Planting a new garden can be very disappointing unless you have a big budget and can afford large plants; the small plants seem to disappear.

When planting a garden we all want that instant finished look whereas we should focus on the end result. Often the faster growing plants turn out to be the wrong plants.

When my wife and I first started gardening around our new home we had very little money but we were keen, so keen in fact that we took and planted any 'give aways' that we could get our hands on. When the Northland Regional Council released their list of the ten most unwanted plants I think we had most of these in our garden. Its funny how ladder fern can look so good in a pot but, put it in the garden and very soon it takes over and trying to get rid of it is another matter. So many of the instant plants are like this: agapanthus, wandering willie, busy lizzie, etc. You know the ones I mean.

Where to start

No matter how small or large a section is it can be divided into zones. There will be dry parts, wet parts, sunny areas, and shaded areas, places that need the view kept or the light let in.

The first step is to define these areas.Then you can choose the plants that will suit. There are probably few gardens that do not have a wet spot, where the soil is perpetually damp and difficult to cultivate. However, instead of looking at such places as problems, look at the advantages.

Another perceived difficult situation in any garden is a very shady place, or under trees. These conditions are not ideal for the growth of the majority of garden plants.Under trees conditions can vary. Sometimes the tree roots and canopy above causes the soil to be continuously dry. Mother nature is a wonderful teacher. Look around at the neighbors or the nearest patch of bush, look at what is doing well and what you like and repeat it in your garden.

Soil preparation

Soil preparation is important although there are native plants that specialize in growing in harsh conditions in soil of poor fertility. Generally our native plants grow best in good fertile soils. Soil fertility was much higher when we were the land of birds and the bush was still intact. Old trees would have reached maturity and died were then dismantled by armies of insects to be recycled into the soil. Large numbers of sea birds would have formed massive inland colonies, bringing a constant supply of guano.

Apodasmia similis - oioi, jointed rush.

Moisture loving plants

Moisture loving plants range from big tress to ground covers that can be very handsome and very useful. Some useful grasses, or grass like plants are Phormium tenax (the large green flax), Apodasmia similis (Oioi or segmented rush), Cordyline australis (cabbage tree) and Carex secta (swamp grass), which is perhaps the best of all at soaking up water logged areas. It is particularly good in soakage systems.

A number of big trees can handle the wet. The best known example of these is Dacrycarpus dacrydioides (Kahikatea). Those familiar with the small remote areas of the Hikurangi Swamp will know what characteristic feature these trees make with their tall straight trunks rising from the water. Other trees that grow in wet of damp ground are Laurelia novae-zelandiae (Pukatea), which after time form plank like buttresses at the base of the trunk and Plagianthus regius, commonly known as ribbon wood or manatu, is one of our only true decidious trees.

Macropiper melchior, Three Kings island kawakawa ideal for shady areas.

Shady conditions

Plants that are often epiphytic, that is growing on other trees in the forks of branches, will do well under trees: Astelia's, Griselinia's, lots of fern species are suitable, e.g. Asplenium bulbiferum (Hen and Chickens fern), Asplenium oblongifolium. There are plants that will grow naturally under shade. One of my favourites is Macropiper melchior (Three Kings Kawakawa) or you can use Arthropodium cirratum (Renga renga Lily).

Remember there is always the right plant for the right place. Have vision, focus on the outcome, not the instant look.