Help me design a backyard oasis please

Hayley Martin
10 months ago
last modified: 4 months ago

Here are some pics. Budget up to $20k. Have fun with the design. Must include:
*Shade & Weather friendly durable Gazebo long enough to have a strung up hammock.
*Gazebo to have option of sheer durable privacy curtains for a Island away Luxe feel
*Maybe a small table and chair.
*Garden lights.
*Not too many plants- would love some low maintenance coloured scented plants or colourful in general. Love blue and purple plants too.
*Possible pond but a water feature is a MUST. Not gushing... more trickling. Want a built in timer not a cheap plug in and play feature.
*Small fire pitt
I've also included inspiration pics. if possible please provide diagrams of your layout that you think would be great.

Comments (43)

  • PRO
    Dr Retro House Calls

    While $20,000 is a lot of money it is not going to go very far with your expensive wish list, unless you can do most of the labour yourself. All good landscape design starts with a plan of the site (including the orientation), an appreciation of the climatic conditions, and an understanding of what is over the boundary fence. All good design is responsive to orientation and climate. You may like to check out my blog about the landscape design process (which is not about ticking boxes off a shopping list).


    Best of luck on your landscape journey,

    Dr Retro

    of Dr Retro House Calls

  • Hayley Martin
    Regarding Landscape cost, if our property cost $380k in south Brisbane then what is reasonable to spend on the yard for what we would like?
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    Hi Richard The first thing to check then is what the rules are about putting anything on that roof. A deck there will have limits to avoid overlooking, and multi-story, issues with the neighbours (I have first-hand experience of these rules :-) ), which will establish a boundary of how far you can go. Then there is the fundamental structural question of what you can put on there. Then there's the question of what you can afford... For me, a simple and cheap option would be to put some tall plants/planter boxes toward the far edges of the roof, tiering to lower plants at the front. I'd take away the plants in front of the stairs at the garage, and have smaller/narrower plants up against that garage window wall to hide it, and also away from the side steps from your upper level. That makes the roof part of the garden view, and maximises the terrace area (remove encroaching plants), and hints at 'more' around the corner, down the steps. With a bit more money and appropriate permission, a deck on the roof gives you another whole space to play with. You'd have to work out where the best access to that roof deck would rise from, without losing too much of your current paved area. Connie's idea for a bridge could work well, but would seem to interfere with the access to the current paved area? With a lot more money, permission and some engineering, I'd be really tempted to build a deck on that roof and extend it full width right back to the house, at the same level as your door/windows! That way you bury the garage (and small terrace) under a much larger area, giving you heaps of options for creating spaces. You can use the old terrace then for storage (e.g. gardening materials always take up space, and more garden = more materials; compost heaps, worms, bikes, ...). Even if you can't take the deck all the way to the front/side of the garage, you can still create a whole new area there. And you can surround it with plants even if you can't build to the edges. I love spending other people's money :-)
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  • julie herbert
    A few inspiration photos for you Hayley.
  • julie herbert
    I agree, it’s quite a process to landscape a garden, and to get it right the first time, professional advice is worth the money to achieve all that you are hoping to achieve, you may be able to cut back on labour costs by doing some of the work , garden beds , soil, turf etc., yourself but the hard landscaping, paving , structure and your koi pond is best left to the skill of the landscaper. Bed of luck with your project.
  • Lyn Huppatz
    Hayley, the cost of landscaping really has nothing to do with how much the house cost. It is based on what you want, how much yard you have, condition of the soil etc. You won't get everything you want straight up with $20k. So hire a designer just to draw up a plan you like and then you have something to work from to gradually (and as funds allow) to build over time. Or simplify your wish list and concentrate on what is most important to you.
    Exciting times for you, good luck with it all.
  • Stacey Hodgson
    Don’t spend any $ on plants until you have a plan. The plan is the most most important thing you will do for your garden ever. It will also be the cheapest part of creating a garden. If your budget is 20k I would probably use about 3-5k on the plan. Often you can use the discounts your planner has access to, to buy your hard landscaping supply’s. Your plan will include how you want to live outside. ie covered shade, bbq, veges etc. From there do all your hard landscaping first, following the plan. This means garden beds, paths, utility area, seating, hose taps. Next is good soil.

    And only after that is all done start to invest in plants. Decide if you are a gardener with spare time or not. Decide on a style of planting you like depending on your climate. Are you a plant collector who will buy 1 of every plant you like the look of, or do you like straight hedges? Each plant has a time of the year it looks best. You aim to have interest year round and plan that. You wouldn’t have a heavily flowering tree which the bees love flowering right next to your summer bbq area. Read the plant labels and don’t buy it if it doesnt suit. That is the fastest way to waste money. That and not watering them in summer.
  • olldroo

    Hayley, you sound very new to all this so my first advice is to hasten slowly, it is so easy to look at pretty pictures and want but think long and hard as to whether you will actually use .............. a Balinese style gazebo with hammock is idyllic when you are on holiday, but when you come home and real life happens, will you really have time to use it to justify the cost. A fish pond is very relaxing - cleaning it and keeping it clean is not. Also check out Council regulations - little people can drown even in shallow water.

    I'm assuming you've not been long in this house, but you need to take time to establish your lifestyle which will dictate your needs. Your garden really is another room in your home - an extension of the house so just as you choose how you furnish you home according to your lifestyle and needs, you need to apply this to your outdoor areas as well.

    Consider your weather too, Brisbane can be a pretty wet place, so a covered outdoor area should be immediately adjacent to the house so you can access it in all weathers and maximise usage. You are not going to walk through pouring rain to get to a gazebo away from the house.

    I would start planting attractive shrubs growing to 2.5-3m tall around your boundary to block out the fence and neighbouring buildings first to give your garden that lush oasis look, you can buy tubestock online that grows very fast to achieve this and keep costs down. Then take your time "living" to decide your needs.

  • amonymousanne
    Hi Hayley , I would ask your local nursery for recommendations for Landscapers . I was given cards from Paten Park ,The Gap,for ones that they said were good. I don’t need them to do the work. I contacted Hungry Gecko Gardens for his costs for my brief .
  • amonymousanne
    Photo of website .I don’t know how to do a link.
  • siriuskey

    Your love of Coleus plants is a great start, my father inlaw loved them in his tropical garden


    There's another spiky green and purple plant that comes in two small heights and is clumping and great for mass planting, can't think of the name

    I would move your planters off to the side and off the concrete slab which could be used for a sitting area with a fire pit next to that, you could build a simple pergola over the slab which could take fairy lights and the outdoor curtains you love

  • siriuskey

    This is it "purple oyster plant".

    You could save money by buying a couple of plants and waiting for them to spread, you might even find someone willing to give you a couple of cuttings


  • olldroo

    Coleus plants grow very easily from cuttings, I bought one at a local market, cut all the branches off it and I've now 10 new plants. They grow very easily from seeds too and have a great mix of colours.

  • suancol

    walk around your neighbourhood to see what grows well in your soil type. Get to know the home gardeners around you who will share extra plants with you. Gardeners are sharers when the plants are appreciated by the receiver.

  • Dm Stan

    Hayley, we didn’t know where to start with our totally blank canvas yard. We’re not gardeners. The only plant I know the name of is a dandelion.

    We had lots of great pics of things on the wish list but had no idea how costly they were. Our other mistake was asking landscapers to quote for our wish list of vague ideas. They saw the raw dirt and no plan on paper and simply weren‘t interested (but didn’t say so; they just never got back to us!) So don’t waste your time, or theirs, until you at least have a basic plan. You can save yourself some money and start that process yourself.

    I‘d suggest getting very familiar with the measurements and m2 of your yard. And we got a lot further after I fiddled around in PowerPoint to come up with a base layout (below). If you can, mark it out with spray paint (or something else) to make sure its balanced and realistic. Eg, you don’t want the fire pit too small - you’ll get blisters!

    When you know roughly how many sqm of paving, grass or pebbles you need, you can get individual quotes to know how much those materials will cost, including install. Also assess whether you want/need a high end irrigation system, or a basic kit - otherwise you may find your quote will include a $6000 system instead of a $600 job. The more you research the more you’ll start to see how your budget is quickly consumed.

    Unless drainage is currently an issue, don’t get talked into major stormwater catchment zone if it’s not necessary. Keep asking until you find commonsense advice, not $self interested $advice ... about everything.

    Armed with knowledge we could see which quotes for the total job were still way over the top. If we deducted the items we had realistic, individual costs for (including labour), we could see that one guy must’ve wanted $15K just to spread some pebbles; that’s how loaded every other item in his quote was. We don’t mind people earning a living, but we don’t like it when they think they can see you coming. Research and knowledge will protect you from that.

    After 2-3 years of getting our act together, our job is about to start next week. I hope these few points help get your started a lot quicker! :-)

    Good luck and all the best with your project.

  • olldroo

    Wow Dm Stan, great work. I don't think a lot of people realise that designing a garden takes as much work as designing a home. I'm presently working from scratch on both a front and rear garden, it is hard work to get going, but I purchased an artist's pad and drew everything to scale on that, it was easier then to walk around outside relating the space to my plan.

    Although I've had many years of experience gardening, I still spent hours researching the types of plants I wanted noting the dimensions plants grow - soil does dictate the accuracy of this - so everything is planted with adequate space to grow to avoid overcrowding or awkward gaps. This really is not different to taking the measurements of a lounge setting to plan just how it will best fit in a room.

    Good luck with it all, I hope it goes smoothly for you.

  • Dm Stan

    Thanks, olldroo. That first draft is amateur but it got the ball rolling. You’re spot on about awareness about the level of design and planning that goes into landscaping. But you can tell the difference in the results. I wouldn’t want the false economy of spending thousands and ending up with a yard that looks like a bunch of mates spent an afternoon having fun with a dingo digger and a carton of beer!

    The points you’ve made about soil and plant types are very important, especially their full growth dimensions. We’re deliberating over what type of tree to place near the north boundary. It’s not only our place we need to think of. We don’t want to plant something with a root system that will lift the neighbour’s paving in a few years time. Landscaping our side is expensive enough; that reparation would be a additional cost we don’t need.

    Thanks for your encouragement. :-)

  • olldroo

    DM Stan, I'm trying to avoid trees as such but my north facing back garden does need some shade so I'm using crepe myrtles for that - 3 of them placed in strategic positions away from boundaries and as they are deciduous they will still allow the winter sun into my rooms on that side of the house. I'm hoping I can keep them pruned down to a reasonable height to give me the shade I want but let me maintain control of their growth. Planting trees near boundaries is not just about roots either, it is also about the mess they can make, your neighbour may not want your tree growing over metres of their garden, some can lose branches suddenly with potential for injury, and the shadowing on neighbour's gardens - if they have established a garden that requires full sun, total shading of the area will see their plants slowly die. Many trees produce suckers too that can spring up metres from the tree and they are a nightmare to dig out.

    Something I've learned over the years though, is that people do have a tendency to plant trees around borders, however if you are using specimen trees for impact then it makes more sense to me to plant them well within the garden so they really become a feature of YOUR garden, no one else has to share it or worry about it, but I just think it looks more dramatic and borders can be defined with lower growing hedges or mixed plantings that will give you privacy but not impact or overshadow your neighbours.

    I don't know what State you are in, some States have stiffer quarantine laws than others, but as you sound like a patient person, check out Australian Plants Onine - they sell tubestock for a fraction of the price of a more mature plant but tubestock suffer less shock when transplanted so they actually grow quicker. I've mainly used them for my garden as I don't have much choice here and am very impressed with the quality of the plants and the success I've had with them. In 6 months a couple of leaves on twigs have gone to nearly 1 metre high shrubs.

  • Dm Stan

    We’re in SA. Thanks for sharing the info about Australian Plants Online. Top tip for everyone. Ta!

  • olldroo

    Oh Rats - SA has the toughest laws. You may not be able to get very much at all.

  • Sue Gelade

    Hi DM Stan

    We’re in SA too - I’ve got a big garden full of plants, but mostly ones that like our ridiculous climate and our particular area’s soil type. AND didn’t buy many of them as they often come from cuttings thru friends or the plant swaps within our garden club - of which SA has heaps. Check your local area and find out what’s around - groups are invaluable whether you’re a new gardener or more experienced and there’s always someone who has a similar problem, or who knows the answer as collectively they contain a wealth of experience - and apart from that, they’re fun. It’s also worth strolling your local area and looking to see what’s growing well, especially after a major weather event (eg that horror 47 day at the end of summer). happy gardening!

  • Jennifer Bradley

    I've inherited gardens on three sides of our townhouse, with the courtyard the largest (we moved in about a year ago). It's a bit overgrown and the retaining walls are starting to fall down, so I'm faced with several decisions - about plants to retain or replace, how I want it to look, whether I can do it in stages, and how much will it all cost. So this all interests me. Can I make a comment about trees? I live in Canberra and in general we love them here and plant lots - I do love them around the edge of a garden, especially when they hide fences. But it's really important to understand how tall and wide they grow - in our last place we had several deciduous trees planted carefully at the back fence, under the power and telephone wires. Cost us a fortune to get them trimmed every couple of years as they were far too large for the spaces, even if glorious in autumn (that's another thing we do in Canberra, autumn trees). So good luck all of you.

  • olldroo

    Hahaha, Jennifer, in Sydney Councils plant beautiful trees like that along the nature strip and under the power and telphone wires where the roots upend concrete footpaths and every few years the power people come along and chop the whole middle out of the trees for the wires to pass through. Makes for some very interesting shaped trees.

    Generally though, trees grow too tall to hide a fence as you only get trunks in the lower areas so I find shrubs to 3 metres more than enough for privacy and you don't get shadowing - not like my last lot of neighbours who wanted privacy and grew Leighton Greens right along the boundary. They only grow to 80 metres, it was goodbye to winter sun forever for me and they couldn't understand why I was upset. Lucky I didn't have solar power, that would have been useless too. That is another issue too especially with more and more people going for solar power.

    Are your retaining walls very high? Maybe to save costs you could just remove the wall, slope the ground and use ground covers amongst the plants to hold the soil in place. I've done this quite successfully and a bank of plants give you more scope and variety.

  • Jennifer Bradley

    Luckily we tend to be luckier than that - we have street trees all over and the wires are either underground or at the back of one's property.

  • Melanie Schlenner

    Jujuiii. Iii

  • PRO
    Rising Sun Landscaping

    Where are you located?

  • josey griffin

    Well after reading your request for a while I decided to put in my bit. I would put u big deck out the back. Half covered and half not. Lots of plants etc. you will love it, and use it all summer and some winter. I would screen out the shed if your not moving it. I would also go on Pinterest and check out the ideas on that. Even a little old caravan, take the side of it completely out, renovate it to include what you want in there. This way you have a little kitchen, where you can make a coffee etc. just my thought. You want something you can use most of the year. You don’t want a lot of maintenance, then you can’t enjoy your backyard. Check out where the sun rises and falls. You want something that works, is easy to use, little maintenance, where you can entertain. Good luck.

  • Rose Bee

    Perhaps visit some open gardens around your region, and as above statements, local nurseries for advice, walk around your neighborhood and see whats growing the best. if you can get photos of plants your nursery will be able to identify them, great sites on the internet, Houzz, Pinterest, etc.

  • PRO
    Plants in a box

    Hey Hayley, We can help you out with some plant selection. For low maintenance plants that will give you a tropical feel I'd suggest Alternanthera amoena 'Purple Splash', Hemigraphis exotica, Rhapis excelsa, Liriope Evergreen Giant, Philodendron xanadu and Strelitzia reginae Bird of Paradise you could even plant some Juncus effusus Spiralis in the water feature. Hope that gives you some ideas!

  • Dm Stan

    Plants in a box - where were you last week?! I needed you! I’ve just done my head in trying to select plants for our yard. They’re all a foreign language to me.

    And look what happened. Everything was laid out yesterday, and prepped ready for proper planting today. Last night, we got 40mm of rain. It‘s now a bog!

    Hayley, how are you going with your plans?

  • olldroo

    Hahaha, welcome to gardening DmStan. What sort of soil do you have there, it doesn't look like it is draining at all and now would be the time to fix it. Very few plants like wet feet.

    Selecting plants can be very hard to get started, did you check out that website I mentioned, there are heaps of plants there to check out with great photos and descriptions. Even if quarantine prevents you buying from them you could still find the plants locally. Otherwise cruise local garden centres and use your phone to just take photos of the plants and their labels and then you can sit, check them out online and plan your garden. It is a slow process but well worth the effort to get it as right as possible the first time.

    Be nice to have some feedback from Hayley.

  • Dm Stan

    You would’ve really hahahaha’d if you’d seen me this morning, bogged way past my ankles, no gumboots, the mud doing its best to make me do the splits, as that uh oh I’m sinking feeling grew bigger and bigger! Glad no-one was around. I’d be viral on YouTube by now!

    The soil is pretty yuk - mainly clay. I think the drainage looks a little worse than it is though, thanks to the pic being taken after an unusually big down pour and the top 300mm being super soft and ‘fluffed up‘ during all the works, and the plants being in the holes dug for them; holes not yet filled in.

    And thanks, yes, I checked out yours and all sorts of other websites, places and pics. It sure was a slow process of elimination. Apparently the perfect tree and perfect perimeter/not really a hedge plant I was after doesn’t exist. My idea of perfect must be pretty common - in past years attempts to genetically engineer them to similar specs hasn’t worked. So, I had to compromise. I freaked out when I read the label on one plant that was delivered yesterday. I told the nursery we can’t really handle much over 2m. This beast was gonna grow to 7m+. And I have 12 of them! Apparently that’s the max height in FNQ, not little ole Adelaide. phew!

    Hayley may be feeling like we did when we discovered 20 grand wasn’t going to cut it. But I hope all the exchanges and tips help. I know we would’ve benefitted from reading them a few years ago.

  • olldroo

    Oh, dear, I bet it was all in slow motion too, making it even funnier - after the event. Have you done anything to it though? Dr. Google will give you lots of ideas as always. Gypsum is a great start and then lots of organic matter - hope you have started a compost heap or 3 because for best results you will need to constantly feed the soil. Check plants you buy too to ensure they are happy in clay, apparently there are plenty that actually love a clay soil. I have sand, easy to dig and do anything with and I never see a puddle.

    Yes, everything grows in FNQ, in rainforests the constant supply of organic matter ensures that but your clay soil will inhibit growth. What did you get?

  • PRO
    Plants in a box

    Hey Dm Stan, Oh no that does not look like ideal gardening weather! At least the plants got a good water. I'd highly recommend adding some gypsum to your soil as it looks mostly clay. Gypsum breaks up the clay into small crumbly pieces and improves drainage. Your soil will have a big impact on your plants survival rate, corydlines prefer well draining soils. There is a bit more info on ourblog on preparing your garden beds if you haven't finished planting.

    Good luck!

  • Dm Stan

    Top advice, Plants! Thanks for sharing very helpful tips with everyone. Little ole novice me is particularly grateful. Ta!

  • Splish Splash

    Hi Hayley.

    I would: Consider the aspect. Where is the sun or shade in all seasons? Do you need lawn area for children and/or pets? Do any sections of the yard stay damp or pool during wet weather? Do you use the shed as a garage and need a driveway or can you put grass interspersed with pavers? Garden beds need to be at least 1m wide for small plantings, or at least 3m wide to allow for small, medium and high plants. Consider drainage for any raised beds. Take into account that oxygen for the fish; a wide shallow pond will give more 02, whereas a narrow deep pond will more likely need a pond pump for oxygenation, so you'll need to organise a power source. If there are many cats roaming the area they will fish from your pond, as will kookaburras and other birds. A lot of ponds need council-required fencing too. How many kids visit your place? You could forget the fish and have a 'The Party' (remember Peter Sellers? "Birdy Num Num" ) style shallow pond with pavers to walk over to your hammock retreat. That would also cool the area during a hot summer - but also wasteful unless you have rainwater tank. Does it have to be a hammock? Exactly what kind of Island are you imagining? A desert Island with sand and a couple of palm trees? A Tahitian or Balinese resort? Northern QLD rainforest? At least one specimen tree looks good. How much shade do you want to be provided by trees versus hardscaping like gazebo? For garden lights you can buy various solar powered fairy lights and chop and change as needed, or as a trial before you put in hard wired lights.

  • suancol

    decide how much time and energy you have for future gardening. think of your life style and future life style and activities related. walk around the neighbourhood to see what grows well in your soil and climate. mass planting of a few plants is more impressive than many different ones. Simplicity wins over all. Plan before you begin to see how many of your present plants can be reused in same or different location. ENJOY the process and make it yours.

  • Diane McKone

    My husband & I always go & look at display homes to get some inspiration, they are usually up to date and plan & simple that if you are handy yourself or have a handy friend you can achieve all that you want with that budget. We also get plenty of cuttings from friends. When you look at the price from nurseries for Agaves, Cordylines, Yukkas etc.. they are very simple to grow from pieces, you could start collecting them in pots for when you are ready.

  • PRO
    Kitchen and Home Sketch Designs

    I am not going to make ANY more suggestions: more than plenty here. But I would love to see how you go along the way and the finished garden, particularly with you in the hammock! Enjoy. Margot

  • dollydidditcom

    Do it yourself! draw up a plan dividing into garden rooms keeping in mind the amount of sun and your needs/wants. Notice people in your area and if you see plants/design you like, knock on their door and ask questions...ie names of plants, where they bought, if anyone did their design etc also, go to display homes open on weekends for inspiration re layout and plants and take lots of pictures.

  • angelah169

    I would break up the areas with pebbles, rocks, some paving for a pathway or seating area, lots of ferns and hostas in shady areas, scented camellias, rhododendrons and hibiscus in sunny areas. We started from scratch and have used lots of plants in pots. Potted plants are versatile as they can be moved around for effect.

  • DIY Family

    Start by spending a portion of your budget on the various dream feature items that are relocatable and can be used in your final design anyway. e.g. Buy the firepit you really want - it can become the focal point of your future garden. Test it outside in your backyard for a few months. Are heaps of mozzies annoying you while you're sitting outside around the firepit? If so, then you'll know that you're going to need a gazebo with flyscreens as well as privacy curtains so you can really enjoy lying outside in your hammock year round.

    The hammock is another relocatable part of your design. First, lie outside in your backyard on a swag or a rug for a few hours. Is it too windy? Is there road noise? Keep experimenting until you've found the perfect location for the hammock. Then buy an inexpensive hammock and suspend it from a couple of sturdy RL4 poles. If it's working, then this is the place where you should build your future patio, that's going to shelter your hammock.

    Keep testing inexpensive versions of your other ideas out. Trial tea candles or a string of inexpensive white Christmas lights as garden lighting. Do they create the feel you want or do lights just attract moths or unwanted insects? What about relocatable solar garden lights? Or a portable floodlight from Bunnings? Where's the ideal place for your garden table and chairs? Test it out with inexpensive camping chairs - or chairs you already own for a few months to be sure. Then invest in the perfect outdoor table and chairs.

    Same with the water feature. Start with a wine barrel with a waterlily or a second hand pond off Gumtree. Can you hear the trickling water in the garden or do other noises crowd it out? Keep in mind big goldfish need deep water and space to swim.

    To help you in your choice of plants,look around your immediate neighbourhood. What purple, blue and scented plants are thriving in your immediate area? Who has the best garden in your street in your opinion - and why do you think that? Do you always see a particular neighbour passionately working outside in their garden? That's the person you should strike up a conversation with to get advise about suitable plants for your immediate area. Chances are they will not only give you heaps of free advise but they will probably give you plants and cuttings as well. Markets are another source of perennial plants that grow well in the local area. Plant these smaller plants into large plastic pots and garden bags and allow them to grow for a year or so. Consider herbs as filler plants - many are highly scented, can be used in cooking and often have interesting foliage e.g. choc mint, fennel, rosemary etc.

    After you've been using your backyard for at least a year and you've experienced all of the seasons, then invest in your big ticket items like your gazebo. Buy or build a structure that's truly practical for your local microclimate - incorporate glass, windbreak fencing, shadecloth, mozzie mesh or whatever you need to make your hammock shelter ultra comfortable. Build this structure where you've tested it and know it will work - not where a stranger who designs gardens thinks it should go. Spend the remaining money on the things you know you need and want - the stones, plants, irrigation, a birdbath, etc

  • lisa_little20

    I would definitely use most of the budget on the bigger items and like others have said buy tube stock plants online. Give them a year and your plants will be the size of more expensive plants.

  • Angela Conway

    Plant some beautiful trees as they will provide the structure for the garden. Get a basic plan done for the structure, trees, beds, paths water etc. Then plant the trees so they can get growing. Then finesse the details for the rest. Soon the garden will start telling you what needs to be done and adapted. Let things happen and surprise you with unexpected rewards.