Is your garden looking tired and unloved? Perhaps you haven't had time or have just moved into a new home. Depending on what you’re starting with, some, or all of these 10 steps may apply for you to transform your garden. I’ll share below the 10 exact ways we transformed our Sydney courtyard garden.
When my husband Scott and I moved into a small 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 has worked 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 that we loved and enjoy.
1. Weed & Prune
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 such as slasher 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
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 editing 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
10. Statues, Ornaments, Wall Art & 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.
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.