Where to start?

After all the inspiration I gathered from the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show two weeks ago and contemplating the future of my abysmal front garden, here is the promised photos of it’s current situation.

View from the front door

The car you can see is mine, the other garage door is the neighbours, so as you can see it’s quite small.  Actually I took this photo after giving the plants in the middle (don’t know what they are, they have white and purple flowers, but at the moment just dead flower heads) a considerable prune and doing most of the weeding.

The plants at the back are some sort of purple flax like plant.  When we moved in five years ago they were quite small, they now cover the whole window which is kind of nice as that’s my bedroom window so it adds some privacy, but doesn’t block out the light too much.  Along our driveway are a greeny-yellow kangaroo paw, they did run all the way up the to the front pillar, but we pulled many of them out to add a path so I could get the pram past the car.  On the other side are a few remaining native irises, most of these died sometime over the last few years.  However, I now have loads of new plants coming through which I was thinking of replanting back along that border, not sure if they will survive the transplanting though.  And finally at the very front are two lavender bushes, which are now quite gangly and the centres have died off.  I gave them a trim, but am thinking maybe they need to be cut back hard so they can get back to being nice and tight and bushy.

In between these uninspiring plants is bare space covered lightly with bark chips.  The soil is appalling and the weeds run rampant in these spots.  I would love to completely fill the area with plants, but I don’t know where to start.  The soil needs improving, but is it possible to do this a bit at a time, rather than pulling everything out and digging the crappy soil out.  Can I just add compost and other organic matter as I find things to plant?  Dig the area I need to get rid of the building rubble and improve that small section?

Also I have little money to spend on this garden so I had intended on taking cuttings and growing plants from seed then transplanting them when they’re a bit bigger.  What plants should I be looking for?  I don’t want to replace them every year so definitely perennials, and they need to be shade tolerant, with a combination of interesting foliage and some flowering plants, as well as natives and non-natives.  If there are a couple of hardy feature plants I would be happy to pay for them.  I also have a vague idea about getting some sort of largish planter (like an old bath tub or something similar) to put towards the back in front of the flax.  I thought that way I could add some good soil without having to spend too much time or money and grow something that would spill over the sides.

This is all a bit of a ramble, an insight into the inner workings of my mind – this is the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night believe it or not – but I would like to put some thought into this space (very unlike me) before I start doing anything.  I might even get creative and draw up a plan if I can figure out how.  Having said that my mother-in-law bought us a tree for the front yard which is coming on Saturday.  It’s something called a forrest pansy (ceris canadensis) and has nice purple foliage and a pink flower in spring (Miss Two will love that).  It says on the tag that it likes full sun, it’s not going to get that so we’ll see how it goes.  It will give some height to the space though and replace the silver birch that was in there originally but died after about a year – during that insanely hot summer of 2008/09.  I will dig in some compost when I plant it and hope it survives a bit better than it’s predecessor.

So there you have it, what would you do in this space?

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8 Responses to Where to start?

  1. lindawoodrow says:

    You don’t say which way it faces? I always look at aspect first, because if you plant a short thing that needs sun on the south side of a tall thing, it won’t like it. If you plant it just a couple of feet away, on the north side, they’ll both be happy. I’d draw it up on paper first, taking note of the aspect. Even if you don’t know what plants to plant, you can draw up the kind of plant you want – tall or short, thick at the base for privacy or at the top like a tree for shade but views. Hardy in the heat or bog tolerant. Then I’d just start adding every bit of organic matter of any kind I could get my hands on, and at the same time keeping an eye out for cuttings or seedlings or seeds of the right kind.

    • Barbara Good says:

      How very wise Linda, thanks for your advice. I realised later that I forgot to mention the garden is on the south side of the house. The front gets quite a bit of sun and the western edge (near where my car is) gets more sun than the eastern edge (along the neighbours driveway). The tree we have will go towards the front of the bed to get some sun.

      I’ll be following your recommendation to add any sort of organic matter I can get my hands one. What about lawn clippings, are these good to dig in? I’ll also try to draw it up on paper over the weekend too. I might post a copy so you can all check out my terrible artistic skills.

  2. Liz says:

    Now this may be an optical illusion but it looks like the bed slopes down to the street a bit suggesting it might be quite dry? If so I’d stick to dry loving plants, and then chose ones for shade and ones for sun. If you plant mainly natives I wouldn’t be too worried about improving the soil too much you might even get away with what you have. I know this sounds obvious but a healthy plant is always going to look better than one which in theory you liked more but actually isn’t that happy in the conditions. A good thing to try is go for a walk and see what grows well in similar conditions in other gardens locally and see if you can find similar plants (or ask them if you can take cuttings). My front garden is mostly natives and my parents have a huge native garden (they propagate natives and sell them at markets) so I would be happy to give you all the cuttings you want of any varieties we (or they) have, and some handy hints for striking them.

  3. Liz says:

    Oh and could the blob in the middle be a hebe?

    • Barbara Good says:

      You’re quite right Liz, it does slope towards the street and it probably is pretty dry. The soil though is pretty terrible, I actually needed a maddock to dig even just a small hole. Obviously the plants in there have survived, so perhaps some others would too, but some compost might make their lives a little easier.

      Looking at the two other townhouses next to ours, one has very similar plants (the ones originally planted by the builders) with the lavenders doing quite well, they also have a few banksias that are doing better than the ones I had at the back. The other one ripped everything out and replanted, they all died so she did it again this time with agaves and similar plants which are doing quite well. I actually have a small agave in a pot out the back doing not very much. I’ll be sure to check out other front gardens around the place, will try to take my camera so I can figure out what the plants are. I think you;re quite right and very sensible to suggest natives, and that healthy plants will look better than dead ones!

      You’re offer is incredibly kind and I would love to take you up on that. Thanks for all your advice – I’d love to see a photo of your native garden if you’re willing to share.

    • Barbara Good says:

      Forgot to add, I looked up some photos of hebes and you were spot on. Very clever.

  4. Andrea says:

    Small spaces sometimes need a lit more planning but thats half the fun……….The Forrest pansy is a beautiful tree(neighbor has one) and i would be inclinded to make it the feature and use other plants to complement it, you could also choose plants with flowers of similar colors (maybe some of your bulbs) too.The native plants will attract birds so you could add a small bird bath, gravel smooth grey stones……….. Maybe another trip to the libary for books on gardening in small spaces?
    Yep draw a plan and then you can do a little at at time. Have a fun weekend!!

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