Gardening tips for beginners Australia: mental and physical benefits of a good home garden

Growing plants is on trend and whether it’s indoor plants, vegies, herbs and fruits, cut flowers, perennials or native plants, all the hip kids are doing it.

Us seasoned gardeners have long known the benefits, and it’s wonderful to see how the planets have converged to ignite interest in green, greenery and greening among a new crop of gardeners.

If you are yet to dip your toe into the water, or rather, stick your thumb in the dirt, here are some excellent reasons for you to have a grow – from purely aesthetic and practical reasons to significant environmental, financial and personal benefits.

GARDNING’S AESTHETIC APPEAL

Gardens and plants look good. They provide colour, seasonal interest and natural beauty which improves our quality of life by improving our visual environment.

PRACTICAL PLANT LIFE REWARDS

You can grow produce that feeds you.

COVID has made all of us aware of food security, and when you grow at least some of your own fruits, vegies and herbs, you know you will always have something to eat from the garden. Productive backyards also mean that food miles can become food metres, which is far more sustainable.

Gardens and plants can deliver practical benefits around your garden, from diminishing traffic noise to screening unwanted views, providing privacy and reducing glare. Gardens can reduce the speed, strength and severity of winds, creating sheltered microclimates, which ultimately make for more liveable outdoor spaces.

GARDENING’S ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS

Plants and greenery mitigate the urban heat island effect, which is concerning governments around the world.

In Australia’s challenging and changing climate, many of our cities are very vulnerable to heat with heatwaves being our deadliest major weather events.

Scaling it down to individual properties, a thoughtfully planted garden can help to cool the front and backyards and make them more liveable and usable. A well treed neighbourhood can negate the heat island effect caused by hard surfaces, known to increase temperatures by three to seven degrees. This will also reduce energy bills for households by 15 to 35 per cent.

Habitat creation for urban wildlife is vital. Gardens aren’t just for us, they can be a haven for birds, bees, butterflies and other creatures. And at a time when urban habitat is under threat, every backyard can become a biodiversity hot spot when planted with a diverse mix of plants including local indigenous varieties.

Plants improve our air quality both inside and outside the home, and reduce air pollution. The huge interest in indoor plants is due in part to their looks, but also the way they can clean the air in our homes and make it a healthier place for us to spend time.

Plants and gardens also improve our water quality by slowing down the storm water run-off and filtering out many toxins that would otherwise be present in this run off.

FINANCIAL GAINS

Suburbs with lots of healthy trees and parks are more attractive and, in many cases, more desirable, with this being reflected in increased housing prices. Trees enhance property values as they establish and mature. Overseas studies have shown that mature trees add between 10 to 20 per cent to the value of your property. A national survey of real estate agents in 2019 found well kept gardens, from neat lawns to well-maintained beds and courtyards, could add up to 30 per cent to the re-sale value of a home.

PERSONAL IMPROVEMENT

Gardening is good for us – on every level. It keeps us physically and mentally active, helps us live longer, helps us manage stress, and leads to mental health and wellbeing too.

An Australian study by Beyond Blue titled ‘Beyond Blue to Green’ showed clear associations between proximity to green space and reduced depression, anxiety and other health problems. Dr Mardie Townsend from Deakin University, who contributed to the report, said: “People who perceived their neighbourhoods as ‘very green’ were shown to have up to 1.6 times greater odds of physical and mental health when compared to those who perceive their neighbourhoods as ‘less green’.”

This is one of countless studies that show gardening is good for our physical and mental health and wellbeing. Gardening is so good for us on every level, and it not only saves, us physically, mentally and emotionally, it greens, beautifies and enlivens our backyards, and it helps to save our communities, cities, our country and even the world. I may be biased, but I reckon I am right.

GARDENING ADVICE

Q. I have a ‘Little Gem’ magnolia about three years old. It comes into bud, but the buds turn brown before they open. The tree itself looks healthy. Hope you can help me with this problem. I live in Bunyip Vic. B. Chaplin.

A. These Magnolias require regular watering and feeding to perform at their best and if they were lacking in either, the buds could brown off. So pay particular attention to water and food as the buds start to form and be aware of things robbing your plant of either like root competition from surrounding trees.

Q. My daughter has been nurturing two avocado trees and doing really well. My question is – what could be wrong with the lower leaves on this tree? They are drooping, even though it has new growth at the top. Should she just take them off and let the tree put the energy into the new growth? The other tree doesn’t have this issue. They’re in the same place. E.Dunlop

A. Avocados may be germinated indoors but they do eventually need to go outside. They are deep-rooted, so either they need to be potted on or planted out, ideally before the end of March too because this is when the ground is still warm. If planting it out, choose a position protected from winter winds and chills. You might like to consider adding a tent-like structure with a shade cloth guard for the first few years. This will work to protect from sunburn and also hot north winds. The plant will get more natural light outside, which might help it to green up however, it is showing signs of lime induced chlorosis, so give it some trace elements too. Having the pot stand in water in the saucer can encourage fungal growth, especially anthracnose on the roots, and it may be this or else overwatering is causing the droop. Ultimately, an avocado from seed may take 10 to 15 years to fruit. They can be grafted to fruit in four years, however it is tricky.

USEFUL GARDENING TOOLS FOR BEGINNERS

Having the right quality tools in good condition ensures that you can manage and maintain your garden easily and enjoyably. For those who are just starting out, or those who are looking to make gardening more pleasurable, investing in good tools can make a world of difference. Many tools depend on the size of your garden and what it includes. What is needed for a balcony or courtyard garden will be different to requirements for a large garden of lawn and hedges. The options are endless – from loppers and hedge trimmers to shovels, garden forks, rakes and wheelbarrows. And then there are other garden essentials such as compost systems or worm farms, not to mention tools developed to make gardening easier including gardening hands and kneeling pads. However, as far as I am concerned it is three of the most basic tools that have proven their worth over and over and they are secateurs, a hand hoe and a spade.

Secateurs

I think this is the most important tool for a gardener and one that it is worthwhile investing in. A good set can make the difference between gardening being enjoyable and being a chore. They can be used for everything from pruning roses to picking delicate blooms. Remember, cheap tools are for fools. Investin a good pair.

Hand hoe

I find these tools to be indispensable, no matter the job. There are different types including the Korean hand hoe (Ho-Mi) or a Cobra head weeder.

Spade

There are lots of options when it comes to these essential digging tools and you may end up with several of these for entirely different purposes. I like my small ladies spade for smaller jobs, and my long-handled spade for large jobs when I want and / or need more leverage. Then there are all the electric and petrol driven tools from hedge trimmers and leaf blowers to the big guys – chain saws. If you are a gadget fan, you will have lots of fun choosing and playing with a gardening toy.

Tools sorted, it’s time to join the cool kids and get into the garden.

HOME PET OF THE WEEK

“Things to consider when keeping backyard chickens are space, weather, cleanliness and security,” says Ben Braithwaite, the founder of ChickenGuard, which automatically opens the coop door with timers and sensors in the morning and shuts it at night, protecting them from predators.

“The coop or hen house should be dry, draft free, have good ventilation and provide a great amount of shelter from the rain and wind. The house should be positioned so that it gets the morning sun but isn’t too warm in the afternoon.

“Nest boxes are also required for hens to lay eggs and nest in,” he adds. ”A dark inside area of the coop is always best and allow roughly 2-3 boxes for five hens. Perches are also great for hens to roost on, ideally to be made out of timber and about 50cm from the floor of your coop.”

Lastly, suggests Ben, “Make sure you secure your coop, checking for even the smallest hole in a corner or roofing. If you have a run, ensure you use hardwire mesh and dig it in so that predators can’t dig under.”

Building a chicken coop means abiding by some rooster rules:

“It’s always best to check with your local council around the regulations around keeping chickens in residential area,” says Ben. “For example, some Australian states and local bylaws require you to have a live-stock permit; and there is often a limit on how many chickens you can have per square metres. There are also protocols around keeping roosters in cities and residential areas, due to the noise they make and the impact this will have on your neighbours.” And yes, roosters mean fertilised eggs, which you may not be comfortable with.

Sophie Thomson is a television presenter and gardening author. Send her your gardening questions via [email protected]

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