Gardening for Newbies: Step by Step


Whether you’re taking over an existing garden, or establishing a brand new one, starting the process of gardening can be a bit overwhelming for some – especially if you’re a newbie and still working on getting those green fingers!

Luckily, you can count on the experts at Cape Garden to simplify it for you!


Questions to ask yourself and steps to follow to start a new garden:

1. What should the style & purpose of my garden be?

Your garden should be a reflection of your own tastes and ideals – your own concepts of the practical and the beautiful. Your personal style.

Think about what your garden should offer you:

Do you, for example, want a low maintenance and water wise garden which you can simply relax in, or one where you can grow your own food?

Or maybe you want to create a haven for wildlife? Do you envision Japanese calmness in your outdoor space, or old European formality?

Perhaps you want a wild riot of colour, or a secret refuge from the rest of the world?

Not sure what style will suit you best?

Search online or in books for ideas. A few garden styles to consider: natural wild garden; formal garden; fynbos / indigenous garden; water wise garden; cottage style garden; landscaped / modern garden.



2. Know the microclimate of your garden:

How many hours of direct sunlight does the different parts of your garden get? Are you looking for plants in a sunny spot or plants for shade? 

Maybe some areas get (softer) morning sun, so that plants such as Murraya exotica, Jasminum multipartitum and Clivia will flourish there.

Other parts (hotter) afternoon sun? Or even full day sun? Plants such as fynbos, Westringia and Lavender will find a happy home here.

Or do you have a garden bed that will be in shade for the whole day (underneath a large tree?) Then consider ferns, Liriope grasses and Philodendron.

A position against a hot wall that reflects heat, will call for a tough, drought tolerant plant. So will a position in the garden that gets strong wind (wind dries out soil much quicker!)

These considerations will determine the choice of plants for specific parts of your garden.



3. Know the type of soil in your garden:

Soils are divided into various classes according to their texture. The term ‘texture’ describes the degree of stiffness or looseness which characterizes the soil.

Clay is regarded as a stiff (heavy) soil that can become compact - holding moisture for longer; while sand is a loose (light) soil - drainage of water is more rapid and this soil is generally poor in plant foods for this reason.

Keep in mind that many indigenous flora, plants from the Mediterranean region, and succulents will do better in sandy soil – like Spekboom, Lavender, Olive trees, Crassula and Aloes.

Whereas water-thirsty plants like Zantedeschia, Water berry and Papyrus will prefer soil more on the clay side.

Generally good soil is considered to be composed of a mixture of clay and sand, which is known as loam. The ideal loam soil is rich in plant food and friable enough to allow the roots of plants to penetrate it easily. It holds just the right amount of moisture.

Generally, by adding humus (compost) to your existing soil, you can amend the texture and quality of the soil to create the perfect home for your plants.

(Photo credit: leeray_landscapedesign)


4. Your location:

Are you situated in a coastal town? Does your garden receive strong wind?

The salty winds and nutrient-poor soil in coastal gardens make it a bit more challenging to garden here, but if you temper the wind and improve the soil, seaside gardening can be rewarding and successful.

By adding a salt- and wind tolerant natural hedge to your garden layout, you can temper the wind (don’t try to block it completely), so that more sensitive plants can grow in front of it.

But try to focus your selection of plants mainly on those that will tolerate the wind and salt best.

Conveniently browse coastal plants online here:

Or perhaps you live more inland where frost is a challenge in the winter. Try to focus on frost hardy plants in this case. 


(Photo credit: @anastasiafrost)


5. Plant specifications:

Take your time to choose the perfect plants for your garden. Make a day (or two) of it and come walk through our nursery and see what you like.

Take notes and photos of your favourite plants for later reference. Don’t forget to take a photo of the label on each plant as well – this indicates the name of the plant, as well as useful information regarding preferred position in the garden, overall height and width of plant, flower colour, whether it’s evergreen / deciduous etc.

Please don’t hesitate to ask for advice from our friendly staff.

While in the process of choosing the right plants for your garden, consider the following types:

*Indigenous plants:

If it’s specifically indigenous to your local area, it will adapt to your garden the best. It will most probably also attract various indigenous wildlife to your garden.

Browse here:

*Water wise:

Best if you want a low maintenance and more economical garden.

Browse here:

*Plants for a sunny spot:

*Plants for shade:

*Plants suitable for a coastal garden:

*Plants to attract wildlife to the garden:

*Plants for fragrance:

*Plants for the food garden:




When it comes to the right choice of tree for your specific garden, keep the following in mind:

*The size of your garden – a large garden asks for a large tree; a small garden for a small tree.

*But if you’re willing to do the maintenance, trees can be pruned to be kept to a certain size to fit into your specific space. Or plant it in a suitable large pot to restrict its growth.

*In general, the size of the canopy of the tree is a good indication of the size of the root spread.

(the bigger and wider the canopy, the larger the spread of the roots).

*Don’t plant trees too close to permanent structures such as walls, swimming pools, pathways etc.

*Do your homework before planting any tree. And please ask our knowledgeable staff for more information on the tree you have your eye on.

Browse our trees online here:



6. Plan your garden – ideas to paper:

Even the smallest garden benefit from being laid out to a plan. Planning helps to make the most of your outdoor space and the plants you choose for it. 

Draw the plan up according to your own specific needs. Perhaps it’s important for you to have a bench in a quiet part of the garden, or an area for entertaining. Maybe you want a garden shed, a veggie garden or a lawn area incorporated into the design.

It is important to look well ahead when planning. The plan must be flexible, catering for the future as well as the present. Possible later additions to the garden, such as a pool, should be allowed for.

Keep in mind that the opportunity for outdoor living is part of the appeal of a garden, and to enjoy this fully, one usually requires a degree of screening and privacy. Include this in your plan.

The view from the house into the garden is also an important consideration.

*Drawing up the plan:

The garden design must be based an initial plan. This should show the position of the house and other permanent features, such as a garage, swimming pool or lapa, and the boundary lines of the property. Natural features such as existing trees, large shrubs and rocks that you want to keep, should also be indicated on the plan.

Divide the outdoor space in zones. Examples can be: a utility area (washing line); a recreation area (braai area); a play area (for kids); a retreat area; a space to grow your own food etc.

The initial plan should preferably be a scale drawing or plan, showing features in their position and proportionate sizes. A large sheet of graph paper is best. Let each square on the paper represent a 1 x 1m area.

*Setting up the final plan:

Once you feel that the initial plan has reached a state at which it satisfies all or most of your specific requirements, it should be developed into the final plan.

Once you’ve decided on the style of garden you want to create and have made a list of all your favourite plants, go ahead and indicate these plants in the plan in the preferred positions (according to the specific microclimate of each garden zone).

Also include in your final design walkways, garden features (such as pots and water features), garden furniture etc.



7. Prepare the soil:

If you’re lucky enough to have good quality loam soil in your garden, it’s only necessary to add fertiliser and some compost to the planting holes (and not the whole garden). This will save you time and money.

Generally, one would apply some compost, bonemeal or superphosphate (for quick root development) and a balanced fertiliser, to the planting hole. 

But if you’re struggling with poor sandy soil (that drains too fast) or very compact clay soil (that keeps too much moisture), you will need to improve the structure of the soil and add extra nutrients before starting to plant.

Please ask our knowledgeable staff to show you the various fertiliser options available, as well as explaining the best products to use to improve the structure of your soil.

Or browse fertilisers here on our online shop:


(Photo credit: Candice Rafael)


8. Buy your plants & garden tools:

This is such an exciting step!

It’s always best to select your plants personally. So set aside enough time to come to the nursery to choose your plants and garden features according to your own liking. Our helpful staff will gladly lend an eager hand.

Where large quantities of specific plants are required, and stock levels in our retail stores are not sufficient, we will gladly order more from our wholesale farm in Vredendal (if stock is available).

A struggle to get the plants to their new home? No worries! We deliver. Please speak to our friendly ladies at the pay point for more information.

Don’t forget your garden tools!

Conveniently browse tools from our curated list online here (more options in-store):



9. Let’s start planting!

The soil preparation is done, plants are purchased and delivered….let’s start planting!

*Dig the planting hole at least twice the size of the pot / bag in which the plant is currently planted in.

*Mix the soil from the hole with some compost (generally 50/50 – depending on your soil structure) and add some to the bottom of the hole.

*Put your preferred fertiliser in the bottom of the hole and mix with the soil mixture.

*Carefully remove the plant from its container and place inside hole. (Important: do not bury any part of the mainstem of the plant). Alter the soil level by removing or adding soil.

*Press soil down firmly while filling around the plant.

*Water your plant.


10. How much water (and how often) to give my new garden?

Unfortunately, no definite amounts (and often gardens should be watered) can be stated as there are several factors (such as: amount of sunlight, wind, type of soil etc.) which make it impossible to generalize this for all gardens.

Know the requirements of the plants in your garden – is it a high or low water requirement plant? High water requirement plants such as ferns will need more regular watering, in contrast to low water requirement succulents.

A good guideline is to never water when there’s still enough moisture in the soil, otherwise you'll over water your plants.

You can use a moisture meter to determine the moisture content of the soil or you can use the old finger test.



Gardening is both fun and rewarding!

Take time to get to know your new garden. Initially there will be some trials and errors, but as you learn from these you’ll get more confident.

Don’t forget to enjoy your garden! Every now and then, make sure you take some time to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour.


Cape Garden | Cape Town's most beloved online garden shop and nursery for garden lovers.