They say money doesn’t grow on trees, but if you’ve planted a garden, you know those trees, shrubs and plants cost plenty. Dawn Picken spoke with local experts about common garden mistakes and ways to brighten a small section that won’t cost a fortune in the future.


One of the biggest mistakes a homeowner can make, said our experts, is buying trees and shrubs that grow too large.

Rotorua landscaper Rowan Smith said he even warned his parents about their trees years ago.

"They just left them and I said they needed to be cut down and pulled out. It just turns into a bigger cost if you wait. If you can't drop it in one go, it costs a couple thousand, easy."


Mark Pemberton, director of Rotorua's Traditional Landscapes, said hedging plants are fine as long as you choose ones that'll grow to a maximum height of two metres.

"You don't want to plant something that's going to grow at a huge rate that you have to look after it all the time . . . pittosporum tend to do that a wee bit. People want low maintenance in gardens."

Mark said people also tend to plant trees too close to homes, which can result in blocked gutters and roots running under foundations.

"Especially with a small garden, it's all about symmetry-the size of the plant compared to the size of the area you're planting." He said you must also keep neighbours in mind, and not plant trees and shrubs that will encroach on their property.

Waiariki Bay of Plenty Polytechnic horticulture tutor Shane O'Leary said many do it-
your selfers find themselves in a do-over situation if they've chosen the wrong plants.

"Five years down the track, they find they've made a mistake. And I tell them- it's a free quote and free advice. If you want me to choose plants, I'll come in and help."

Rotorua landscaper John Brewer said even people who read plant labels can be misled.

"If it says it'll grow two metres high that means in normal conditions, in five years, it will be two metres high. That doesn't mean it stops growing."

John said shrubs still need to be pruned to look good, and there's no such thing as a no maintenance garden.

Vicki Rule, director of Garden Mentors, said some fast-growing vines like wonga wonga start small, but develop a huge trunk. "It busts out their [the homeowner's] trellis. Knowing about the plant, what size it will get to, that's a key point people miss out on. It costs them because it can damage structures."

Another Waiariki Bay of Plenty Polytechnic horticulture tutor, Steve Webb, said people buying existing properties often want to overhaul the garden immediately.

"I think it's a good idea to live there for a while before you start changing too much."

He said it's easy to rip out a tree in winter thinking it's misplaced, but that same tree could offer shade in summer. Steve remembers working as an arborist outside a Victorian villa where a beautiful 70 to 80-year-old magnolia soulangeana was going under the saw.

Small trees and shrubs can add interest to a tidy section. PHOTO/SUPPLIED-GARDENMENTORS
Small trees and shrubs can add interest to a tidy section. PHOTO/SUPPLIED-GARDENMENTORS

"I said to the people, what does it look like in flower?' and they said, 'Does it have a flower?' It was too late by the time we were having that conversation."

Vicki said it pays to get expert advice. "The amount of information you have to learn to really know this stuff; it's a lot easier to just get someone in."

Rowan Smith said homeowners end up spending extra money on a garden when they fail to build retaining walls. "They're putting in houses and not doing all the walls and the groundwork first properly. Then 20 years down the track, they didn't put in a retaining wall that should've gone in and now they can't, because a house is in the way."

Vicki said you can spend "a truckload of money" buying plants that eventually die. "If it's sunny, don't plant hostas, they're not going to grow.A lot of people won't think about what the plant needs. Maybe it needs free-draining soil and they'll plant in clay."

She said ignorance of plant care also results in dead or sick flora.

"Sick plants are more susceptible to be attacked by bugs, so you're always having a plant that needs nurtured, or you're constantly replacing it."

Vicki said homeowners who buy greenery that doesn't fit with the overall look of their home and garden also end up ripping out entire gardens after a year or two. "Those are the most expensive and most common mistakes."

More online:
- rotorualandscape

Make the best use of gardens
Waiariki Bay of Plenty horticulture tutor Shane O'Leary said people with small gardens have lots of options for creating interest and privacy.

One key tip is organising your garden into "rooms" with themes for each.

Shane said, "Small gardens will appear cluttered and busy if they are not highly organised." He suggests borrowing a couple of items: pollinating trees and landscape
features. This first idea involves learning which fruit trees neighbours have and using them to your advantage.

"By planting a plum on your side as close as possible to the neighbour's tree you will both get more fruit."

He said one client even gave a neighbour a fruit tree because space was tight.

The second item to adopt is a landscape feature- something outside your boundary that's still highly visible. Shane outlined how it worked. In one example, a new garden was planned for a bare section.

"On the horizon 100 metres away a big church steeple was visible. We planned all the paths and gardens so that they were facing towards this direction. By making all the paths directed to the borrowed landscape of the steeple, it appeared as if the garden was connected to it."

Other ideas include using multi-function furniture, such as pieces that double as storage space; and hanging seats on chains from pergolas to save space. Shane said try planting dwarf fruit trees that will reach a maximum height of two to three metres; and multi grafted trees, where up to three different fruit varieties grow on the same tree.

Finally, think vertical. Shane said walls, fences, posts and pergolas can be used to grow things. "In most cases they will suit climbing plants or trained trees. By planting higher, the garden will appear more established."

Include hanging baskets and even garden walls made from pallets, which

Shane said are "all the rage".