Today’s post is focused on how to set your garden and yourself up for success

When you think about your garden, what is the first emotion it provokes? If its shame and discontent don’t worry, we’re here to help, if you’re happy with your outdoor space, continue reading, you might get a few tips.

First off, a garden is an extension of your living space, you should value a garden the same way you value your lounge or living area. You want to spend time in it and you want to make it as comfortable as possible for yourself and all your visitors (human and other). As landscape designers, we are constantly met with budget constraints and when it comes to allocating funds to a garden, we often lose out to household luxuries. People, in general, would rather spend R 50 000 on an HD 3d television, then a garden that offers HD 3d experiences all year round. If you want outdoor space, you have to prioritize it. It’s simple. Instead of browsing through LG’s new catalogue, pick up a gardening publication and drool over this season’s flowering perennials.

Secondly, don’t kid yourself. You need to WANT a garden and realize that what you are taking on is a responsibility. A garden is a living organism; you can’t put it in place, vacuum it when it gets dusty and assumes it will be fine.

A garden is a home to more than just the pretty flowers and veggies you plant. All of the magic happens under the ground. Plants are dependent on microbial activity around their root systems and these little guys need a lot of TLC. And by TLC I mean poop, more specifically, decomposed organic waste.  Just like you and I, plants and their micro buddies need to eat. In the same way, you need essential vitamins and nutrients, so does your garden. The common misconception is that you simply need to make sure your plants are wet and they will be fine. A diet of water and the little bits of nutrients here and there might be fine if you happened to be a fashion model in the ’90s, but poor nutrition can kill. Same with your garden. You need to feed it like an old lady feeds her cats (purely driven by the fear of them eating her one day).

A regular feeding schedule with a general slow release fertilizer can do wonders for your garden. Always mulch! As much as possible. A bare bed leads to the excess decomposing matter being blown away and dries out a garden bed.  The general rule of thumb is to feed your garden every three months and mulch as needed. Your fertilizer composition will depend on your garden needs, same with your mulching. Ask for advice at your local Garden Centre. Certain mulches make the soil more acidic and others make it more alkaline.

Water, yes, duh, water. But here is the trick, water wisely. Certain plants love sitting in wet spots, others despise it. Certain species thrive on little water during wet seasons and others want more during summer. Shade lovers hate the sun and full sun species can’t handle the shade. It’s important to know what you want; do you want full sun, colourful garden that needs little water?  Great, ensure you group your plants accordingly. All nurseries tend to label their plants in a manner that indicates their light and water requirements. You should put all the sun-loving, drought tolerant plants in the same areas and shade-loving plants that tolerate moist conditions in another.

The last bit of advice is to expect visitors. There will be insects, birds and possibly small rodents that frequent your garden. Before you lay down the traps and spray the garden with pesticides, investigate to see if these visitors are actually causing any harm. Most of the time, all this activity indicates a very healthy natural space, you’ve managed to create a space where natural processes can occur. The birds either feed on fruit and insects, as do the rodents. The insects eat each other and they might chew on a leaf or two here and there, but its part of the cycle. Expect to come across spiders in the trees and worms in the soil, and if you are squeamish, put on a pair of gardening gloves, just don’t kill the poor guys, no-one likes and unruly landlord.

I would only recommend organic pesticides if there is a serious problem. With that in mind, when doing your research makes sure you see which pests attack which plants species. Citrus trees in Cape Town are often the victims of multiple pests: scale, whitefly, aphids, just about anything that you can imagine will attack them. These trees require more of a care regiment then most, but if you want life to give you lemons, you need to work for them.

Following these principles will guide you to have success in your garden and allow you to enjoy your outdoor space to the best of its ability. It will also give you the opportunity to learn about the processes in your garden and help you get to know what the different seasons do to your garden and how you can set it up for success.

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