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How to TRANSFORM your garden in 10 steps

Is your garden looking tired and unloved? Perhaps you haven't had time or have just moved into a new space. Depending on what you’re starting with, some or all of these steps may apply to transform your garden. I’ll share below the 10 exact ways we transformed our Sydney courtyard garden .

How to transform your garden

When my husband Scott and I moved into our current townhouse the garden was running wild. It hadn’t been touched in about 6 months, and the weeds had well and truly taken over. Fortunately for us most of the plants were still alive, but boy was there a lot of work to do.

Lucky for me, Scott works as a landscaper so we attacked the project with a plan in mind. We managed to transform our garden in 10 simple steps. and create a green space we love and enjoy. 

1. Weed & Prune

garden before, full of weeds
a few established plants and weeds!

The first thing you need to do to transform your garden is remove any weeds and prune back any dead leaves or branches. Wear gloves and use a bucket to collect weeds before disposing of them in green waste. Be sure to dig deep to remove all the roots of the weeds. Hand weeding is the best way to remove weeds in an overgrown space so no damage is caused to surrounding plants that you may wish to keep.

More challenging weeds may need a chemical treatment. I’d suggest trying an organic weed killer over glyphosate based products (where possible). Be sure to follow any label instructions carefully when preparing weed killer chemicals and wear protective attire. Be mindful of spraying in windy weather, as spray drift could cause damage to surrounding plants. Painting on weed killer chemicals is preferable (where suitable).

It’s important to note that a weed is simply, any unwanted plant. If there is a plant or group of plants that you think don’t belong or suit the space, remove them and put them aside. You may find a spot for these plants later, otherwise they can be composted or placed into green waste.

When pruning, it best to prune back to a node or branch of new growth. You'll want to use clean and sharp secateurs or shears. Never remove more than ⅓ of a plant to ensure sufficient foliage remains for photosynthesis. Pruning should be done after fruiting and flowering has ceased unless the size of the plant warrants an immediate prune. Weeding and pruning promotes growth and encourages healthy plants.

2. Improve the soil

level the soil
level the garden & freshen the soil

Uneven soil, slopes and sinkholes can make a small garden look very messy and unkempt and overgrown spaces may have depleted soil nutrients. Once the weeds have been removed it’s a good idea to level the soil in the garden by adding more to areas that have weathered away or where plants have been removed.

Use a premium garden soil mix or compost to freshen the soil nutrients and fill holes and gaps. Soil may sink or settle once watered so if possible allow new soil to settle in the garden bed overnight before finishing the job.

3. Planting & Transplanting

Transplanting and adding a few new plants is a simple way to transform your garden. We removed a clump of spider plants that were filling up a sinkhole. We use them to create an entirely new border along the retaining wall rocks. Spider plants are often referred to as “weeds” because of their ability to reproduce quickly, however they are not currently listed on the noxious weeds list for our area (at the time of writing this post). We ensure to maintain them regularly by removing pups and either propagating or discarding them. Now these plants have established themselves we have created a beautiful outline for our tropical garden.

transplant, plant and spider plant border

During our clean up of the garden we also found a philodendron hiding in the back corner behind the compost bins that we thought was worth showing off. The plant only had one leaf so we transplanted it to the other side of the garden where there was a gap and now it’s got plenty of room it has sprung to life!

Be sure to consider the light and heat from the sun when moving plants to ensure their survival. We transplanted a few of our pot plants from our previous balcony garden. This immediately transformed the garden filling gaps so it looked more lush. Since then we have had added more plants and cuttings from friends gardens and plant swaps. In my opinion, a garden is never finished and will change and evolve with the gardener.

Once the garden started to come back to life we discovered a few challenges, including growing our veggies in the raised garden bed. Our improvements to the soil and maintenance of the garden helped many of the plants find their vigor and therefore shaded this area significantly. Instead of trying to relocate the entire raised garden bed, we just changed what we planted there and now its a thriving herb garden. 

the garden comes back to life

4. Screening

Want to cover up an ugly wall or fence? Need more privacy from your neighbours? Screening is a simple and cost effective way to transform the look of your garden. We opted for bamboo screening at 1.8m to cover up our old and ugly fence. It also served to help stop our inquisitive cat from jumping the fence or sneaking out through gaps in the old palings.

screen the fence

The impact you get from screening is astounding! We fixed the screen to the fence using a few nails and cut off excess screen using wire cutters. As we are renting, adding a bamboo screen was the best way to temporarily transform the look of the fence. If your budget allows you could also try a new coat of paint, stain or new fence entirely!

5. Mulch

Mulching your garden is important for two main reasons, the first is to help stop new weeds from surfacing (ensuring you hard work pays off!). The second is, mulch will help hold moisture in your garden soil. Another great thing about mulch is the variety of options available that can help transform your garden.

mulch

We chose to mulch with red wood chips for a contrast in colour. The red wood mulch really makes the beautiful green foliage pop against the bamboo backdrop now covering the fence, if we were to mulch this area again I would probably change and opt for a more neutral colour and something that would add additional nutrients to the soil like cypress wood chips.

You want to add a thick layer of mulch at least 50mm to ensure no light reaches the soil, any gaps where light can still get in will allow weeds to form. You may need to add additional mulch yearly or more as it will eventually break down and provide nutrients to your plants. Depending on the mulch you use and your garden some mulch may also get blown away in windy weather or kicked off by pets or wildlife.

If you'd like to learn more about mulch specifically, check out this link: https://www.akhomeshow.com/mulch-information-guide.php

6. Containers, Pots & Baskets

avid container gardener

Being an avid container gardener, I still had a number of pot plants to find homes for. Just because you have garden beds doesn’t mean you can’t add pot plants to your garden. Containers in the garden bed can add interest, height, variation and contrast depending on the colour, style and plant. With so much extra space we added a raised veggie garden and a few of our larger pots along the fence line. We also added a number of hanging baskets along the awning of the house for another dimension to the garden.

containers in the garden

The great thing about containers is they can be moved and rearranged with ease. Meaning you can change up the look of your space as you get new pots or plants. This garden has changed a lot since we first started, with new plants being added, more containers and regular rearranging. The main thing to remember with container gardening is that you are responsible for maintaining the nutrients and water. Container plants can’t access groundwater or microorganisms found in the garden, so it's important to use premium quality potting mix, fertilise and water regularly.

7. Stepping stones & Pathways 

Mulch directly under foot isn’t always the most comfortable thing to walk on, and as we built the raised garden bed towards the back of the garden close to the fence line, we decided stepping stone pavers would make it more easily accessible. We used 3 travertine pavers, dug into the mulch for stability. One of the challenges we eventually found was the Camellia Sasanqua overhead would drop huge amounts of petals when in flower, which covered the pavers making them very slippery. We decided a wooden deck walkway would be easier to maintain, and this is the pathway now.

pavers to the vege patch
wooden deck to the vege patch

The rest of the courtyard is covered in brick pavers, we are yet to transform these but a few choices could be; pull up the pavers and install wooden decking over the top, painting the pavers, or completely re-paving. We used a gurney to clean the pavers right up and then applied a path weeder to stop new weeds from forming in the cracks. If you have slippery areas in your paving that might be more damp or moss covered, wet and forget is a great product to help solve this challenge. 

8. Furniture

outdoor furniture is essential to enjoy your outdoor space

Outdoor furniture is a must have for any garden to be enjoyed. Our bench seats and table begun centered in the largest open space of our garden. I also use a plant stand shelf to house many of our  succulent pots and a bench Scott made to add height for smaller pots and planters.

Recently, we added a fire pit to this space and moved the benches and table. This has helped us enjoy the garden even in winter. With the seats now under cover, it also means I don’t have to worry so much about wet seat cushions. The view from the bench seats allows us to enjoy the whole garden. These benches will move in different seasons and when we are entertaining.

9. Lights 

lights in the garden

Enjoy your garden at any time of day by lighting it up with solar garden lights, either stuck into the soil to light up your favourite plants or hang fairy lights from above for alfresco dining or that evening drink. I’ve also added a few candle lanterns, hanging in the trees. You could try a combination like I have for a bright outdoor oasis. Adding lights can really transform your garden at night. 

light up the garden with fairy lights, lanterns and a firepit

10. Statues, Ornaments, Wall Art & Wall Planters 

wall planters
ornaments, wall art and wall planters

Statues and ornaments can add whimsy and interest to your garden and create a theme for your space. Choose earthy colours and tones, or liven things up with bright and bold items. The theme in our garden started earthy and eastern, accented by a Buddha statue.

buddah in the garden

We recently were gifted some frangipani wall art which has added a pop of colour to the fence, but ties in nicely with our tropical theme. Scott has also constructed several timber frames which I have affixed plants to and hung on various walls. These really help to green the whole space and the timber helps to tie everything together.

the garden grows
a summer afternoon in the garden
a full and lush garden in autumn

And that’s it, our garden has continued to transform over the year and a half we have lived here. These 10 ways to transform your garden are exactly what we did to create our green sanctuary. What do you think? Tell me in the comments below how you have transformed your small space garden. 

Let me help you create a green space you will love. 

Did you know Our Green Sanctuary now offers Plant Consulting? We can help you create a green space you will love. What is a Plant consult? I'll ask you questions related to the area you'd like to plant out, like; sunlight, climate & size of the space. Then I'll ask you questions about your lifestyle, desire for upkeep & functionality for your family & pets. I'll then select plants that I think fit within these requirements and offer you a detailed list. From there, I offer additional services including; plant sourcing, design & installation. 

I work with your budget and style, offering advice to help create your green sanctuary.Click below to book your Plant Consult today!

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Top 10 tropical plants for around the pool

Top 10 tropical plants for around the pool

Top 10 tropical plants for around the pool

Understanding which tropical plants to choose for your pool area means understanding the environment. The pool creates a warmer microclimate but in Sydney you still need cold-tolerant plants. Around a pool area, plants should be tidy, low maintenance and people-friendly.

New Zealand flax (Phormium)

New Zealand flax (Phormium)

Featuring striking colours from light green to russet bronze and sometimes striped, Phormium have long broad strappy leaves, these tropical grassy plants are low maintenance and drought tolerant once established. Remove older leaves as required and cut back halfway every 4 years. Suitable for full sun positions Phormium can be used as a feature plant with varieties growing up to 1m, and is very well suited to our Sydney climate.

Origin: New Zealand and Norfolk Island

Size: H 1-3m W 1m

Light: Full sun to part shade

Soil: fertile & very well draining soil is required

Cost: $29.95 per 200mm pot

Cordylines

Cordyline is a genus of about 15 species of woody stemmed grassy plants. Available in striking colours & patterns, these strappy leafed plants have sun tolerant and shade loving varieties suitable for most tropical gardens. Shade varieties such as cordyline rubra compliments palms beautifully with contrasting colours adding interest to a tropical landscape. Sun tolerant cordyline varieties such as “Electric Flash” and “electric pink” add bright pops of colour. Cordylines can develop woody stems, if these aren't to your taste, simply chop the tops off and replant. Cordylines are otherwise relatively low maintenance & can be drought tolerant once established.
Origin: Native to Western Pacific Ocean region: New Zealand, Australia, Polynesia, Asia and South America
Size: H 2-2.5m W 1m
Light: Full sun to full shade depending on the variety
Soil: fertile & very well draining soil is required
Cost: $29.95 per 200mm pot 

False cardamom (Alpinia nutans)

The lush dense foliage of False Cardamom the evergreen ginger, is fantastic for filling mid-ground spaces in tropical or subtropical gardens. Another great feature of the plant is the spicy fragrance of the foliage. A simple plant to care for, all it will need is a tidy up twice a year. Cut older stems back to the ground, remove dead leaves and flowers.
Origin: Native to New Zealand, Australia, Polynesia, Asia and South America
SIze: H 1-1.5m
Light: Full sun to full shade depending on the variety
Soil: Fertile, well drained soil.
Cost: $29.95 per 200mm pot 

Liriopes

Arching clumps of shiny, slim, strappy foliage, featuring tight tall lavender flower stems from the centre of the plant. The dark green grass is offers simple elegance and will compliment the tropical garden foliage. Perfect for borders or in clumps, Liriope loves the shade but tolerates some sun. A simple plant to care for, remove dead flowers and cut back damaged foliage, trim to ground level yearly to maintain growth. A very tolerant plant in many climates and conditions through drought tolerance, wet feet and frost.
Origin: Native to East Asia
SIze: H 30 - 80cm W 30 - 60cm
Light: Part sun to full shade
Soil: Moist, well drained soil with reasonable fertility.
Cost: $19.95 per 200mm pot 

Clivia miniata

Broad strappy deep green leaves spray outwards forming clumps of green foliage. Trumpets of orange, cream or red flowers sit atop green stalks appearing in late winter and early spring. Low water in winter and generally low maintenance, keep mulched and well watered in the warm months. Suitable for mild conditions, protect from frost and extreme cold, planting in shaded conditions under trees. Use in borders or clumps, and best mass planted.
Origin: South Africa
Size: H 50cm W 50cm
Light: Dappled morning sun, shade
Soil: fertile & very well draining soil is required
Cost: $29.95 per 200mm pot 

Justicia carnea

The Brazilian Plume Flower features Pink or white flowers from early summer to late autumn, and may spot-flower in winter. A soft wooded shrub to 1.5m with large lush leaves and a rewarding plant, simple to care for requiring a light trim after flowering. A tough plant but may be pruned back hard - even to ground level if required. It will flourish in sun and still flowers in shade, tolerant of Sydney's hot summers and cold winters.

Origin: Native to New Zealand, Australia, Polynesia, Asia and South America

SIze: H 90-120cm

Light: Full sun to full shade depending on the variety

Soil: Moist, well drained soil with reasonable fertility.

Cost: $29.95 per 200mm pot

Bird of Paradise

Nothing says tropical quite like Bird of paradise. There are a few varieties of bird of paradise including my personal favourite Strelitzia nicolai, along with Strelitzia reginae and Strelitzia juncea. Featuring unique long lasting bird shaped blooms and large grey to green leaves, these low maintenance plants can be planted in containers or in large garden beds. Use as a feature plant or to create a feature part of your garden by double or triple planting with Strelitzia nicolai.
Origin: Native to South Africa
SIze: H 6m W 3.5m
Light: Full sun to part shade depending on the variety
Water: Moderate
Soil: Moist, well drained soil with reasonable fertility.
Cost: $29.95 per 200mm pot 

Rhapis excelsa 

Large fanned glossy, green palmate leaves, deeply divided into broad, ribbed segments, like fingers. Clumping bamboo like stems, wrapped in a protective fibrous sheath where new foliage emerges. They are relatively cold tolerant and can be grown outdoors in subtropical or warm temperate climates. Also suitable for indoors and listed by NASA as one of the top air purifying plants. This palm is great to use as a specimen plant or to create a lush screen. The Rhapis palm is a low maintenance plant with only the occasional brown leaf to remove.
Origin: China and Japan.
Size: H 3-4m W 1-2m
Light: Bright indirect light, shade
Water: Moderate
Soil: Moist, Well draining
Cost: $49.95 per 200mm pot 

Bangalow Palm (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana)

A Native to Australian the Bangalow Palm is found along the east coast of Australia in QLD and NSW. A single stem palm is sometimes sold in multiple plants per pot with bright green leaves on paler stems. Growing to a mature height of 30m and trunk width 30cm in diameter bangalow is cold tolerant but not frost tolerant. Requiring little maintenance but a good water supply during the growing season.Fertilise with a palm-specific fertiliser. Bangalow Palm can also be grown as a pot plant or planted in the ground to reach maturity.
Origin: Australia
Size: H 30 m W 2.5m
Light: Full sun to part shade
Water: Moderate
Soil: Moist, Well draining and fertile soil.
Cost: $29.95 per 200mm pot 

Golden Cane Palm (Dypsis Lutescens) 

Sun tolerant and clumping the golden cane palm is named for its yellow stems and sometimes golden foliage which arches in long pinnate fronds, appearing much greener in the shade. A good screening plant, the golden cane palm creates shade with dense foliage providing that lush look and tropical vibe to any pool area. Can be planted in containers but will do best when grouped with other plants as golden cane doesn't love the cold. Feed in the warmer months and maintain by removing dead fronds.
Origin: Madagascar
Size: H 8 m W 2.5m
Light: Full sun to part shade
Water: Moderate
Soil: Moist, Well draining and fertile soil.
Cost: $19.95 per 200mm pot 

The best way to maintain a tropical garden with these plants is simply feed and water regularly during the warmer months but keep much drier over winter to prevent root rot and other fungal diseases. Clean up dead or damaged foliage and flowers. The majority of this work can be done once a month.

What are your favourite plants for around the pool? Drop them in the comments below! 

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What is so good about houseplants?

What is so good about houseplants? Why do plants make people happy? They certainly make me happy, so I decided to find out. 

There’s actually tons of recent research that puts science behind the reasons people love placing plants in their homes.

Plants have the power to improve health & wellbeing.  

So what's the science? 

Research on the benefits of plants for health and wellbeing has been carried out over numerous studies for the last 50 years. Of the more famous, is the NASA clean air study which was first published in 1989. More recently, Horticulture Innovation Australia in conjunction with RMIT University and University of Melbourne reviewed over 100 studies on the subject and concluded, there is evidence plants provide two major benefits:

Improved air quality

Improved wellbeing

More and more of the population live in an urban environment and are spending up to 90% of their time indoors.  We as Humans have an innate connection with nature, which is sometimes ignored in our day to day lives.  A simple small group of plants can liven the dullest of spaces, and make even the tiniest apartment feel more like home. 

So how do plants improve air quality? 

Indoor plants can reduce air pollutants and Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by 75-90% 

VOC’s are compounds that readily become vapors or gasses. Examples include benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. These compounds can be be found in various household items including:

Household chemicals & cleaning products

Paints

Furniture finishes 

There is still a common misconception among the general public that plants shouldn't be kept indoors because they think plants take oxygen out of a room. I can tell you, this is definitely not the case, all plants release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide.

Essentially, the level of improvement in air quality depends on the type and size of the plant.

You can read about NASA’s widely published study defining their top 10 plants for improving air quality here.

How do plants help to improve wellbeing?

Wellbeing can be defined as the state of feeling comfortable, healthy or happy.

Evoking feelings of relaxation, inspiration and positivity.

According to the research completed for plant life balance, the total number of plants combined with the variety of plants is the key to offering these benefits. 

I think I've got a pretty great balance below. 

Our Green Sanctuary

This space is our green sanctuary, and thats me. 

I often sit on the couch and stare at this awesome collection of plants. I've taken the living room quite literally! There are 39 plants in this space. 

So how many is too many?

If you search anything related to plants on instagram  you'll find there’s millions of homes and apartments filled to the brim with plants. Georgina Read from The Planthunter says “Go wild with plants”. I love this sentiment and agree wholeheartedly.

I suggest starting with one and growing your collection gradually. Once you develop a routine of watering and maintaining your plants, having your own indoor garden will be providing great benefits. 

Not sure where to start?

Georgina Read and the Planthunter crew worked with Horticulture Innovation Australia to add a bit of style to this research into a new app plant life balance. The app combines the research with a virtual reality interface for the user to style plants in their space. It can even generate a plant list the user can save to refer to at their local nursery.

The research panel created a simple rule of thumb to help people get started adding plants to their homes. 

1 medium size plant increases air quality in the average room by 25%

5 plants of various species and sizes leads to significantly increased wellbeing 

Plant life balance also offers eleven different themed looks like the one below, to help inspire the would be houseplant enthusiast. 

Plant life balance Jungle Vibes

Are you convinced? 

Ready to start creating your own urban jungle and styling your home with plants? You are in the right place. Below you’ll find a link to join our newsletter, links to other blog posts and above use the site navigation links for plant profiles and more. 

We’re here to help you with simple gardening advice for house plant enthusiasts. 

Got a question? Drop it in the comments below. 

Rachel 

Our Green Sanctuary

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How to repot a new houseplant

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, which simply means, if you make a purchase through a link you have clicked on, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

It’s so easy an 8 year old can do it!

If you‘re like me and enjoy your houseplants in matching pots, you may need to know how to repot a new houseplant. This weekend I was fortunate to have a visit from my awesome sister and her kids. My 8 year old niece Leah offered to help me repot a few of my houseplants from their plastic nursery pots, into new plastic & glazed clay pots. Leah has just sparked an interest in plants & was keen to get her hands dirty, we had a lot of fun. Below are the simple steps we took to repot the houseplants and what we used. 

What we used to repot a new houseplant

Before we got started I gathered all the items together that we needed to use onto a sheet of black plastic for easy clean up.

  • Gloves
  • Premium potting mix 
  • Spade 
  • Pot of choice, should be slightly larger than the nursery pot 
  • Seasol diluted in a watering can 

Now we were ready to repot the new houseplants. 

New to indoor gardening? Grab a tool kit like the one above here.

What we did to repot a new houseplant 

First Leah placed some premium potting mix in the base of the new pot. She was very enthusiastic and asked questions along the way. I felt very privileged to share my passion with her. 

The new pot is only slightly larger than the nursery pot which is good because this plant doesn’t have a large root ball.

A lot of the existing soil from the nursery pot fell away from the roots so I was able to easily see that they were white and very healthy.

I held the plant in place in the new pot while Leah added fresh potting mix to fill the pot.

I also mixed in some of the existing mix from the original pot. 

We gently patted down the mix to make sure the pot had enough soil. We left about 3cm from the soil to the top of the pot. 

We repotted a few more plants and I showed Leah what to look for when repotting a new houseplant.

Tips for repotting houseplants 

If a plant is potted up to an oversized pot the extra soil can hold additional moisture the plants roots may not use which in turn can encourage root rot.

Here is an example of one that I showed Leah. It's pot was too big for the size of the plant

This plant is a Sansevieria which prefers to fill the pot before repotting up one size, as you can see there is a lot of soil and minimal roots, so we moved it to a smaller pot. 

Pot up plants by one to two sizes.

This Sansevieria has plenty of roots. 

So we potted it up one size larger from its nursery pot to one of my matching indoor pots. 

All newly potted plants need to be watered in, we added seasol to our watering can which is a soil conditioner derived from seaweed that aids plants in stress and helps avoid transplant shock in newly potted plants.  

Leah and I managed to repot 5 houseplants and pot up a whole load of Kentia palm seedlings gifted from a friends garden. I'll share that story here soon. 

Special thanks to my sister Merilyn for the fantastic images & Leah for being an awesome helper. 

Do you have any tips for repotting new houseplants? 

Tell us in the comments below!

Rachel 

Our Green Sanctuary

Greenify your life!

Dig in! Houseplant advice straight to your inbox.

Simple gardening advice for houseplant enthusiasts.



Get your copy of the houseplant cheatsheet now! Simply enter your name and email below and we'll send you the link to download your free copy now. 


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How to add Houseplants to your home & office.