those obstacles away and landscape a garden well, people will enjoy their surrounding rather than be overwhelmed by them.”

For more information, or to arrange a consultation to discuss options and ideas for your outdoor living space, use the get in touch form alongside.

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