In today’s world, where more people than ever feel very time poor, maintaining an attractive garden can seem daunting and time consuming. A very common request for garden designers is to create a ‘low maintenance garden,’ but what exactly does this constitute and how can it best work to your advantage?
Firstly, there are varying levels of ‘low maintenance.’ To one person, mowing a lawn is a satisfying recreational activity, while another person will see it as an undesirable chore. The same goes for growing herbs or veggies or creating a garden full of seasonal colour or flowers.
Being really clear on the way in which you want to use your garden and the amount of time you would like to be working on it is important right from the start, prior to creating or re-working your outdoor area.
As a general rule, unless you want your garden to resemble a roadside verge, some maintenance will be required. There are however some general tips and tricks that can make the maintenance side of your outdoor area less onerous and more satisfying. You can definitely achieve a relatively low maintenance garden that looks great and meets your lifestyle requirements, fits with your aesthetics and is an asset to your home.
Firstly, it is really important to be clear on what is most important to you in your outside space. How do you mainly want to use your garden? Is it an area to entertain in, a space for the kids to play in, or more of a series of pretty vistas viewed from within your home? What types of gardens give you most pleasure? Which parts of the garden do you see and use, or wish to utilise most often? These are the areas you should prioritise in terms of effort and care. There is no real point having areas of garden that you work hard on, but that you only see when you maintain them. It would be far better to make these areas work as an attractive background, with lower maintenance plants such as carefully selected trees, shrubs, succulents and dense ground covers that suit the environment you wish to put them into. A pretty good rule of thumb is the more closely a plants requirements naturally align with the site they are going into, the less intervention and time they will require from you.
That said, it is lovely to enjoy viewing and being in special parts of the garden that have more visual interest and potentially have a few special plant heroes that you really love and are willing to give a little time to. Imagine a beautiful ornamental grapevine draped over an otherwise plain outdoor dining area. The seasonal variation and spectacular autumn colour is likely to bring you a great deal of pleasure that justifies a little time giving it a bit of a prune. The same applies to other carefully selected special trees, shrubs or flowers you choose to have as your stars.
Think about different options that give you an overall similar impact. For example,
if by the end of a hot dry summer, you crave the sight of some soothing green outside, you may wish to consider including hardy shrubs and hedges which only need the occasional trim compared to the irrigation and cutting requirements of a lawn which people tend to think of first when seeking a green space. While different, both options provide a refreshing sense of green oasis.
Other strategies to consider include minimising plantings that require a lot of work. Rather than having thirsty plants in pots that require frequent watering, keep drought tolerant plants in the ground, where they will be less likely to dry out as quickly. Use mulch to suppress weeds and plant tough, dense ground covers to add texture and retain moisture in the soil. Choose some evergreen plants which will provide structure with little fuss and rather than lots of different kinds of plants, all with different care and maintenance routines. Go for massed plantings of key plants, ensuring that there are at least a few things that will look good all year round. Groups of 3, 5, 7 or even more of the same plant can bring a cohesiveness and calmness to a garden that simply cannot be achieved in a garden that has one of everything.
In order to achieve the best possible low maintenance garden, a high level of thought and careful planning is required. If you’re unsure about which plants might be best, or how to create a really attractive and well thought through design, seek help from a garden designer, nursery and/or gardening friend. Getting the foundations of your outdoor space right will save you many times over the cost of unhappy or dead plants and unwanted labour.
At the end of the day, your garden should be a sanctuary that complements your home and makes you feel good. If it’s a lovely garden, but you aren’t enjoying the work that goes with it, it’s time to change it. Similarly, if it isn’t looking good and doesn’t provide you with any pleasure, it urgently needs an overhaul. Of course if the budget stretches to it, you can always get someone in to take care of it for you, but even then, a high maintenance garden is going to take longer and cost you more.
Ultimately your garden is there to be enjoyed. This should be your main objective. You’re seeking a good friend in your garden, not a high-maintenance ‘frienemy.’ Like any successful relationship, it will warrant some care and attention, but it should also generously give back to you as well. A garden that genuinely strikes a comfortable balance between the input it requires from you and the satisfaction you derive from it is the garden you should be aiming for. A practical, hard-working and undemanding garden that gives you pleasure – so much more than simply a ‘low maintenance’ garden.