Skip to content

Starting Out

Landscape designer Franchesca Watson explains how to successfully create your first garden

Bookmark article to read later

By Franschesca Watson | May 8, 2017 | Gardens

Facing up to your first garden can be daunting. Some of us have memories of how mum or dad tackled the outdoor space, but many were completely unaware or actively indifferent as youngsters. Perhaps it was something that one just took for granted or maybe there was no garden when you were growing up. Whether or not you have some voices from the past in your head, getting started on your very first garden can be wonderfully fulfilling if you can get over the bewilderment.

Understand that you can’t learn everything overnight.

You only have to learn what applies to your garden, one step and one plant at a time. How gardens work are practical and logical, so keep your cool and remember some basic facts. You are dealing with plants: they need something good to grow in (i.e. good soil, compost), and they need adequate water, and they need this continually, even when you go away. Don’t waste your money on plants unless you can provide them with what they need.

Understand the climatic conditions.

Your garden provides sun, shade, wind and soil so choose your plants accordingly. Don’t plant roses in the shade or ferns in the sun. Only some plants can take wind, and only plants adapted to salty conditions will grow near the ocean.

Understand that plants react to the seasons.

They can have an off period – best that you allow them this. Plants need ‘feeding’, i.e. compost and fertiliser, and sometimes they need ‘medicine’ to help them fend off pests and diseases. Like us, they will need less care if you provide them with good nutrition.

There are some basic classes of plants.

Trees – they tend to develop single stems and get tall. Shrubs – these can be evergreen or deciduous and of many sizes. They usually have leaves all the way down to the ground, unlike trees, and they are the basic building blocks of most gardens and include hedges. Ground covers – small plants that grow sideways more than up and eventually cover quite a lot of space. They are often used as fillers or to stabilise slopes. Perennials – plants that tend to flower seasonally and give colour. They then have a period when they go off and need to be pruned down quite low before sprouting up again. Succulents – plants with fleshy leaves that can be very big or smaller shrubs or ground covers but all tend to be water wise. Grasses – some grasses make lawns and others are taller and more ornamental and are used like shrubs. When choosing your plants, know how big they are going to grow. There’s no point in planting too many and finding you have to take half of them out in a couple of seasons.

There are two steps to making a garden.

First is the design – for example where you will eat outside, braai, sit under a tree, where the kids will play, what you look out at from inside the house, where’s best for the vegetable garden. Second is choosing the right plants to populate your garden. Don’t start the second step before finalising the first.

Get help if you need it.

Find experts that will hold your hand a little, but make you understand the process every step of the way. You will be thrilled with your own creation.

Contact Franschesca Watson at

Featured image

Mike Hall Illustration

Thea Pheiffer

Gallery image 0Gallery image 1