One ‘Must Know’ Principle of Gardening

By Jeff Howes

For many years, I have been growing native plants, reading gardening books, listening to garden gurus, advising people on what native plants to grow in their gardens and listening to other people’s gardening problems. During this time, I have concluded that there is only one important garden principle that one must try to follow to succeed in your garden that that is:

Do not fight your site.

The plant’s natural growing conditions must closely match your site to maximise results. Failure to do this results in plants that grow far below their best and eventually require removal.

Your site’s environmental factors will determine how successful a plant will or will not grow. Try to accurately assess theses important factors:

Amount of light – full sun, no sun, morning or afternoon, shady etc.
Soil types — heavy clay, sandy or somewhere in between.
Soil water retention — evenly moist, boggy or does it dry out quickly due to root competition from nearby plants.
Once you have assessed your site, the following are examples of mismatching conditions:

Callistemn Rocky Rambler , image Heather Miles
  • Trying to grow a plant that needs full sun in a shady position — you will have a plant that grows weakly, flowers poorly and is susceptible to scale. Not a good look.
  • Trying to grow a plant that needs a shady/dappled light position in a full sun position — the plant will at best wilt, because it is too hot, and at worst burn and die.
  • Trying to grow a plant that needs a moist position in a dry position — you will need to continually water it just to keep it alive.
  • Trying to grow a plant that needs a dry position in a moist to wet soil — you will need to provide additional drainage or add soil to raise the planting position.
  • Not selecting plants for the correct soil type. Plants that grow naturally in lighter, sandy soils often do not have a strong enough root system to establish themselves in heavy, clay loam. To grow a plant in this situation requires it to be staked and watered often. Conversely, plants that grow naturally in heavy clay loam, will establish in any soil as they usually have a stronger root system and are more adaptive.
  • Over the years, I have seen many examples of plants deciding their most suitable position in your garden, especially if they self-seed i.e. moving away from a sunny dry position to a more suitable shadier and moist position.

If your site does not suit the plants on your ‘wish list’ then all is not lost. Plant them in a suitable size pot. This way:

They can be moved around to maximise sun and shade requirements. You can provide the right soil and water requirements.

To conclude — know your site and learn to live with its limitations.