In the Green

by | Sep 11, 2019

Thinking about overhauling your garden this spring? Follow these pointers so you don’t outgrow your budget – Words by Jade Taylor Cooke


‘The Western Cape drought made everyone aware of the true cost of our gardens in terms of monthly water bills,’ says Chris Maddams from Red Daffodil Landscaping and Garden Design. However, you don’t have to be living in the Mother City to take advantage of the money-saving benefits of a water-wise garden. ‘Water-wise’ doesn’t necessarily have to mean a desert aesthetic of pea gravel punctuated by the odd lonely succulent, either.

Here are Chris’s tips for a water-smart garden, whether you’re looking to make small, effective changes or you’re starting from scratch:

1. ‘Assess your water supply when planning your garden. Are you creating a zero-addition garden, which must survive on rainfall patterns alone, or do you have access to extra sources, such as rain tanks or groundwater?’

2. ‘Planting the right species of tree in the right position in your garden will create a windbreak, reducing water loss through leaf transpiration. Trees also provide shade from the hot afternoon sun, drastically reducing your garden’s water demands.’

3. ‘Focus on increasing the organic material in your soil, so it absorbs and holds more moisture.’

4. ‘Choose plants that are slow and steady growers.’

5. And, yes, don’t discount succulents completely … ‘The drought has taught me the value of many succulents that I didn’t find too exciting before, I’ve been building hedges and filling pots with spekboom, instead of thirsty buxus, for example.’

A garden is a grand teacher,’ wrote the late, great horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll. ‘It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift.’ This issue, we’re focusing on that last quality: thrift. Because while nothing says ‘spring’ quite like a newly landscaped garden, a revamp can become a rather costly project if you’re not careful.

Chris Maddams shares his advice for staying within a budget while still achieving your ideal garden through the seasons.

We get it: You start planning a garden overhaul and before you know it, you’ve mentally sketched in outdoor entertaining for 16, a koi pond or two, and a labyrinth for all that deep thinking you’re going to get around to doing.

‘It’s easy to create a wish list of features or plants, but that can become overwhelming, especially when space is limited,’ remarks Chris. ‘On the other hand, having a clear understanding of how you want to use your space creates priorities – for example, including play areas versus a kitchen garden, or visually pleasing shrubberies versus a patio. Combine these priorities with the realities of your site and the demands of the plants – for example, shade from walls and trees will influence where lawns will thrive, or perhaps there’s a need for screening trees to provide privacy from a neighbour. This will lead to an organic design process that makes the most of what you already have.’ The only real necessities, according to Chris? ‘Enthusiasm and consistency in your activities are non-negotiables, and will return the best results.’

1. Opt for small, young plants
Full-sized adult plants may instantly create your ideal look, but they can be incredibly pricey. ‘Remember that garden designs play out over years, not simply in 3D,’ says Chris. ‘Patience is the single best way to save money, as buying smaller plants and waiting for them to fill out saves a fortune.’

Don’t cheat and opt for speedy growers to make up for their size, though. ‘We often see people making this mistake,’ says Chris. ‘However, in a few years, that plant is out of control, swamping the space and requiring removal, sending you back to square one – a costly error.’

2. Focus on feeding
‘Allied to opting for smaller plants is prioritising feeding,’ says Chris. ‘Don’t skimp on compost when planting, and make sure you are feeding regularly through the seasons to maximise your garden’s health and growth. Spending on fancy flowers that catch your eye in the nursery, rather than on compost and fertiliser, will cost you in the long run when that high-demand plant fades through lack of food.’

3. Be strategic about pots
Gorgeous, oversized pots instantly elevate a space, but Chris says to place them sparingly if you’re on a budget. ‘I love a beautiful pot as a feature, and adding them to a patio, with trees or creepers, is essential. But getting good pots is expensive, and plants are actually happier in the ground where they can reach down to cooler, moister soil layers, rather than relying on you to water them daily through a hot summer. Paying for a pot, plus potting soil, and then spending your time constantly watering (when the plant would have been happier in the ground) is the opposite of low-maintenance, and an illogical use of a limited budget.’

4. Consider the long-term cost of a lawn
‘Roll-on sods are relatively cheap, so people are often tempted to cover the whole space in lawn,’ says Chris. ‘When looked at over a period of years, however, the maintenance cost of watering and mowing far outweighs that of water-wise planting.’ If you do opt for lawn, be strategic about the species. ‘Shade-tolerant lawns, such as buffalo and berea, are slow-growing, so they cost two to three times more but require less water and mowing, and may therefore be cheaper in the long run,’ says Chris.

5. Avoid annuals
It’s easy to get carried away with the idea of rainbow swathes of colour across your garden. ‘However, while visually pleasing, annuals can be ruinous to your budget as they need seasonal replacement,’ says Chris. ‘A small bit of planning to choose species that flower in different seasons means there is always something brightening up your space.’

6. Shop around for a professional
Unless you’re an old hand at the garden game, you’ll probably want to consult a professional landscaper. Luckily, Chris says this doesn’t necessarily have to blow your budget. ‘You can hire designers to consult with you at an hourly rate before launching into a project, so you aren’t committing to open-ended bills. Many companies also quote for free, so it should be easy to find a firm to fit your budget.’

7. Don’t underestimate mulch
Mulch works seriously hard to help ensure the money you’ve spent on your plantings doesn’t go to waste. ‘We are major cheerleaders for using a bark/compost mix as mulch,’ says Chris. ‘We use it to prevent the top layer of soil from blowing away during windy periods, and to keep the soil below cool and moist. When it rains, we top it up to prevent mud splashing on walls and to ameliorate the effects of harsh downpours. Plus, as mulch breaks down, it provides organic material to feed your soil through the seasons.’

Sure, planting a herb or vegetable garden won’t halve your grocery bill, but every little bit helps. Plus, it’s a great way to introduce your kids to ideas around food production and learning to live more sustainably.

‘Fresh herbs also beat dried ones any day when cooking, in my book,’ says Chris. ‘And, while we don’t all have the patience to wait for onions or potatoes, there are simple things such as cherry tomatoes, spinach and rocket that grow like crazy – you’ll be giving them away. The best advice is to experiment to find out what works in your space. Just remember that anything that produces copious amounts of flowers or fruit needs consistent watering and lots of compost.’

1 Comment

  1. Bev Bailey

    Couldn’t agree more with Chris. One more thing that I have observed is that people love collecting slips from friends and family…..whilst these can save money, do your homework first and know how big, thirsty, gorgeous or ugly that plant will become before you accept it, and don’t take on too much or it will all overwhelm you and you will end up planting it in the wrong place, then as Chris said, it will have to come out and you will have to start from scratch again.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.