Life Style feature special on Plants and gardens. Picture: Staff photographer 21/10/2012

Cape Town - You might remember her as the beautiful “action girl” of TV in the early 1990s, but these days Melanie Walker is mostly to be found redesigning gardens or pottering around in flower beds, about which she broadcasts prolifically.

Now a qualified landscaper, she is also a presenter of Design-a-Garden and My Garden Diary on DStv’s Home Channel, and Grounded on 1485 Radio Today.

She became a seriously enthusiastic gardener by doing what she does best – observing what needs fixing.

“After I had my twins I would sit in my garden and see patches that needed a good overhaul,” recalls Walker.

For the benefit of novice gardeners, we asked Melanie for the top trends as well as ideas for getting your garden looking great on a budget.

Here are some of the ideas she came up with:

10 Budget wise ideas

1 Plan and prepare your garden. This is the first step in good garden budgeting.

2 Pick plants carefully and make sure you zone them correctly. Compost and enrich the soil to give plants the best start in life.

3 In vertical planters, add water-retaining granules, coco husks or peat moss. It saves on watering and effort.

4 Always check out the specials, but rather choose plants that are self-seeding perennials, not annuals. Colourful cupheas and daisies are always good buys. Grasses and easy-to-divide plants like agapanthus and irises are also good value. “I love Gaura (the Butterfly Bush) too,” says Melanie.

5 Buy seeds rather than seedlings and grow them in egg boxes or plastic ice cream buckets. Seeds are a big saving, and growing them in containers is fun and rewarding.

6 Buy plants, or grow them to give as Christmas presents. “It’s always good to give a gift that keeps on giving,” says Melanie.

7 Make your own compost using a Bokashi composter bin, an effective way to convert kitchen waste into rich compost using the EM (effective micro-organism) Bokashi. Or set up a small compost heap in an unused corner of the garden.

8 Plant your own veggie and herb garden. “I get all my salad ingredients and herbs from my own garden,” says Melanie. If your space is small, grow veggies in a growbag (a large plastic bag filled with peat or other growth medium).

9 Look out for second-hand garden tools and furniture.

10 Bulk buying is cheaper. Practise “buddy buying”, ie share the cost of compost, plant plugs and seeds/seedlings on special.

10 trendy ideas:

1 A vertical garden is ideal for small spaces. Use coir matting and bidum to create a wall tapestry of plants. Plant succulents like Crassula, and grasses like Black Mondo, which you can divide. Old guttering can also be a planter for a vertical garden.

2 Poinsettias in red and white pots grouped together make a wonderful Christmas table idea.

3 For an elegant door entry, set two white pots containing four Phaeleonopsis orchids. (And for something that lasts forever, fake orchids are cheaper and look just as real.)

4 Water features don’t necessarily need a large space. Create a small one in a colourful, glazed pot with some reeds, water lily or Nymphaeid. Small water features are great for small courtyards or balconies.

5 Pick up a few pavers and create a checker-board effect with pennyroyal (part of the mint species) in between. For an interesting touch, you can stencil the pavers.

6 Try a Christmas tree with a difference. Look for a tree with white-washed branches and drape it with fairy lights. “I’m a sucker for fairy lights. I love them,” says Melanie.

7 Pots are expensive, so take your old plastic ones and paint them to look like stone, using grey paint with sponged dabs of white.

8 Create miniature potted landscapes, using wood and small rocks, and create luminaries from tin cans and candles.

9 Grow succulents (desert plants) in strawberry pots for an unusual display.

10 Don’t ditch your old terracotta pots. Those with chips can be grouped and planted with colourful plants. - Cape Argus