Tony Murrell's top gardening tips

Subtropical or minimal, cottagey or eclectic – landscaping expert Tony Murrell shares his know-how on creating the ideal garden for your requirements.

Renovate planted paradise article
ARTICLE Joanna Mathers PHOTOGRAPHY Caroline Ducobu

Subtropical or minimal, cottagey or eclectic – landscaping expert Tony Murrell shares his know-how on creating the ideal garden for your requirements.
Everyone enjoys getting outdoors, and there’s nothing more satisfying than escaping to your own verdant paradise on a long summer afternoon. Tony Murrell understands this – he has spent the last 20 years helping people to create beautiful gardens. Here are some of his tips for landscaping your patch.

Before you start

Whether you choose to employ the services of a landscaper or decide to do the dirty work yourself, you need to think hard about what sort of garden would be most suitable for your situation. Tony says that when he first visits a client, he makes sure he listens very carefully to what they want, and then makes suggestions based on practical considerations.
“A lot of people just want a garden that looks good,”  he says.  “So I need to make sure that the plants and hard landscaping will suit their conditions and not be too much hard work.” Tony will make suggestions based on a sound knowledge of the area. Soil, climate and prevailing winds will all affect decisions made about the development of the garden. He will also take into consideration issues such as privacy, access and, of course, budget.
Think about how you want to engage with your outdoor area. Do you want to use it for entertaining? Do you want nice lawn where your kids can play? Sit down and make a list of what you would ideally want from a garden, and think carefully about whether your budget, environment and time constraints would allow you to achieve this. 

Hard stuff

Once you have worked out what you want from your outdoor area, you can start putting your plans into action. Developing a garden usually involves some structural changes, and these are often the most expensive part of the design process.  “Water features, retaining walls and swimming pools can all be very expensive to develop,”  says Tony.
If you are using a landscape designer for your project, they will know good tradespeople that will be able to carry out the required work.

On the wall

Retaining walls that are over 1.5 metres high require building consent and will probably need engineering work. Anything under this will be easier (and cheaper) to develop, but will require the services of a professional. Walls can be made from a number of materials (wood, concrete, stone), which can be expensive if the area being developed is large.
Stone masons such as building suppliers like Mitre 10 and Bunnings Warehouse stock the materials needed to create retaining walls, and will be able to give you a quote based on the size of the area you are developing.
Gabions are another option. These are made from rocks contained in strong wire mesh, and look great in subtropical and modern gardens. At Gabion, Permathene Australia provides gabion cages that can be made to any shape or size and delivered within two to four working days. They are then filled with large stones, which can be sourced from your nearest quarry.

Ground rules

Be it paving, pebbles, shell or grass – what you choose for your ground outside will be a key component of its design. In the city, lawn areas are great for creating a sense of restfulness and repose, and are growing in popularity.  “I have seen an increase in people wanting lawns,”  says Tony.  “It’s actually scientifically proven that lawns create a sense of wellbeing in people.”
If you don’t already have a lawn, there are a number of options for developing one. Creating a lawn from scratch with lawn seed can be a very satisfying process, but it takes time and effort. There are many websites that have useful tutorials on developing lawns, or you can ask the staff at your local garden centre for advice. Instant lawn is a good alternative. It comes in rolls and can often be installed in just a few hours.
Tony says that another popular ground option is honeycomb matting, which is made up of small cells that can hold pebbles and gravel. “This is a great option for renters,”  explains Tony.  “It can be taken up when you move, and used at the next property.”

Hedge your bets

Hedges are becoming an increasingly trendy screening option in Australia.  “Lily Pilly [a native of Australia with an upright growth habit] is an extremely popular hedge plant,”  says Tony.  “Vibernam is another good option – it’s loose and less structured than other hedging plants and has attractive flowers.”
If you have a dog, Tony has a good suggestion for keeping them from creating an unsightly path around the border of your property.  “Plant your hedge a metre or so from your boundary fence, but leave an access gap. Dogs love to patrol the perimeters of properties, and this enables them to do so without ruining your lawn.”

Plant choice

Once your hard landscaping is done, it’s time to concentrate on the fun stuff – the plants. Be careful about plant choice – you may love the look of certain plants, but in the wrong conditions they will turn up their toes.
Your local garden centre is a great place to get advice on plant choice and care. Take an afternoon and have a look at what’s on offer. Make a note of all the plants that catch your eye, then do some research on whether they’ll like your conditions. If you are working with a landscaper they will be able to recommend the right plants for you.
Tony says that there are a number of plants that are particular popular with his clients. “Camellias are a perennial favourite,”  he says. “’Gay Sue’ is lovely – it has frilly white flowers with a yellow centre and can be used as a hedge. Fragrant plants are also popular. Daphne, for example, is being incorporated into many gardens.”

You might be interested in reading: Outdoor kitchen options and ideas.

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This article by Joanna Mathers featured in Issue 005 of Renovate Magazine. Renovate Magazine is an easy to use resource providing fresh inspiration and motivation at every turn of the page.


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