My Step-by-Step Guide to Starting a Garden

An easy garden life springs off a strong foundation, and that’s exactly what you’ll create when you use my guide.

  • Productivity without hours of slog
  • fertility with very little bought stuff
  • a minimum of pests or disease
  • a steady supply of homegrown, fresh picked food

Follow this guide, and it’s yours for the taking – a little thought at the start is the secret sauce because like anything worthwhile, it’s a process.

Join me, and I’ll take you step by step.

orpingtons chickens

This guide is free.

You wont be asked to log in or sign up – there are no marketing ploys at work here, just my heartfelt wish for your gardens to be a huge success. And easy.

There are 3 sections:


Each section contains a series of hands-on projects. There are 18 projects in all.

Work steadily through, project by project, in the order I’ve laid out. Skip the ones that don’t apply.

And if at any stage you need help – you know where to find me.

Enjoy the journey, dear gardener. It’s blimmin wondrous.

18 Steps to an Easy Garden Life


There are 4 projects in this first section – do them simultaneously. Of all the 18 projects – these are the most important.

Project 1: Make an instant, temporary vegie patch.

A vegie garden is likely the thing you want to start right away, but don’t jump in just yet! You need the information and the learnings from the first 2 sections: “Gather the info” + “Lay the Foundation” before you can make awesome choices. Be patient my friends and go the road. Growing your vegies in containers (or existing gardens), will tide you over in the mean time.

READ: Grow Vegies in Containers + Make an Instant Vegie Patch

Project 2: Get to know your Land + your Needs: Make a Basemap + A Wishlist

Getting to know your land is the coolest mission of all. When you understand all the little micro climates at you place + your soil, it’s easy to make sound choices about what should go where.

A Basemap and Wishlist are the best + simplest tools for this job.
Take as much time as you need to experience and observe your land over 4 seasons.
The info is gold.

READ: How to make a basemap + wishlist and Learn your winter landscape.

Project 3: Test your Soil

READ: my DIY soil test – and do your first test!

Send a soil sample away to Soil Safe NZ to check for heavy metals and contaminants. 

Your soil is unique – you gotta get to know it, in order to figure out how best to treat it. It’s truly not tricky – it is infact a delight.

Project 4: Tree research

Rule number 1 for easy productivity, is to plant trees/ shrubs/ fruits/ nuts/ vines/ plants that suit your soil and climate. When well matched, they grow strongly with little effort from you – that’s what I mean when I say an easy garden life!

READ: Tree research and make yourself a useful as list of trees.

READ: How to choose your fruit trees for help with choosing rootstocks and cultivars that suit your place


There are 6 hands on projects in this section, and they all lay the foundation for strong soil and resilience!
Steady as she goes, and an easy garden life is coming your way.

Project 5: Spring clean!

Yipee! A big clean up! Clearing out your site allows you to truly see the potential of your land. Its all very well to imagine it, but to actually see it – that’s another thing entirely. Be bold. Let go!

  • Make 3 piles. Rubbish. Useful for you. Useful for someone else.
  • Good timber, corrugated iron, wire + pipes are all super useful. De-nail/ remove screws and fillet stack under cover, out of the way.
  • Take time to decide on trees – wait until fruit trees fruit to see how well they do and whether or not you like them. Same goes for ornamental trees, take time to see whether you love them or if they are useful – shelter, leaves, habitat…
  • Remove trees that block light, crush the fence, give you hayfever, or are half dead – get a mulcher in and create a pile of future nourishment. Don’t be sentimental over fruit trees that are in a terrible way – start a fresh!
  • Roughly slash back weedy areas to help get to grips with the actual shape of your land and the state of the soil.

Make the most of this window – its easy to fell trees and make a mess while you don’t have to work around new gardens, young trees, greenhouses et all.

Project 6: Set up a wormfarm

Worms turn food scraps into vermicastings, which are one of the most potent soil conditioners. And once up and running – free! Find a simple, low tech wormfarm set-up that you like and get going with it. It’s worth a bit of research – don’t just rush out and buy the first wormfarm you see.

Buy yourself sometime to figure it out and trench your food scraps direct in your soil, or use bokashi buckets, or find a local food recycling/ compost making team to take them.

READ: DIY Wormfarms for Tiny, Medium and Large gardens.

Project 7: Organise water.

Water is the keystone of your gardens health. Our goal is to moderate either too wet or too dry because soil in either of these states cannot convert minerals, and without minerals, our plants choke. Our easy garden life, relies on plants that grow heartily from transplanting through to cropping. Start by figuring out how well drained your soil is.

READ: How to do a drainage test

Great news is, whether too dry or too wet – the solutions are the same, and they’re mostly simple.

Capture as much water as you can and store it for dry times. Do this simply in:

  • Strong soil. Mulch and build soil to create humus. Humus holds onto water like a sponge, slowly releasing it over time.
  • Trees + perennials. So much water is held in trees – in both the canopy and the roots! The more big rooted plants about your property the better.
  • Tanks. Catch water from every roof and then, make good use of the overflow.
  • A wetland or pond. A fab ending for the overflow from tanks.

READ: Simple solutions for too much water

Now’s a great time to get help if you need it. Engage a permaculture designer, a clever friend, book a garden coach session, or do your own research. Check out “Managing Water”, Pages 28 – 36 in my Edible Backyard book.

Project 8: Get a new weed mindset

Weeds are the guardians of the soil. Learn your weeds, the names of them, whether they are annual or perennial and how they spread. From there, you can learn to work with them.

READ: Managing weeds naturally and Easy as alternatives to weed spray to prepare for planting.

Get a new mindset around weeds! It makes for an easy gardening life.

Project 9: Gather organic matter.

Your easy garden life relies on always having stashes of organic matter (OM) to hand. Start to gather now in preparation for making composts, building soil and starting vegie beds. A good supply of organic matter means no more bought fertiliser for you!, and rather than scrabbling around to feed your garden – you’re getting the feed sorted before the garden. You’re ahead!

READ: OM is your guardian angel

Project 10: Practice making compost

Homemade compost is the only feed your garden needs. Once you get in the rhythm of making compost – you’re away laughing. What a huge difference in your gardens vitality when you switch from bought to homemade!

READ: Easy peasy compost

Bought composts are often minerally imbalanced and contain herbicide/ pesticide residue. Its safer and better to make your own, and not at all hard. I’m hoping you’ll kick your vegie growing venture off with your homemade stuff and be strong from the get go.

READ: The ins and outs of choosing bought compost

Project 11: Make a harvest calendar

Such a satisfying project! Turn the fruits + berries on your tree research list, into a year round harvest calendar. Seeing it written up is so very useful – preventing you from having big gluts and growing too much fruit (yes! theres such a thing!). the best result is to have fruits arrive steadily throughout the year, and not in one big hit.

READ: How to make a harvest calendar


The final phase begins!
We start by playing with the location of your buildings (greenhouse, berryhouse, chookhouse etc), then choose places for fruit trees and lucky last – locate the vegie gardens.

The 2 best ways to do this, are to

  • trace a fresh basemap and sketch your ideas out
  • test them out on the ground using hoses/ ropes/ stones to mark bed shapes and stakes to mark trees.

Live with your test run for a while – walk around it, ponder. Brainstorm with a mate. Get help. Then, when you’re certain – let the building and planting begin!

Project 12: Plan + plant shelter

Now that you know where your winds blow through and how they behave, start to plan out where you need shelter. Go stand in the wind – all the different winds. With your plan. Huzzah! Best way to check.

READ: Step by step to kick ass shelter.

Project 13: Plan buildings

Have a play with locating greenhouse, chook house, berryhouse, garden shed – whatever buildings you are wanting.

READ: Use your chooks!

  • Butt the greenhouse, berryhouse and chooks together if you can – it saves such alot of work when you can easily let the chooks in to weed and fertilise.
  • Go as big as you can with your greenhouse and berryhouse – such useful spaces, you will fill them up!
  • Use buildings for shelter.
  • Keep buildings on the south side to create warm, north facing microclimates for your vegies and tender fruits.

The Build chapter in my Edible Backyard book has sample designs, layout ideas and loads of help.

Project 14: Plan fruit trees, nut trees + berries

Now that the buildings are located, start to think about where your fruit trees might go. Using your tree research list and the observations you made on your basemap, match fruits to their ideal environment.

READ: My healthy fruit tree game plan to help you set up for naturally healthy, easy to manage fruit trees.

READ: How to grow citrus and How to grow an avocado to help you choose the right spots and develop a good space for them.

Once you’ve a good idea of locations, label stakes with the names of fruit trees, and bang them in where you imagine they’ll go. Its super helpful to test your ideas out. And so much easier to move a stake than a tree!

READ: How to space your fruit trees

Project 15: Order trees + start to plant your fruit trees

Hunt about for local fruit tree nurseries – so much better to buy from local specialists, even if it means getting the trees couriered. Double check with them that the rootstocks + varieties you chose suit your region.

Start with hardy deciduous trees and/ or feijoas, especially if your shelter is not fully developed. Do a small selection, not all of them all at once. Young trees take alot more care than older ones. Deciduous trees are best planted in winter.

READ: How to plant and prune deciduous fruit trees

Leave the more tender trees like Citrus and Avocado, until the shelter is up, your soil is awesome and you’ve created the right micro climates for them. Citrus, Avocados and other subtropicals are best planted in spring.

READ: How to plant citrus

Project 16: Get a new pest mindset

With new gardens, pests arrive. Newsflash! – we aren’t at war with them! Huge pest burdens aren’t inevitable – they’re a result of the way we garden. Steer clear of artificial fertilisers and overfeeding your soil. Focus your energy on keeping your whole garden well, rather than worrying about the pests. The stronger your soil becomes and the more diverse your garden as a whole becomes, the less pests will come.

Varieties well suited to your site + homemade compost + vermicastings + homemade mulch + diverse plant cover = hardly any pests! Simple as.

READ: Natural Ways with Pests.

Project 17: Plan your vegie patch

Use ropes or hoses to mock up your vegie growing areas. On small sites or windy sites, you may need a few dotted about rather than one biggie.

Leave your mock up in place for a bit, walk around and double check access and sun and wind. Move the rope about until you are happy.

Plan to have your vegie patch grass free – its heaps less work. Do this by mulching the paths and planting the outside edge of the garden with herbs, perennials and maybe citrus or espalier fruit trees too, as a barrier to slow the advance of grass/ weeds into the vegie beds. Set up at least x3, 3 sided compost bays in this edge.

READ: Pay attention to the edge – what a difference when you implement this very simple edge design.

Project 18: Start your vegie beds

Finally! You made it!

READ: My 3 fav ways to start a vegie bed

Start small – by creating 1 or 2 beds at a time. Increase a little more each year until you have enough. You can, with practice, grow heaps of vegies in a small space. Part of your easy garden life, is using your space well rather than having loads of beds.

Use the space beneath young deciduous fruit trees for pumpkins, leafy greens, herbs, zuchinni and potatoes while you develop your vegie gardens.

Don’t build raised beds, unless you need them.

READ: Are raised beds your best bet?

READ: How to grow a living soil


I’m stoked for you, and so proud that you took the time. The solid foundation you’ve laid is winging you to the easy garden life we’ve spoken of all the way through.
And though we are done here, the journey continues. You’ll have questions and uncertainties till the end of your gardening days – and I’m glad for that!

Gardening is not a set of rules and timings laid down by someone else, it’s the art of responding to what your soil and your plants show you. In time, you’ll learn to trust what they tell you, because above all of the noise of the world, you know.

Lots of love,

My Step-by-Step Guide to Starting a Garden