I like to think I’m a creative person. I love the process of planning and creating something new. The unfortunate flip-side is that I find nothing more boring and mundane than maintenance. Find me in the middle of a never-ending chore like laundry and I will be staring into the middle distance, like my mind simply couldn't take it anymore and went off to find an adventure.

When it comes to the garden, I want to focus on training and creating and do everything I can to minimise the upkeep. After a few years of gardening, I've started correcting one of my biggest early mistakes – being flippant with the information on the label.


The label that comes with your newly-purchased plant is a wealth of information.


Height and width

Stop and think about this one in the store, and be firm with yourself.

Planting a veggie patch? Don’t overcrowd them. It’s not about how many seedlings you can fit into the space – it’s about how many fully-grown plants you can fit into the space. As tempting as those ten different punnets of seedlings are, check the label instructions for how far apart they need to be planted. Not prepared to devote half your backyard? Put them down. Step away. Crowded plants are sad plants.

Thinking of a hedge? Sure, buying that fast-growing option that grows to six metres will probably reach the two and half metres you need sooner. You’ll be screened from the neighbours arguing in their backyard (if only plants could block sound!), but the plant won’t understand it’s achieved its purpose. It will ruthlessly pursue its intended height of six metres – which means you need to constantly prune back to two and half. Pick one that grows to the height you want, and pruning will become more of a tidy-up than a full-scale military operation.

Don’t forget, this information is super important for the amount of light your plants will get too. Plant a shrub that grows to two metres in front of a 50cm plant, and your taller plant will obliviously hog all the sunlight while the poor short plant dies a sad, slow death.


Sometimes plants won't come with a label - instead, the info you need might be printed on the pot!


Sunshine and Soil

“I’m sure it will be fine” used to be my nursery shopping catch phrase.

Fact is, the plants we grow in our gardens have evolved all over the world to suit different conditions, and they can’t adapt to wherever you’d like to stick them into your garden beds.

Plants that traditionally grow under a rainforest canopy and find themselves under the full force of the Sydney sun will shrivel and die. Full sun plants might cope a little better with shade, but will grow sparsely and without flowers while they attempt to reach more light. Plants that need free-draining soil in a soggy spot will rot, and plants that like plenty of organic matter planted in sandy or rocky areas will starve.

I knew all this if I really thought about it, but the fact that I reeeeeally wanted that plant to go in that spot had a habit of overriding the rational part of my brain. Fact is, situating plants where they are happy will cut down maintenance drastically, as you’re not constantly trying to correct their conditions.

So believe what the labels tell you, and plant groups of plants with similar wants and needs together to make caring for them a breeze – so that you can get back to more important things!