Gardens are like washing up. If you do it after every meal, it's child's play. If you leave it till every saucepan has a crust tough enough to build an average ten-storey apartment block, it's easier just to buy new saucepans.
Maybe you need to stick to plants that survive and even grow with little work.
They do exist — plants have survived without humans for a long, long time — but a garden like this does need careful planning.
Plant a rosemary bush in a sunny spot, mint by the garden tap, aloe vera in hanging basket and a row of garlic chives along the edge of a flower bed.
Early plums that won't get fruit fly, a good patch of rhubarb, paw paws in frost-free areas, a small self-fertile cherry like Stella that you can cover with bird netting and a lemon tree if you really will remember to feed and mulch it once a year.
Choose beautiful trees — ones whose shape you love, or that have glorious bark or stunning blooms. One could write many, many books about the possible stunning trees for our backyards. My favourites are crab apples; snow gums in cold areas; mulberries, pomegranates, persimmons… and if you think my favourite trees are fruit trees you're pretty right, but then I live surrounded by bush so have the natives to glory in every day without having to plant them — or worry that a branch will fall on the roof.
Look at web photos of gardens of yuccas, flaxes, aloes, lomandras, cannas, ornamental bamboos, palms and gingers and see if any suit your dream of what a garden may be, and your pocket and climate too. There are dozens of glorious flaxes around now, in reds, greens, pinks, yellows, striped ones and dappled ones, miniatures and flaxes that will grow taller than you.
Arthropodium cirrhatum (NZ rock lily) is a dramatic looking foliage plant — big, broad, strappy leaves with a blue-grey bloom up to a metre high and with even taller sprays of small white starry flowers through spring and summer. Once established it will cope with very dry conditions — although it will grow bigger faster when given adequate moisture.
Go for low-work bulbs and tubers like dahlias, nerines, day-lilies or hippeastrums in cooler areas or ornamental gingers in hotter climates. In dry shady areas go for hellebores, euphorbias or dianella (blue flax lily) or ask advice at the gardening centre to see what they have that best suits your area.
In sunny areas I fill garden gaps with any day-lilies and sages, lovely hardy plants that range from 30cm high ground covers to two metre high spectaculars. Choose ones that suit your climate — some will be cut by frost — and most do need chopping back in winter or pruning back hard once they have bloomed.
But for long-flowering, drought, heat and rain resistance, it's hard to beat the salvias.
And otherwise — think of the old favourites. They have survived in our hearts and gardens for a reason: roses (most hardy once established, as long as you choose ones where the label declares black spot resistant), camellias, Federation daisies, hibiscus, grevilleas (there are many varieties that flower all year round in warmer climates either coastal or north of Sydney).
I love hedges of grevilleas and always have lots by the kitchen windows so we can watch the birds as we eat breakfast. There are varieties that grow to be six metre trees and some that are totally prostrate and they have a fabulous range of leaf shapes and flower colours — move beyond the needle-leafed, red-flowered rounded shrubs (although they are wonderfully hardy) — there is a whole world of grevilleas out there.
Grow eriostemon, bottlebrushes and prostantheras (the native mint bushes) or try correas for flowers in late winter and spring with pretty, dangling, funnel-shaped blooms in a range of colours but many are bi-coloured red and green or pink and lime. Honeyeaters love them.
But mostly, do your homework before you go to the garden centre or see a garden in a magazine and think: I want one just like that.
It takes a good cook to make a ten-layer wedding cake with marzipan roses or to dish up hot orange soufflés for fifteen. It takes an experienced gardener who actually likes and has the time for gardening to create some of the spectacular gardens around too.
But it's also possible to have a stunning garden that just needs planning, a bit of a feed and trim once a year and then decades of admiring.