If you have moved from Melbourne and are now about to garden in Cairns, things are going to be a little different!
Summers are hot and wet while winter is cooler and dry- opposite to southern climates. In general terms, those favoured plants from back down south are either going to die during the first summer or fail slowly over the next few seasons. The message is to use plants that you see in local gardens and those that are native to the area.
If you use native plants you are also providing fauna habitat (shelter, food and nesting)
But here is the great thing.. there is a wonderful new palette of plants to now use in your garden! They will be amazingly fast to grow, display lurid leaf or flower colours but need space.
Think tropical plants and you see a vision of palms, gingers, crotons, ferns and heliconias. Look a bit deeper and you will find a staggering range of native species that are no less attractive and perfectly suited to the climate. You can use plants that are at home in the sub tropics as well, like Strelitzia, Clivea and Bougainvillea.
Maintenance is a feature of tropical gardening due to the rapid growth of plants.
After pruning, plants can look a little bare but weep no tears; in a moment you will be back to luxuriance. Tropical plants tend to have larger leaves so are easier to clean up compared to fine leafed dry climate plants.
As for gardens in other climates, preparation is the key to successful gardening. Make a $10 hole and plant a $1 plant rather than the other way around. Check that your soil is not too acid (most coastal soils and those in heavily vegetated areas tend to the acid end of the scale so add dolomite or Maglime fines at about a handful/m2), add a sand fraction to clay soils (say 20%), add organic material to hold moisture and provide air spaces. Sandy soils need the addition of organic material to hold water.
When your starter plants come from Plants in a Box, make sure they get a good drink; they don’t like to miss out one day. Ensure they are fully hydrated prior to planting out and then water each day dependant on weather until established (probably about two to three weeks). Don’t overwater! Like Baby Bears porridge, just moist is just right!