This website may not display properly using your current browser version. Please consider updating to a supported browser to get the most out of the Metricon website.

View this website for more information about supported browsers

Charlie Albone’s guide to planting


If you've ever had the misfortune of accidentally killing a plant, you know how bad it feels to make the grim discovery and then have to hide the evidence in your compost.

But before you point any fingers, we're here to say it may not have been your amateur green thumb that did the crime. Plants can be tricky, and as we recently learned from one of Australia's top gardening experts, it happens to the best of us.

"Plants... As much as I kill them, they don't want to die," says Better Homes and Gardens landscaping pro Charlie Albone. With thirteen seasons of Selling Houses Australia under his belt and back-to-back Silver-gilt medal wins at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, it's safe to say if this gardening pro is capable of killing plants, it could happen to any of us.

Metricon was lucky to meet up with Albone and pick his brain for expert advice on landscaping, budgeting and more. With a passion for plants that is palpable, he didn't hold back sharing his top variety choices and why he loves landscaping.

Acknowledging that plants can be fickle, Albone also did us the kindness of sharing his foolproof, three-step method for gardening success.

Step 1: Prepare your soil

If you want your plants to flourish, you need to set them up for success. "The number one thing is soil preparation," Albone says. "Especially when you're building a house, and your soil's been turned over and compacted — machinery has run all over it, hundreds of trades have been on it, and there's rubbish all through it."

To prepare the garden soil, you'll have to turn it over, aerate it and add in lots of compost. Compost helps the ground hold on to nutrients and water for longer. "If you've got sandy soil, it helps to hold it together," he says. "If you've got clay soil, it brings in worms to help break it up."

When it comes to sowing young plants, 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. The hole should be twice as wide as the root ball so that they can spread through the soil with ease.

Once the plant is in the ground, Albone says not to underestimate 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, don't forget about fertilising. It doesn't matter which one – 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.

Step 2: Choose wisely

It doesn't matter how good your soil or garden plan is if you're not putting the right plant in the correct location. Understanding the native origins of a plant is key to deciding where you should place it. Something with a giant leaf, for example, grows natively in the undergrowth where it has to catch as much light and water as it can to direct it down to its roots. "It likes a shady spot," Albone says. In contrast, a plant with tiny, delicate leaves has evolved to take full sun and heat.

With that in mind, one sure way to select the right plant for your yard is to choose a variety that is native to your area. If you're not sure, you could be able to find a list of plants that will thrive on your local council website. Just search 'indigenous plants' and your local council name on Google.

Step 3: Smooth and mulch

Once your plant is in, it's time to smooth the ground around it and apply a layer of mulch. Mulch will not only look great — you can choose varieties to complement the style of your garden — but it will help to prevent weeds, stop soil from drying out and encourage worms to come and stay.

"Mulch is fantastic," Albone says. "It slows water intake into the ground to make it more effective. It traps it there like a blanket. If you use mulch made from organic matter, it'll break down and feed the soil as well."


If you've watched Selling Houses Australia, you'll know that Albone loves a hedge, especially those carved from 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.

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'." This, according to Albone, is the wrong approach.

"Plants are quite lazy," he explains. "They like to grow in a straight line, and they'll keep going, so if you chop off the top of them, it activates all the buds below and then they'll become bushier." The more you trim them, the bushier they become, and the denser your hedge will be in time.

The best varieties for hedging in Australia are lilly pilly, viburnum, murraya, camellia and photinia.

Best small trees for shade

With blocks of land getting smaller and smaller, Australians are becoming smarter about the types of trees and plants they choose to grow. But Albone says he is not afraid 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," he says.

If you want a shady spot in your outdoor area, the best small trees that will still cast a shadow are the forest pansies, maples, magnolias and crepe myrtles.

Grow your own

Reflecting our growing passion for organic produce, the humble backyard vegetable garden and companion planting herb garden is now an aspiration for many Australian gardening enthusiasts. Albone estimates that 90 per cent of the gardens he designs have an area for growing vegetables.

To grow well, vegetables need free-draining soil, which is why you'll often see them planted in a raised garden bed with the support of a trellis. "They also love the full sun," Albone says. "Six hours of sun a day, and you'll get good veggies."

With these tips, we're sure you're ready to put your plant-killing days behind you and enjoy some success in the garden this growing season. If not, Albone is happy for you to fake it til you make it, within reason.

Despite being an excellent solution in display environments and highly trafficked areas, Australia's top gardening expert Albone shuddered at the mention of fake grass and plastic plants.

For more DIY landscaping and gardening tips, check out more posts with Charlie Albone:

You can also subscribe to our mailing list to stay up to date with the latest home care advice, investment news and styling inspiration.

Please note that Metricon Homes does not offer any landscaping services. Charlie Albone does not work for Metricon. If you want to find out more about his work or request a quote, click through to his website Inspired Exteriors.