When Charlie Albone presented at Metricon’s recent Outdoor Living Masterclass, guests walked away with heaps of amazing tips and tricks for their outdoor spaces. From money-saving to site analysis, there was plenty to learn.

There was one topic that Charlie spoke about with such passion and enthusiasm that we just had to talk about it on our blog.

Plants.

According to Charlie, “a garden is not a garden until you start putting plants in it – it’s the most important thing that you can do”.
 
A green fern curling up towards the sky
A small camellia bush growing with pink flowers in bloom.

Charlie’s passion for plants is palpable, and it’s a treat seeing him animate when he talks about them.  He happily waved his arms and bounced on his feet when describing his top plant choices. Here’s what he had to say.

Charlie says that the most important thing you can do when landscaping is to introduce plants. With plants, a simple piece of land turns into a garden. Charlie acknowledged that plants can be tricky – admitting that he’s killed plenty of them in the past, before sharing his three tips for success.

Charlie’s three tips for success

1.    Prepare your soil

If you want your plants to flourish, you need to set them up to succeed. Charlie says, “the number one thing is soil preparation. Especially when you’re building a house and are left with a garden where the soil’s been turned over and compacted because machinery has run all over it, hundreds of trades have been on it, and there’s rubbish all through it.”

To prepare the soil, you’ll have to turn it over, decompact it and then add in lots of compost. Charlie notes that compost is “really good for holding on to nutrients and water for longer. If you’ve got sandy soil, it helps to bring it together, if you’ve got clay soil, it brings in worms to help break it up.”

When it comes to planting, you want to dig a hole that’s only as deep as the root ball you’re planting so that the roots at the bottom don’t rot in any excess water, and the hole should be twice as wide as the root ball so they can spread through the soil with ease.

Once the plant is in the ground, Charlie mentions the importance of soil wetter. “It sounds a little crazy, but when there’s a period of drought, or you’ve had a lot of building work done, your soil can become hydrophobic, which means it’s scared of water. Soil wetter will help to break down the bacteria that gives it the waxy coating and allows water in where it’s needed.”

Finally, Charlie implores that you use fertiliser. He doesn’t care which one – just a general fertiliser will do. “You don’t need to worry about ‘do I need to add more nitrogen, or do I need to add more potassium?’ or those sorts of things”, he says with a laugh.


2.    Know which plant is best

“Plants – as much as I kill them – they don’t want to die.”

Charlie stressed that you need to put the right plant in the right spot to be successful. “Something with a big leaf has evolved to be in a jungle – it’s like a giant solar panel – it’s used to living inside an understory trying to catch as much light and water as it can and direct it down to its roots. It likes a shady spot. Something with a tiny, fine leaf has evolved to take full sun and heat.”

If you’re not sure, you should be able to find a list of plants that will thrive in your outdoor space on your local council website – just search for ‘indigenous plants’, then your council name in Google.

MORE: HOW TO SAVE WATER WITHOUT KILLING YOUR GARDEN

3.    Smooth and mulch

To finish off, smooth the ground around the plants and apply a layer of mulch. Not only can you find mulch that looks great and matches the style of your garden, but it can help to prevent weeds, prevent soil from drying out and encourage worms to come and stay.

“Mulch is fantastic. It slows the water into the ground to make it more effective. It traps it there like a blanket. It helps suppress weed growth. If you use an organic mulch, it’ll break down and feed it as well”.

Hedging


If you’ve watched Selling Houses Australia, you’ll know that Charlie loves a hedge, especially one using lilly pilly. Hedges can achieve a lot in your outdoor area. You can use them as a barrier to block out neighbours or eyesores, to help to keep the noise down from traffic or even to keep unwanted pests out. Here’s how Charlie builds his hedges.

“The trick to hedging is to start pruning it the second you put it in the ground. It’s tempting to plant it and say, ‘I want it to grow up to a certain height, I’m just going to wait until it’s that high, and then I’m going to start cutting it’.
 
A light green hedge behind some wood paneling
A round hedge made from lilly pilly.

“Plants are quite lazy. They like to grow in a straight line, and they’ll keep going, and if you chop off the top of them, it activates all the buds below that lazy one that’s going up to the sun and then they’ll become bushier. The more you trim them, the bushier they become, and the denser your bush will be at the end.”


The best options for hedging in Australia are:
  • Lilly pilly
  • Viburnum
  • Murraya
  • Camellia
  • Photinia
MORE: TOP TIPS FOR SUMMER GARDENING

Best small trees for shade


With blocks of land getting smaller and smaller, Australian’s are becoming smarter about the types of trees and plants we implement. Charlie is not scared of using small trees in inner-city gardens. “I think they can work well and give you a bit of shade and some interest. They’re nice to punctuate a front garden or outside a window.”

If you want a shady spot in your outdoor area, here are the best small trees which will cast a shadow.
  • Forest pansy
  • Maples
  • Magnolias
  • Crepe myrtles

Grow your own


Charlie estimates that 90% of the gardens he designs have an area for growing vegetables. “I like it in my garden; I think it’s nice to close the loop of getting something out of the garden and bring it into the kitchen.”

In terms of growing vegetables, they like free-draining soil which means they like being in a raised bed. They also love the full sun – six hours of sun a day, and you’ll get good veggies.
 

A dark green watering can pouring water onto a garden bed.
A fine in a vegetable garden growing misshapen red tomatoes.

But whatever you do, don’t do artificial if you want Charlie’s nod of approval. While artificial is an excellent solution in display environments and highly trafficked areas, Charlie shuddered throughout the day when anyone mentioned fake grass and plastic plants.

If you want to read more from Charlie, find our event wrap up here.

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