Help me make my garden tastier
June 13, 2011 12:31 AM   Subscribe

I've never had a garden before. I recently bought a house in Canberra with a small established garden, mainly native Australian plants. It has a drip watering system. There isn't a lot of room, but there are a few things I have always wanted to grow, and I've got no idea whether it is possible to fit them in somehow, or where I should put them. I know I can't do anything until just before spring, but I want to start planning now.

In the plan here, I've marked the house (big black blob), a giant gum tree that shades everything underneath it (the cylinder at the top), North (the sun), and for the sake of orientation, the gate (the line at the bottom). The other lines are the edges of raised beds, and the numbers each correspond to photos of possible places where I might plant things.

1. The bed on the right is very narrow, but I hope I can do something with it. It is mostly shaded (from the gum tree). The things on the fence are from the neighbours, so I guess I can cut them back a bit.

2. This is the sunniest corner. I'm happy to pull out most of that ground cover. The privet is growing on the neighbours' side of the fence.

3. This is the shadiest part. It is pretty much always in the shade.

4. Honestly, I have no idea what most of that stuff on the left is, but there's not much space for anything else. This is mainly to give you a sense of scope for the next photos.

5. This corner is really sunny too. I don't want to plant anything with huge roots here, though, since I'm scared of roots interfering with my plumbing. All that's growing here at the moment are a few weeds.

6. I think this is just some native grasses, which I'm happy to pull out. It's pretty shady down here, though.

7. This is a close-up of the corner we were facing in number 4. Again, I'm happy to pull up the ground cover a bit.

I would like to plant (in order of preference):
- tomatoes
- berries (blackberry, raspberry, and/or strawberry)
- some herbs (there's already rosemary and parsley, but I'd like to add a few more)
- a lemon tree or some other fruit tree (I'm open to suggestions)
- beans

I'd love to put in feijoas, or a grapevine, but I assume I do not have space for those (I remember from when we grew feijoas when I was a kid that you need multiple trees in order for them to pollinate).

I don't want to bother with containers - I've grown things in containers the past ten years, and it's always been a losing battle with the Australian heat and pests.

So, where should I put what, and what else do I need to know?

For non-Canberrans, we have a climate that gets pretty hot in summer (a few weeks of over 40 C (104 F) each day and months of 30+ (90ish in F).) We get frosts and the occasional snow in winter, but it pretty much never stays on the ground. Winter days usually warm up to around 10 C (50 F) I know all of the above plants can grow quite happily in Canberra.
posted by lollusc to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I previously lived in Canberra, and thought this was a pretty good book. You should be able to get your hands on a copy pretty easily.
posted by Megami at 2:42 AM on June 13, 2011


You're going to have to get rid of some of those current plants if you want to plant anything.

Tomatoes need full sun. i think spot 7 is the best spot for them. remove the scraggly tree in the corner. Or 2, but that grass tree will have to be moved. They're expensive, don't jsut trash it give it to someone who appreciates it. It's not in a great spot there anyway, it's too architectural, needs to be more solitary.

or 4. But the deciduous tree on the left of 4 (a lilac I think?) might shade that spot. And those grasses look nice.

Strawberries don't need full sun, in fact they gasp on a hot day, partly shaded in summer is good. you can grow them in pots so there are lots of places you can put them, such as anywhere in pic 1.

Blackberies and raspberries aren't really suitable in a small garden sorry.

herbs can go in pots, in full sun. Near the kitchen door. Just down from the steps in #1.

A lemon tree is IMHO your first and best tree, a good one will serve you well forever, and lemons are expensive. However, if your neighbours have one in their front garden, maybe you don't need one? Also a full sun lover, I'd put a lemon tree in spot 2, instead of the grass tree. You can piss on it. Make sure not to get a frost tender one (ask the nurseryman).

Spots #3 and #6 aren't ever going to be much good for anything, with no sun. You can grow mint, but it can be invasive, watch out.
posted by wilful at 3:50 AM on June 13, 2011

Ex-Canberran here.

I tried to find an old contact for you who worked at the Botanic Gardens and used to have a little side business advising people exactly in your situation, but no dice, I don't think she advertised on the web. Anyway, I did find some interesting articles on Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens including What to do in the Native Garden.

They might be a good Canberra based expert community to get involved with?
posted by jujulalia at 4:04 AM on June 13, 2011

Not sure if this is helpful, since I have no advice on what to put where, but I think you should reconsider the feijoa. I'm pretty sure you only need one, and they're pretty hardy. My parents have just one and in a relatively small and shady spot. It just grew really tall to reach the sunlight and grows lots of fruit every year.

Since it seems like you're focussing on food plants, maybe the book 'One Magic Square' might be useful. It's an Australian book about growing veg etc. in small spaces, and is geared for starting small and expanding. You could try and pick the plans that incorporate the plants you're interested in.

From watching my dad who is a very experienced gardener, tomatoes seem to be pretty finicky but cherry tomatoes seem very hardy. Also, I know you said no pots, but I would reconsider putting the herbs in pots. They should be alright if you put them in big pots (and remember to water them), and it'll give you more space to play with.
posted by Emilyisnow at 4:46 AM on June 13, 2011

I would take out most of the existing plants or at least prune them back a lot.

You could try putting in a number of dwarf citrus - lemon, lime, mandarin, orange. This is what I'm thinking about doing (I already have the lemon). Lots of sun needed.

I'm growing mint in the shade and it's doing infinitely better than when it was in a pot.

I have been told cherry tomatoes are the easiest to grow but I'm not keen on planting soft fruits because of the pests.

You might want to do some research on companion planting - I've heard mixed things about companion planting in Australia, but it's always good to get info.
posted by mleigh at 5:54 AM on June 13, 2011

Mint is one herb that will grow in shady spots. This is one thing that I would recommend putting in a container, though. (I have mine in a hanging basket) Otherwise, it will take over like a weed.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:38 AM on June 13, 2011

You've seen the COGS site?

This year was murder for tomatoes in Canberra - the only person I know who got any ripe fruit planted squished cherry tomatoes from Coles. The rest of us have mountains of jars of green tomato jam and pickled green tomatoes. Ditto for chiles.

Silverbeet, chard, lettuce and rocket go gangbusters in Canberra, even through the winter, though we put a sheet of builder's plastic over our raised beds from Anzac Day til whenever the frosts stop (which is always about a week after we take the bloody plastic off). They're easy to poke around other plants.

You've got plenty of room for trailing around a pumpkin vine in that sunny corner.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:34 PM on June 13, 2011

I can never get picasa to work properly so I'm having trouble working out how your yard fits together, but how about a pomegranate? I planted one of these in a sunny place last Spring and it's going well; they seem to like it here in Canberra judging by the number of them around my area of Belco. There are large and small varieties; ours is a supposedly huge "Ben Hur" cultivar that promises 1.2kg fruit but most are largish shrubs.

Lemon trees are great and it looks like you have plenty of north-facing walls to plant one next to. Now is not the time to put one in the ground, but I bought a blood orange tree a couple of months ago, repotted it and have been keeping it in a little plastic greenhouse I bought at Bunnings (for about $30) so that I can plant it in spring and if you really want your lemon tree to get started now you could do something like this. Pomegranates and citrus are supposed to have relatively shallow, non-inasive root systems, so pipes shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Grape vines are awesome, especially if you plan on living there for a long time as they get more and more awesome with age. It's true that they take up space, but at least you can train them to be flat against a trellis or on wires and since you need to prune them all the time anyway you can just cut the vine down to the size you want each year. They have notoriously invasive roots, though, so avoid putting them near underground water/sewerage pipes. I planted mine too near the ActewAGL sewerage easement at the rear of our block and will have to move them this year. If you haven't already, think about getting a dial-before-you-dig map to check pipe locations.

If you can't find enough interesting plants in Canberra nurseries, daley's fruit tree nursery does mail order from Queensland and has all kinds of crazy plants, some suitable for the ACT. I've bought a few things from them, including a yellow cherry guava (apparently among the most frost-tolerant of guavas) which is doing well in the greenhouse next to the blood orange. I also have a "cherrie berrie" (a.k.a. myrtus ugni, a.k.a. chilean guava) I bought at Yarralumla and it seems quite happy.

As for the shady places: blueberries aren't supposed to demand too much sun, although they need plenty of water. Maybe you could put a rainwater tank in one of the shadiest corners? Being able to ignore water restrictions is great, especially if you want good crops of fruit.

Finally: I think a lot of soil in Canberra is extra-hard clay.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 10:23 PM on June 13, 2011

Hit post too soon. If your yard is heavy clay, it'll be worth your while breaking it up and digging in some topsoil with a mattock (best gardening tool ever) or if necessary a rotary hoe.

Also, there are special kinds of apple, pear and crab-apple trees called "Ballerinas" that grow tall and very thin and might be good for your yard.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 10:46 PM on June 13, 2011

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