Note the winds
Now, go for a walk. It’s vital to know the prevailing winds in your area. They may be desiccating in summer or bring driving rain. Wind is also the “magic carpet” to transport many plant seeds, insects and other creatures into your garden. Fire, noxious odours, pollution, salt and even noise are all affected by winds.
Wind may be channelled along gullies and valleys or sweep across open areas. Roadways and built structures also form pathways for the wind. Solid surfaces may magnify the wind, while open features such as trees, bushes and shadecloth will suppress wind. Understanding your local wind patterns is important in the placement of plants.
Go with the flow
On this walk, also look at where water may flow towards or away from your garden. Does it drain away or does the soil become saturated? Will it cause erosion? Water is vital to all plant life, but it can be a carrier of disease, pathogens (soil pests), herbicides and pesticides. If desirable, can you harvest water by directing it to your garden? Are there water features that provide habitat for frogs, toads or mosquitoes? Do the local birds, reptiles and bees rely on this water? All these are mobile and may visit your garden. You may want to add your own water feature to extend this habitat.
Talk to the trees
The trees in your area are important features. They will harbour wildlife and block wind and light. The wildlife may be desirable or not. Micro-bats can consume large quantities of insects, as will some birds. Fruit bats, possums and fruit-eating birds may be less desirable. Possibly of greater importance, especially in drier areas, is the water that trees consume. A large gum or pine tree will have a root run extending out two to three times its height and thus may dry out a large area when water is scarce.
And the neighbours
Finally, look at your neighbours’ gardens. Better still, talk to your neighbours. Find out what their chemical use is and also what weeds and bird- and insect-attracting plants they have. Aerial spray drift can be a serious problem, as can the movement of chemicals in water underground. Do they have plants that block the wind or sunlight? What are they growing successfully and how are they achieving this? It may take some time to find out all this, but the more you can find out the more successful your garden is likely to be.
Armed with all this information you can now go back to your own garden. The plants you choose will vary enormously, so let’s start with some basics. Start with plants suited to your area and soil type. If you are unsure, seek advice from neighbours, local garden centres or written material. Local libraries carry a range of gardening books and will usually acquire books if requested. The internet is a wealth of information — sometimes too much, so stick to accredited sites.
Companion planting is also an effective way to get the most from your garden and plants.