Green Living

6 solutions to common garden problems

Barren spot? Hideous shed? Steep slope? Our expert Carol Bucknell diagnoses six common garden problems and offers fast, easy cures


6 solutions to common garden problems

Every garden has its tricky spots: a dry area under the eaves where nothing seems to grow, a skinny space between the house and fence that’s become a no-man’s land of weeds, or an almost un-mowable sloping lawn. We’ve all got problem areas of one kind or another no matter how small our patch of paradise. So how do we deal with them without breaking the bank?

1. Ugly shed

Sheds are essential in the garden but how do you make them look attractive? If you’re starting a new garden there are some quite presentable-looking sheds on the market now, but there are also plenty of options for screening or titivating the standard types most of us have.


Building or planting a screen in front of the shed often does the trick, as does attaching a trellis or wires to the walls and growing climbing plants such as roses or star jasmine over it.

If the shed has enough redeeming features, try giving it a new colour scheme and adding decorative touches such as shutters, ironwork and hanging pots to the exterior. Not worth turning it into a feature? Move it to a far corner and paint it a colour that recedes into the background, such as a greyish green, or paint it the same colour as the fence behind so it all but disappears when viewed from the house.


2. Narrow side garden

When space is tight every centimetre is valuable. If your side garden connects your front and back outdoor areas, make the journey as interesting as possible with crazy paving or a pebble mosaic path.

Grow plants with an upright growth habit, such as bamboo or dwarf umbrella tree (Schefflera arboricola), to soften tall boundary walls, and add groundcovers around the path. You could also train climbers to grow up the walls. For areas seen from indoors, position a vertical water feature, an artwork or another decorative element in the line of sight.


3. Dry area under the eaves

These spots can be tricky to plant but there are some species that can cope with minimal rain, particularly succulents. If it’s shady, aspidistra, fatsia, mondo grass and clivia are drought-tolerant once established, although not all are tolerant of frost.

You will still need to give them some water, though, particularly during their first few weeks. Installing a drip or soaker hose irrigation system will widen your plant options.


4. Ski slope lawn

There’s no point risking life and limb with a lawnmower on a steep slope when you could just plant it with groundcovers and low-maintenance shrubs. If the garden drops away from the house, planting smaller species at the top and trees lower down can make it appear less steep.

Bark or wood-chip mulches will slip on sloping ground so a biodegradable wool weed mat is best for retaining moisture and deterring weeds while plants are establishing.


5. Heavy clay soil

Clay turns rock-hard in summer, but in winter it absorbs and holds a lot of water. Some plants will grow in these soil conditions but not many. The fastest solution is to build raised beds so you can fill them with good-quality garden mix and get your garden under way.

The slower but more cost-effective method is to let the worms do the job for you. First, sprinkle the soil with gypsum or lime, along with masses of organic matter such as compost, animal manure, seaweed and blood and bone. Cover with a mulch of bark, pea straw or similar and the worms and other organisms will soon start breaking up that clay and turning it into good soil.


6. Too many paths

A common problem with older properties is for the garden to be criss-crossed with concrete paths leading to the clothesline, vege garden, back shed and so forth. It’s better and more modern to link these various elements by creating one large area of pavers, gravel, crushed pumice or bark.

This area can also double as a place for outdoor furniture, vegetable beds or play equipment. If required, short subsidiary paths can still lead off the paved area to the shed or clothesline.

Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Maree Homer, James Henry/

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