The process of putting together a garden works in four stages. You start by pulling out your old garden and levelling the ground. Next you put in the irrigation, then the hardscaping, and, last of all, the plants, leaving the lawn to last. Here is the advice you need to make it work.
How much to spend?
Spend 5 – 10% of the value of your house on the landscaping – that’s how much it will improve the value of your property.
Step 1. Levels
The first stage of any landscaping project involves removing invader plants, plants you can’t transplant or use in the design, clearing the site of unwanted material and assessing and correcting the levels.
• Sloped plots are impractical and uncomfortable – you can’t put chairs and tables on a slope, and they’re hard to drag a mower across or play a game of lawn cricket on. The space also appears smaller than it really is. Create one or two terraces to increase the illusion of distance and make the space practical. It also protects your garden from flooding and your soil from erosion. The downside, however, is that it involves moving soil and putting in retaining walls, which is expensive and labour intensive.
• Tie ribbons around trees and shrubs not to be removed during this stage.
Step 2. Irrigation
Irrigation goes in first. Drip irrigation is most economical method, delivering water straight to the plants’ roots. While there are a number of different kind of systems, computerised irrigation reduces water waste.
• Zone the irrigation system according to plant types and their water requirements. When you plan which plants will go where, keep “heavy drinkers” together in one zone, and plants with light water requirements in another.
• Split the irrigation into “rooms” or sections, so there’s enough pressure for each zone.
• The pipes should go 400mm underground to prevent damage from spades and garden forks when you’re doing garden maintenance. If, you have puppies or dogs that dig, you can go as deep as 450mm. And use metal “risers” (the bits that pop up and spray the water) rather than the more common plastic ones.
• Use 25mm SABS approved irrigation piping. Colin recommends Weathermatic, Hunter or Rainbird.
TIP: Set your irrigation to water between 5.30am and 7am in summer, so that the water has a chance to settle in, but won’t remain too damp around the roots. If you water late at night in summer, there’s a risk of fungal disease and mildew. In winter, set it to come on after 8.30am, so that it doesn’t make frost and burn the plants. Don’t water on windy and cold days, for the same reason.
Step 3. Hardscapes
This describes the non-green elements of your garden, such as water features paving, retaining walls, pools, cladding, crush and pebbles.
3.1 Water features
Water features act as focal points, leading one’s eye into the garden. They create calming background sound, and help drown out the noise of traffic, neighbours and barking dogs. Custom water features such as wet walls, letterbox troughs, custom spouts, glass and steel water walls are spectacular, but expensive. They can cost R20 000 and up. Pick up non-custom water features such as water pots at your local nursery for R3000 – R5000, and you can install them yourself.
• Don’t put water features too close to entertainment areas – it can sound like a running tap! In closed areas, the sound of water is too loud, which is distracting rather than claming.
• Combine water features with natural stone, slate or quartz – the textures and colours look great with water.
• Water features must be child-proofed. Pots are the best kind of water feature if you have kids.
3.2 Paving etc
• Choose paving so that it matches or ties in with the colours in your house. Use ONE type of paving bed. If you use variations for interest, it must all be of the same colour or it will clash.
• Spend money on paving: you pay for what you get.
• Cladding looks like natural rock, and is excellent for water features and retaining walls.
• Decks soften the design, and make it possible to add interest by using different levels. Decks are great for seating and entertainment areas and around pools.
• Use crush or pebbles as a substitute for lawn in small, low activity areas. Don’t put it in high activity areas or in areas you have to drag the lawn mower across – the wheels will plough it all up.
• Use BIDDUM underneath crush and pebbles to prevent weeds from growing through. It allows water to drain away. Put a layer of crush 5cm thick.
• Use 100x100mm cobblestones for edging to add structure and prevent beds from emigrating into the lawn area.
Step 4. Plants
When it comes to design, work off the architecture of the house. If you have a formal, symmetrical style of house, go with a formal garden. If you have country or more relaxed architectural style, an asymmetrical or informal garden would be appropriate. Plants should complement each other in terms of colour, texture and size.
4.1 Pattern and design
Spend your money on the plants that will be your focal points. Plants come in different sized bags – focal plants or “specials” provide interest and impact, so get them bigger (20 litre bag). Get four litre bags for common groundcover – they will fill in fast.
• Do not have more than 15 species in one garden – keep the variety down and concentrate on pattern or your garden will look random and confusing.
• Plant in groups of 5 to 10.
• Plant in sweeps, not in patches.
• Remember to plant those that need similar amounts of water together.
• In general, smaller plants in the front, larger at the back.
Add colour with flowers, foliage and elements of the hardscape such as pots. For a low-maintenance solution, use foliage rather than flowers for colour. [Include an illustration of a spectrum to show complementary colours.]
• Green, gold and purple go together well. So does green and grey. Mix gold and bronze grasses.
• Add low-maintenance seasonal colour with day lilies, begonias or red hot pokers scattered among grasses.
• Pots in bright colours such as burnt orange or red work well.
• Variegated plants lighten things up and add texture and interest. Do not put different variegated plants next to each other.
4.3 Create space with colour and texture
• Use plants with a fine texture in a small garden to create the illusion of distance, so your garden looks bigger than it is.
• In a big garden, plant broad-leafed plants at the back; their size will make them seem closer, and give your garden definition in the outer reaches, preventing it from fading away and losing impact.
• In a small garden, plant bright colours at the front and dark colours towards the back to enhance a sense of distance and space.
• In a big garden, put some colours at the back, because colour will make the boundary appear closer.
Tip: Do not plant trees close to boundary walls or buildings – that means your house – they will grow and damage walls and foundations. Plant them at least 500mm from any wall or building for non root aggressive species. The root aggressive species such as Ficus should not be planted in small gardens at all.
Plant lawn last. That way, you won’t damage it with wheelbarrows and other equipment while you work on the rest of the garden. Don’t use top soil when you plant lawn – after two or three months (ideally, the following spring) – you should put a layer of topsoil over the lawn to remove unevenness, and thereafter once a year each spring.
4.5 Try this easy indigenous design
Edge a bed with rock roses leading up to Carex frosted curls interplanted with red-hot pokers. Ornate and soft shrubs looks great with aloes, so plant a tree aloe in the centre as a focal point and Freylinia tropica as a backdrop.
Ideas for Plants – Low-maintenance plants
• Ophiopogons (Mondo grass)
• Juncus (indigenous)
• Chondropetalum tectorum
• Nandina pygmea
• Tecomaria capensis
• Strelitzia reginae
• Murraya exotica
• Vepris lanceolata (White ironwood)
• Nuxia floribunda (Forest elder)
• Heteropyxis natalensis (Lavender tree)
• Dias cotinifolia (Pom pon tree <spelling correct>)
• Aloe barberae (Tree aloe)
• Aloe striatula (small)
• Aloe marlothii (big)
• Aloe arborescens
Plants that complement aloes:
• Echevaria (rock rose)
• Crassula varieties
Fertilise twice a year – in spring and mid to late summer. More is not more – too much fertilising will leach nutrients out of the soil; in fact, over fertilising is worse than not fertilising at all.
Compost needs to be well treated, so don’t buy it off the streets, still steaming. If it has not been treated, it will be too acidic and will kill plants. An ammonia smell is a dead giveaway that it hasn’t been treated. Stick with good brands that are sold at the well known nurseries. Fertilising with organic compost is a great option. You can also use a slow-release chemical fertiliser as well as use alternative organic fertilisers which are becoming more popular but may require more frequent applications.
Fact: It takes a garden three to four years to grow into its design.
TIP: If you employ a gardener, ask your landscaper to instruct him in the key functions of garden maintenance. Try and arrange for him to work with the landscape company and get some on-the-job training and gather some invaluable experience.
If it’s going to take you more than two weekends of hard work, consider getting in a professional landscaper and his team to do it for you. A professional landscaper can be involved with the design, installation and maintenance of your garden, or all three together. Make sure the company is registered with SALI or LGDA.
To make sure they’re reputable, check out:
• Previous work
• How long have they been around?
• Awards (SALI awards, etc)
• Show gardens, competition and magazine exposure.
Courtesy of Colin