By Ali Manns

    You know that little map of Australia on the back of seed packets? The one with the colour-coded climate zones – from tropical in the north to cold temperate down south? It shows the optimum period for sowing in your regional climate. Warm Temperate in the case of Melbourne. But did you know that to give yourself an even greater shot at a thriving garden, there are other zones you also need to be familiar with? Those within your specific backyard.

    If you’ve ever wondered why your neighbour gets the most amazing lemons while across the fence your tree is an abject failure, it could be down to differing microclimates in your two yards. And, spoiler: it could be because of the fence!

    The urban factor

    While we in the west all live in a temperate zone, upon the level Western Plains, the conditions within our individual gardens can differ greatly. It comes down to the specific combination of natural factors and built structures in the environment. The aspect of your garden, the shade your home casts, and whether its colour absorbs or reflects heat can factor into there being warm and cold spots in your yard. So too, paving and the overhang of your eaves dictate where rainwater flows, and the fill soil imported to the site after your home was built can impact drainage, leaving you with a mix of both overly dry and boggy patches. And of course, existing plants and trees interact as well to create microclimates between and beneath them. 

    There are great benefits to recognising the distinct character of different areas within your space. It can be the difference between a thriving plant and a sad one, the length of your growing season, and even the comfort of your outdoor sitting area.

    A place for everything

    Plants each have their own preferences for light, nutrients, drainage and shelter. And knowing what location in your individual garden can meet these needs offers scope for diversity and creativity in your garden design.

    Once you know your various microclimates, you have two ways to look at them: you can embrace them as they are or manipulate them either to enhance or counter their effects.

    In the first instance, you might have a sun-filled patch along a wall that consistently offers a hotspot. An ideal place for tomatoes to bask for months on end! Maybe it could support a tropical tree – unthinkable in other parts of your yard. 

    Perhaps like me, you accept the limitations the microclimate imposes. My veggie patch expands and contracts with the seasons. I know that when the sun is low in the winter sky my neighbour’s home to the north casts a deep, cold shadow over part of my yard. Instead of trying to grow vegetables during that time I sow green manure crops to help the soil regenerate. By the time the sun’s angle changes in spring, the soil is ready for the demands of the summer crops.

    But perhaps that boggy spot on the side of the fence is just unworkable and has to go – you don’t want to build a frog bog and it really is the only place for your lemon tree. In that case, improving the drainage by adding sand to the clay soil and raising its level will get your tree’s feet out of the wet. And maybe your lemons will come to rival your neighbour’s in the coming years. 

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    Ali Manns is a Permaculture Designer and Educator living in Yarraville and can be found at

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