Ideas for Creating more Livable Gardens

In today's hectic world, a home garden should be a healthy place to be; somewhere to relax, and as much as possible full of things which help you relax. Chemical, noise or even visual pollution should be minimized. Unpleasant ar dangerous plants, insects or other pests should also be avoided.

Things which make the garden pleasurable for one person (eg. Scented plants) can actually annoy someone else. If you are to have a garden which is healthy for neighbours, guests and the whole family, it may be necessary to avoid some things which might have been included if you were designing for just yourself.

 

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Design and develop your garden to achieve a comfortable temperature all year round. Some landscape treatments will heat up and cool down much faster than others, creating a colder environment in winter and a hotter environment in summer.
 
Things which make a garden hotter in summer and colder in winter: Large brick or stone walls Large glass windows, Concrete Metal furniture, Rocks or stones, Paving, Asphalt, Gravel surfaces
Things which make a garden milder all year round: Water, Shade trees, Pergolas, gazebos etc. Shade wings, umbrellas etc, Organic Mulches, Timber, Lawn and plants (Shrubs, ground covers and shade Trees)

Ways to moderate temperature in your garden:

  • Place trellis against or adjacent to brick or stone walls and use climbing plants to provide a barrier against extremes of weather.
  • Use deciduous trees to provide shade in summer, particularly over hard surfaced areas such as concrete or paving. This will lower temperatures considerably and greatly reduce reflected glare. During winter you will have the added benefit of increased sunlight, hence more warmth.
  • Keep metal furniture under cover when not in use to prevent it getting very hot in summer, or cold in winter.
  • Build gazebos, pergolas or other outdoor structures to provide protection in the areas where you spend most of your time outside. Deciduous pergolas (eg. Grape or Wisteria) can be used on pergolas to provide summer shade while allowing light through in winter.
  • Use organic mulches on garden beds to provide a buffer against extremes of temperature, thus modifying the temperature of your garden as well as providing other benefits.
  • Use shrubs, groundcovers or lawns instead of hard surfaced areas such as concrete or gravel where possible. Plants have a modifying affect on temperature.
  • Avoid blocking areas off so much that cooling breezes are stopped. Courtyards and other confined areas need openings at both ends to allow a breeze to move both in and out.
  • If water supply is plentiful, use a mist irrigation system to cool down an area in hot weather or warm it up in very cold conditions. Be careful of misting plants for a short period then allowing direct sunlight onto the wet foliage. This can sometimes burn tender plants.

 

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Drain any wet or potentially wet areas not only so the plants grow better but also to make the area more comfortable. Wet surfaces become slippery and dangerous to walk on. Mosquitoes and cockroaches are more likely in a poorly drained garden. Mosquitoes will breed in nearly any still pool of water, even containers such as buckets or paint tins left sitting around, or in wheelbarrows, old tyres or metal drums used for a barbeque. These things should be stored in a way that prevents water collecting, or have drainage holes made in them.

Poorly drained areas are also more susceptible to a build up of chemical pollutants. Drainage is a natural way to disperse problem chemicals, but this is only useful if the chemicals are ones which will break down into harmless products (eg. dogs urinating on a lawn or biodegradable detergent); otherwise you are just moving the problem elsewhere.

Drainage can be improved a number of ways including:

  • Installing subsurface drains such as agricultural pipes.
  • Installing surface drains that will channel water away to a place where it can readily be disposed of (eg. For non pollutants: a storm water pit; or for pollutants: the sewer). Connections into a government drains or sewers may require an official permit.
  • Creating sufficient slope, and removing depressions on the surface of garden beds, lawns or paved areas, during construction; or by creating raised beds or mounds so that water will quickly run away to a place where it is easily disposed of.
  • Improving the soils ability to absorb water, by either digging in organic material (eg. compost or manure) or sand, or by using other clay breaking products to open up the soil.
  • Planting dense foliage trees which will catch a lot of rain on their foliage before excessive water starts to build up on the leaves.
  • Planting deep rooted plants which soak up water from the soil and lower the natural water table.

 

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Keep the garden tidy. Any junk heaps which might attract vermin should be well away from the house.

Snakes, rats, mice, spiders etc. will often nest in undisturbed piles of timber, old car bodies, dilapidated buildings, piles of builders rubbish, under sheets of corrugated iron and other such places. If you need to store things such as timber or metal, it is best stored on raised racks, neatly stacked, and as far away from the house as is practical, while still being accessible. Any unwanted rubbish should be removed from your property as frequently as possible. Make sure when handling such materials that you wear suitable work clothing, boots, and in particular gloves to reduce the likelihood of cuts, bruises and bites.

Most councils have regular collections of such rubbish. Use them.

Try to recycle as much material as possible. It is relatively inexpensive to hire a hopper from a waste disposal company every 6 to 12 months to do a major clean up. For $50 to $100 you can have a large bin delivered one day and removed a few days later once you have filled it.

If you are planning some major earthworks before landscaping, it may be worth hiring a machine (eg. a backhoe) to do the earthworks and bury builders rubbish at the same time. Just make sure you don't bury anything which might pollute your soil. After burying, drive the machine over the top and water the area heavily to get rid of any air pockets, and compact the area thus avoiding any subsidence.

 

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Carefully check your source of any soil, mulch or other materials you use for landscaping. Some materials sold for use in landscaping are contaminated with chemicals, weeds or pests and diseases which may be either harmful to people or plants.

*Soil which comes from coastal or low lying areas sometimes have high salt content which can seriously affect the growth of plants.

When buying soil for the garden, ask where it came from, and always choose earth from inland areas or higher altitudes. 

  • Soil from limestone country is sometimes too alkaline for plants to grow well, while soil from some agricultural areas may be too acid from over use of acidifying fertilizers such as superphosphate. It is best to test the acidity of such soils before buying them.
  • Mulches from crops or farms treated with excessive amounts of chemicals can contain dangerous pesticides. Sugar Cane waste will contain chemicals which were used by the cane growers. Wood chip from timber mills in the middle of native forests are probably very free of chemicals.
  • Mulches which are too fresh (ie. not composted), can contain toxic chemicals which may damage plants. If the mulch has a very resinous smell about it, don't use it. Fresh Pinus radiata or Eucalyptus sawdust, wood shavings, bark chips or wood chips should ideally be composted for at least six weeks (more in cold weather) before use.
  • Soil, stone, sand or mulch from areas which harbour serious weeds, pests or diseases should be avoided. Products taken from areas devastated by cinnamon fungus, for instance, may introduce cinnamon fungus into your garden. Likewise, soils from agricultural areas may contain a lot of different weed seeds.