Ask a Palmers Expert: Steve’s top tips for garden design

Steve, resident shrub and perennial expert at Palmers Plimmerton enjoys helping gardeners with their landscape planting decisions. He shares some of his favourite plants and landscaping ideas.

 

Can you tell us about your gardening background?

My first job in a Garden Centre was Hawkers Garden Centre in Otaki, one of the first garden centres to open on the weekends which made it a very busy time.
Back then we potted up our own plants and even made-up fertiliser from large bags. Later I went to a smaller garden centre in Coastlands Mall in Kapiti. It had
a great community feel and size. I am now at Palmers Plimmerton specialising in the plant and landscaping side of things.

We’ve been told you’re also an incredible garden designer – can you give us a few pieces of advice or top tips on design, layout and plant pairings?

The most important thing as a designer is to listen to the customer, it is their garden and it is your job to work out what is best for their vision/area, not imposing your own preferences onto their situation. Also, keep in mind is that garden trends are always changing. At the moment there is a move back to flowers and
colour but try to get a good base garden with trees or hedging, such as Griselinia or Buxus. Then add the colour with perennials and smaller flowering shrubs.
Try and pick three or four main colours. For example, you could go for a blue, grey, white and yellow colour scheme for cooler, more shaded areas. Red, orange, yellow and pink suits hot dry sunny areas. Other plant pairings that work well together are Grevillea and Coprosma for their colouring; Kowhai and Kakabeak for their leaf shape and for the birds; and Westringia and trimmed standards for their tidy growth habits.

Can you tell us about your own garden?

My own garden is still in the reconstruction period but has structure as its base. I’ve planted lots of standard trees such as ‘Gumball’ liquidambars and box
hedging. I am now starting to put perennials in, including heucheras for texture and colour.

What are your top picks for spring?

Native manuka (leptospermum) to attract the birds and bees. There is a great choice of varieties in a range of pinks and reds as well as white, as well as double flowered forms. Heucheras are excellent for colour and texture. They which come in a wide range of colours from dark black and red to bright orange and greens. And for edible gardens, now is a great time to plant berry fruits.

Is there anything new coming in this season that you’re excited about?

I am looking forward to the new colours of Heuchera that are coming through, especially a new pink one from Robinsons Nursery.

What advice would you give someone who is a gardening newbie?

Plan the whole garden, but only try and take on a bit at a time. I see lots of gardens where they have stopped and started but not had an idea of what they want
the big picture to be. Be prepared to adapt your ideas and get your hands dirty!

What are your essentials for gardening success?

Work with someone if you can. That way the jobs don’t seem as big or bad! Have that big picture in mind when you go and listen to the experts. They know what is going to work and what won’t.

What perennials or shrubs would you recommend for someone short on space?

Shrubs like Grevillea come in all shapes and colours. They flower most of the year and are easy to keep trimmed and as a bonus the birds love them. Hydrangeas
come in a range of colours and there are varieties that are smaller growing and mix well with other shade loving plants. For narrow areas try Liriope, their flowers add a splash of colour for winter and they will multiply in clumps to make a tidy evergreen groundcover.

What are some of your favourite plants?

Some of my favourite plants are Liquidambar ‘Gumball’, standard bay trees and Westringia hedging. I choose plants both for their colour and form and I like
hellebores for winter colour.

How do you get plants in pots or containers off to a good start?

The first thing is to choose the right size container; make it a bit bigger than you think it needs to be and fill the excess space around the top with annuals until
the main plant or tree gets bigger. Using the right potting soils and fertilisers for the plants is also a good way to get them going. And don’t forget to water!

What is your go to gardening tool?

My best garden tool is a spade-pick / axe combo to help break up our clay soil.

What’s one task a gardener can do for an instant improvement to their garden?

Paint the fence dark grey or black, it makes the greens of any trees or shrubs look amazing and helps to contrast any colourful perennials!

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