Tips for making your property the envy of gardeners

WHETHER it's a tiny courtyard or a sprawling suburban block, there are some great tips on making the most of your outdoor space.

For a novice gardener, there's something incredibly intimidating about a blank canvas. Then again, it could represent a bewildering array of fantastic options.

You may be faced with a forlorn space at the front of the house, a neglected courtyard or a yawning stretch of backyard, with a hills hoist as its crowning glory.

With no TV crew at the ready to give it a 24-hour miracle makeover, and no budget to hire a professional designer, the task of where to start is daunting.

Little wonder so many unused outdoor areas remain just that.

However, there are some basic rules that apply whatever area you're sizing up.

Decide on the purpose

Only you can answer the question: what do I want to get out of this space?

Before you get creative, get practical. Something you're designing as a kids' paradise will have a very different look to a resort-style outdoor entertaining area.

Elements like swings, clothes line, compost, garden shed, seating, barbecue, pets or even a herb garden all need to be factored in if they're essential items.

A watering system, power for cooking and entertainment appliances and solar lighting might also be on the wish list, they need to be considered at planning stage.

Draw up a plan

Measure up the area, then draw up a detailed plan to scale, indicating where north is.

North is sunny, south is shady and west generally delivers a brutal afternoon sun. However, you might have a tall tree to the west that blocks afternoon sun.

Note the amount of time and the location of full sun, part shade and very shady areas of your space.

This will affect what plants can grow where, and where you might want to place things like a hammock or chair and tables.

Make a note of and photograph what seems to be growing well currently; that will help you make decisions when choosing your new plants.

You can show the staff at the nursery exactly what you're dealing with.

Next make paper cut-outs, to scale, of the compulsory elements and start playing around with placement.

Decide on the type of garden that appeals: formal, casual, a native garden, etc, bearing in mind both the climate and the house you live in.

You want a design that sits comfortably with the structure alongside it. A sparse, rocky cactus garden is going to look pretty odd up against an elegant federation home.

If you have a big area to plan, you'll almost certainly want to break it up into smaller, useable zones. But don't try to cram too much in; it will make the space look smaller and feel cramped and busy.

You may decide, for example, to incorporate a shaded entertainment area, vegie garden, patch of lawn for the kids and some flowering garden beds, divided by some creative landscaping.

Now set a realistic budget - and stick to it! Your wishlist may get chopped a little. Focus on what you can afford to do and do it right.

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