When it comes to building a garden, careful planning and clever logistics will be the difference between an oasis and a backyard that looks like the Somme.
Building a garden should be the fast end to a much longer process. It’s probably a six-month process from initial consultation to when the last plant goes in. But boots-on-the-ground itself can be three to four weeks. There are three real challenges during the build phase of a landscape project. Those are dealing with water management, soil management and structural elements. The planting bit happens right at the end.
That still means living with a quagmire in the backyard for three weeks. It’s always a bit of an upheaval to your daily existence. That’s always a hideous time when the whole yard gets ripped apart and put back together.
This is where the time management skills of a good landscape designer come in. We don’t start jobs and then walk away and leave you with a mess in your backyard. When we start turning soil, it means it’s all systems go, hence the longer lead time. When we’re going to start a job, we’ve already ordered all the plants and equipment we need.
As with any form of architecture, the most important parts of landscape design are invisible. Half the money’s spent underneath the ground, getting the foundations right.
Managing drainage and structural issues
A plant is the final part of a garden. To have a healthy plant thrive, you need to develop the contours and drainage. You also need to manage any other issues specific to the site. Pretty much every house in the Upper Blue Mountains is either built on a slope or cut into an embankment. That means they’re vulnerable to seepage, or to drainage problems.
Irrigation is another water issue that should be dealt with at this stage of the build. That has to work in concert with soil improvement (which I’ll discuss next) to ensure the health of your garden. It can take up to two weeks to manage contouring and draining issues on a site, which will be followed by planting.
Poor soil quality is a perennial problem up here. Some sites have excellent drainage, but we just don’t have a great depth of soil. Luckily for most gardens, cold climate plants are generally surface rooters anyway.
But the problem with tackling soil quality lies in the cost. It’s not a cheap thing. But it’s very important—it impacts our reputations if the gardens we create don’t survive! If a client says, ‘Don’t worry about putting soil in. We’re not doing any soil improvements. I don’t want to pay for that soil’, we need to explain that they will end up with a garden full of dead plants.
Adding compost and manures, and incorporating old and new soil, make a free draining soil.
Cost of building a garden
That does bring us to an important point. Many people have unrealistic expectations of what a landscape costs. This is the result of all those home improvement shows we’ve been watching for years. You see a show offering a garden makeover that only takes three days and costs $10,000—on TV. In reality, it took 50 staff you didn’t see on camera, and cost 10 times that amount.
A good rule of thumb to work out costs is: a good garden build will cost you about 10 per cent of your build costs. So if you have a $900,000 build, you will need a $90,000 garden. That’s because you’ll need to put in driveways, drainage, and structural elements like a retaining wall. Of course, the price will vary according to the block and how much work has already been done.
But the reward for that investment is having the dream garden you’ve always wanted. And having it stay healthy for years to come.