Designing a new vegie and native garden from scratch (part 1)

Posted on: April 24, 2008


So this blog is going to be more about ‘having a go’ and my experiments as a novice seamstress and gardener. I’m by no means an expert in either of these new hobbies but I’m really just wanting to encourage people to have a try and enjoy learning along the way.

Sometimes it can be a little disheartening seeing all these amazing photos of people’s abundant produce gardens… and then trying to raise some seedlings yourself only to watch them just flop over or growing a massive zucchini plant that then gets covered in powdery mildew and never ends up giving you any vegies. So I’m hoping to track our progress as gardeners on here so I can look back later and see just how much we have learnt and how far our garden has come months and years down the track.


We moved into our brand new townhouse in September 2007. Being a new building, the builders had put in a very rudimentary ‘garden’ space. But even though it’s just a townhouse we have a sizeable yard AND its north facing so we actually get some sun! An exciting development for us after living in a shady garden for 3 years – much too shady for the vegie patch I had always dreamed of.

At the back there was just a long space filled with lilydale toppings. Then a big rectangular patchy lawn that was looking rather sorry on the side near the house. And a few plants – some coastal rosemary, some Calistemon ‘Captain Cook’s that hardly grew in the 6 months they were in the ground and some very messy Goodenias. Oh and a couple of young trees that died. We didn’t like the design or use of space at all.


I’m not quite as gung ho as some other DIY types. The thought of designing the entire garden ourselves was a bit overwhelming at first. I mean – where on earth do you start? We really wanted a rain water tank and seeing they’re big ole things I had a green plumber through to tell me what size we could fit and would be appropriate for the amount of water we could capture for our roof size. And also because we would obviously need to incorporate it into the garden design. I got a quote from a landscaper who could help set up an edible & native garden. It was going to be pretty pricey to get someone else in to do the work and I didn’t just want to hand it over to someone. Felt like cheating!

We also had a consultant from CERES come out and just throw ideas about what we could grow in the space as an edible garden, for an hour but I think that actually just confused me more! It was fantastic to hear just how much we could grow in our space if we wanted to though.

After some regrouping and some more research, we printed off some plans of our house and garden site and I tried to basically plot down the ideas that had been given to us, so I could try my hand at incorporating what I liked into a design ourselves.

Then one afternoon I stumbled across the BAAG website and saw their different consultancy packages on offer. Their Garden Mentoring Package just sounded like just what I was looking for. I couldn’t afford, nor did I want to merely hand over my garden to a landscaper to do the entire thing. But I was lacking the confidence and skills to just go ahead and implement a design after a one hour consultation with an expert. The package offers several site visits, some garden classes, email support for a year and really has been terrific!

Our mentor has been Diana Cotter – highly recommended! I gave her as much information as I could by email, about our site and what we wanted to do with it so we could make full use of the time we had with her on her first visit. We marked out where we would place the no dig garden beds. She told us how to smother the lawn. with newspaper, compost and hay. I’ll write more about this in a later post about our native garden. She showed us some photos of gardens she has worked on and we showed her what ‘look’ we were going for. From there we identified which of the plants that the builders had put in that we wanted to get rid of, move, or keep. And then Diana cut loose with her ideas for the native garden while I frantically scribbled her design down and the plants she was plotting out. We had lots of homework!


Esther Dean was a genius! I thought it was too good to be true when I first read about the ‘no-dig gardening’ method in a Jackie French book. If you’re not familiar with the no-dig gardening concept, it’s about buildling a garden ontop of the ground and even can be done on top of paving if you don’t have a garden. And you build it up with organic matter like pea straw or lucern hay, manure and compost to make a big lasagne ot good stuff you can grow plants in. Amazing huh. There’s lots of info on the net about it but this is a good overview. I recently borrowed Esther Deans original book about it from the West Footscray library and it’s a great read.

We have built 4 beds where there some nothing by boring old grey lilydale toppings. We dug back the lilydale so there we could create the beds directly on top of the soil – in the hope we could get some worm action happening. Then we created the bed walls with blue stone pitchers we bought through the trading post. They look good and didn’t require us to knock any sleepers or wooden bits together to create the beds because uh, we didn’t know how 🙂

Building our no dig vegetable garden beds

We also dug down a bit and put some thick plastic sheeting against the fence to help stop it rotting and we also did that on the side of the building for the bed we have against a wall. Just to help stop the water going to the bricks, though there is a damp course there anyway. The drainage is good because of the way the beds are built up, but we thought we’d do it just in case.

Once we made the ‘no-dig lasagne’ and mulched it they looked like this.

Mulched No Dig Beds

This is the one outside the window
Bed 1

Yes and as you can see, Villenelle thinks it’s a pretty damn comfortable bed too.

Villenelle in no dig bed


We planted seedlings into our beds. We got a bit over excited at POYNTONS and bought way more vegetables than we were able to actually fit in the beds. I always feel a bit bad about not planting the extra seedlings – it’s killing baby plants! So I tried to plant them into pots. In the end some of them got a bit overcrowded and I had to pull them out. Now we have our compost heap going, if we just compost the extra seedlings at least I won’t feel like they are going to waste.

We planted basil – which did very well.


The silverbeet, coriander and a few other herbs didn’t go so well. I have since found out the ones that didn’t go so well don’t like the heat so I am trying them again now.

We also planted tomatoes. Took a while to get them going but once they did, they started to take over their bed! They are so small when you buy seedlings it’s hard to imagine how much they will become and we had planted them way too close together and next to too many other plants.

tomatoes and cucumbers

We got lots of cherry type sized tomatoes – yellow pear shaped ones, mini romas and some cherry tomatoes. Next time we shall have to stake them more soundly from the beginning, and put them in the ground earlier and perhaps even get two crops. As it turned out we probably could have left them in the ground longer too but after the first cold snap I got a bit overexcited and forgot I was living in Melbourne and thought the summer was over. Woops.

green tomatoes

The zucchini grew SO QUICKLY! It got flowers, but then the powdery mildew hit it pretty hard and despite Alex’s constant milk sprays, we didn’t manage to get any zucchinis. Next time!

The cucumber also grew like crazy. We didn’t realise that it’s like a vine and it kept sending out creepers along the paving trying to find something else to climb onto. We got a crazy amount of cucumbers, that was great.

cucumbers 2008

The tomatoes ended up blocking the light to the capsicums and eggplants somewhat. But as soon as we took out the tomatoes (and hung upside down in the garage to ripen), the eggplant and capsicums started growing like crazy and are giving us produce now.

The squash was in the same bed as the capsicums and eggplants but wasn’t blocked by the light and once it got growing, the leaves just grew exponentially each day!


The squash got powdery mildew too but we were savvy from the zucchinis and managed to control it in time.

squash powdery mildew

We also planted a mini field of sweet corn (I’ve always wanted to!) before we planted out our native garden. They grew so quickly as well and the corn was the sweetest I ever had! I’ve always wanted to have sweet corn growing in my backyard and just like I had always pictured it, I had a big pot of water boiling while I ran out to harvest some corn and plonk them in fresh. Yeeeee!

growing corn

I also tried to grow some bush beans but I think I overwatered the seeds and they must have gone mouldy because they never came up.

The jalapeno chillis have been very happy in pots as have the spring onions that we are just growing like perennials – we just cut off what we want to use and leave them in the pots to regrow. Also in case you didn’t know, you can eat chilli leaves! They are mildly spicey and we like to put a few in stir fries. They taste great in a Filipino mung beans recipe my aunt gave me too.


spring onions


lliott loves hanging out in the garden and surprisingly hasn’t been eating the produce – he likes grass and the odd succulent (seems to have a taste for aloe vera!) but other than that is not really into eating his veggies.


Here’s Timmy enjoying the shade from the squash


We had a go at growing some string beans in a pot too – they had a tough start but grew beans so quickly once they fought back.


beans closeup

We also tried to grow some strawberries in pots and were wondering why they were fruiting – because we kept potting up the runners so it was putting all its energy into making new plants not fruit! Derrr.


So all in all it was not a bad start – we certainly learnt lots! I’m growing seedlings for rocket, parsley, spinach, warrigal greens, kale and a few other things at the moment. We also have garlic growing in pots and I can not wait to grow our own potatoes over winter!


1 Response to "Designing a new vegie and native garden from scratch (part 1)"

Think this is an excellent website, well written and extremely informative. Also like your style of writing you sound like you have a passion for what you are saying keep up the good work. If you get a chance I would really like it if you can check out this website and let me know what you think

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