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What do you want to achieve?

The first step to creating a beautiful garden that is attractive and water efficient is to work out your needs for the garden. Plan your garden to meet your family’s needs and to allow for flexibility for changing family needs over time.

A home garden should be designed to reflect the personality of the people who live there, suit their needs and lifestyle demands and match the design of the home. It should be flexible enough to allow for changes as children grow up or as elderly members become less active.

Careful planning saves costly mistakes later on if parts of the garden have to be uprooted for house extensions, or plants require large quantities of water to survive.

A water efficient garden can be just as stunning and beautiful as an expensive water guzzling garden. To minimise your water usage, keep the amount of lawn and keep annual and perennial plants that require plenty of water to a minimum.

To plan your garden, start by determining the ideas, feelings, likes, dislikes, and present and future needs of all the members of your household. Write down everything, as the information you gather will provide you with a basis for your garden design.

Use the following questions and discussion points to give you a guide to your options.

What do you want in your garden?

Do you want shade trees, a vegetable garden and fruit trees, a compost heap, room for a dog run, or a sandpit and play area for the children? What about space for a workshop, a rose garden, somewhere to park the boat or a barbecue area? Do you need a quiet retreat area where you can relax away from the hustle and bustle, sit back and contemplate the beautiful garden you have created? Perhaps you need a garden retreat or gazebo.

Consider your options and their potential impact on the environment. Fruit trees and vegetables can attract insect pests and plant diseases. Will they be tolerated and minimised by using organic methods? Swimming pools, ferneries and vegetables use large amounts of water which is a scarce and precious resource.

Who is to do the gardening?

Even for those who love gardening, finding time can be a problem these days. Vegetable gardens, annuals and other tender plants often need a great deal of attention.

The amount of time you can spend in the upkeep of your garden will affect the success of your final plan. Time spent watering, programming and maintaining sprinklers also needs to be considered. If time is short, perhaps a simple, low maintenance garden would be best.

What sort of plants will you choose for your garden?

This is the most exciting and often the most difficult part of planning a garden. Perhaps you would like to develop your garden along a particular theme and create an enclosed Mediterranean garden, a coloured foliage garden, or a native garden.

Consider indigenous plants to your area. Your site may have particular natural features, such as a steep slope which lends itself to a rock garden, or a hot dry climate which lends itself to a desert garden. The plants you choose can have implications for the environment. Some can invade native bushland, others require excessive amounts of water. If you are renovating an established garden, existing plants may need to be pruned, shifted or removed to allow for the creation of your new garden. Some may need to be replaced with more suitable varieties to make the overall design more water efficient.

What features do you need to improve your house and surroundings?

The rooms in your home which are used most during the day should have a pleasant outlook. Stark fences or unsightly views can be improved with carefully selected plants. A pool, a fernery or a lawn sited outside a window can be very refreshing. Locate lawns, ferneries and groups of lush plants close to the house to maximise their effects and enjoyment and save water.

Perhaps you need shade plants for a window that faces the midday sun or to create a whole indoor/outdoor patio for summer evenings. A deck, a patio or a courtyard makes a relaxing, restful spot and doubles your entertainments area.

Does your garden need screening?

Do you need additional privacy or a noise barrier from heavy traffic nearby? Are front fences permitted? There are many different materials and styles of fencing to choose from and they can be designed to serve other functions. A solid fence can create a noise barrier and a wire fence can provide support for creepers which will make a screen. Perhaps you might like to plant a hedge instead of erecting a fence. A fence or screen will filter strong winds and reduce evaporation by creating shelter for plants. This will reduce the need for added water.

It is important to check with your council before erecting a fence, because many local governments have strict regulations and you may not even be allowed front fences in your area.

Do you need a lawn?

How much lawn area do you really need? Do you have time to mow it or the money to pay someone to mow it for you at $20-$30 an hour? Do you use it? Can you cut back the amount of lawn to a minimum just for entertaining and children’s play? A family lawn uses up to 40% of the total water consumption. Will paving and gravels or groundcovers to the job more effectively for you?

Consider how much time you will spend in this area and the provision of sun/shade, roofing, seating, storage and barbecue facilities.

How will changing needs affect the design of the garden in the future?

Perhaps a sandpit and play area will have to be developed into a barbecue area. Or plants may have to be relocated to allow for additions to the house, more parking space and an extra carport or garage.

If you plan to move house in a few years, fast growing trees and shrubs and other features that can be quickly established may be best.

How will you hide the unsightly features?

Every garden needs a service or utility area to accommodate the clothes line, rubbish bins, garden shed, and outdoor storage facilities. These are usually screened from view by planting or fencing.

 Sit down with the family and write down the answers to all these questions so that you can prepare a sheet of what you actually need or want in the garden and what is environmentally friendly. This is the first step.

Do you have some great existing features?

Your garden will probably have some exciting features that you can use to your advantage to create a beautiful and water efficient garden. Natural features can set the scene for a design and you will be far more successful if you use them, rather than try to create something which does not suit the site.

Rock formations, existing trees, mounds of earth, a natural gully or slope, silhouettes of neighbouring trees and attractive views can all form the basis for a beautiful garden design. These features can be used to advantage in planning design and planting of your garden to make it water efficient.

Here are a few suggestions which may help you to take advantage of your existing features.

  • Discover the best features of your block
  • Make the most of run-off on sloping, rocky and paved sites by planting’s that catch the run-off water and use it effectively
  • Avoid planting lawn on steeply sloping sites
  • Plant in zones with plants with high water needs together
  • Consider terraces, with gravels and ground cover plants
  • Use windbreaks, screens and shades from trees to reduce evaporation
  • In native bush areas grow a native garden
  • Match plants with the features, locality, climate and soil type
  • Make the most of next-door's garden.
  • Use pots and containers for a low water use garden.

Are existing paths in the correct position for your needs?

Check that you can manoeuvre the lawn mower and other garden equipment around the different parts of the garden and around the house and yard easily. If additions to the house are to be built in a few years, will there be easy access to reach those areas without damaging plants, fences, pipes or paving?

Do you need solid paving or will gravel suit the area? Gravels and paving still allow rainwater to percolate down through the soil to plant roots nearby. Solid areas of paving are easy to maintain but create run-off when it rains. Try to design any solid paths to direct run-off to garden beds and plants close by.

Guests should be able to see clearly when they walk around the garden at night and a well-lit garden is much more effective for security purposes. Can your path and front door be seen at night from a parked car in the street? A home should always look inviting from the street at daytime or at night.

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