The term low-maintenance gardening conjures up images of council planting, car parks and roundabouts. But there are many ways to reduce maintenance while ensuring a stylish garden. Most of it is planning ahead, plus an initial input of energy. Choice of surface, ease of access and plant selection all play a key role. Often it means simplifying shapes and areas – which is all part of good garden design.
Q. WHAT MATERIALS SHOULD I OPT FOR WHEN CREATING PATHS AND PATIOS THAT REQUIRE THE LEAST CARE?
A. The amount of maintenance required for surfaces is far more down to the location rather than the material itself. In full sun, most surfaces stay relatively clean, whereas in damp shady spaces and beneath trees most (stone, brick paver and decking) get wet and slippery and need regular pressure washing. Brick paving has lots of joints, so there are more places for debris to gather, increasing maintenance; conversely larger slabs tend to need less cleaning. Aggregates, such as gravel, are the cheapest for paths, but will
need raking every now and then and top dressing every few years with some new material to keep them looking good. A tip with decking is to lay it at rather than grooved side up, as the grooves attract dirt. Depending on the timber, decking should be treated every few years.
Q. WHAT’S THE BEST APPROACH FOR A LOW-MAINTENANCE BORDER? HOW DO I CHOOSE THE MOST SUITABLE PLANTS?
Look for plants that will perform without mollycoddling – not ones that need staking, are prone to pests and diseases, or need regular clipping or deadheading. By eliminating these, and looking at plants that suit your site and soil, you head towards things that really deliver. Perennials planted in blocks or drifts are also a good option – they’re easy to maintain, make a big impact and many only need cutting back once a year. The same applies to drifts of ornamental grasses. Make sure you have plenty of groundcover between plants – this reduces weeding and watering, and looks far better than bare soil.
Q. MY POTS TAKE TOO MUCH TIME TO CARE FOR. HOW CAN I MAKE
A. Pots and containers help style a garden while adding colour and plants that wouldn’t normally thrive in your garden’s soil. Fewer but larger containers with a combination of plants create more impact with less work. Plant choice is a huge consideration – moisture- loving plants often struggle in pots. Instead, look to plants that enjoy good drainage such as olives, callistemon, lavenders, artemisia, rosemary, erysimum and ornamental grasses. Succulents, such as sempervivum and echeveria, can go for long periods without watering, as can drought-tolerant bedding plants, such as verbena and osteospermum. Choose containers that will retain moisture, avoiding terracotta or stone unless you line them with punctured plastic. Water-retaining gels can help retain moisture and drip irrigation systems are also good and can be fitted with a timer on the tap.
Q. MY LAWN IS TIME- CONSUMING TO CARE FOR, BUT I LOVE THE WAY IT LOOKS. HAVE YOU GOT ATIME-SAVING SOLUTION?
A. A traditional lawn will always be high-maintenance, needing regular mowing, as well as aerating, scarifying and feeding. If your lawn is large enough, then think about letting some of it (towards the back probably) grow long throughout the summer and simply mow a path or two through it. Maybe get funky with an easy grid or go for a loose, meandering curve or two heading towards a tree or seat? This can look fabulous and is great for wildlife, too. Edging lawns is time-consuming, so consider setting a mowing strip just below the lawn level (about 2.5cm).
This will allow you to mow over the edge and eliminate edging altogether. There’s also (dare we say it) an increasing number of very convincing artificial grasses being used in small gardens, which is also an option. As long as the garden doesn’t end up looking like a hockey pitch, and there are plenty of live plants to balance out the synthetic grass, it can look good and mean no mowing at all (just the occasional vacuum!).
Q. ARE THERE EASY WAYS TO LOOK AFTER AN ESTABLISHED, HIIGH-MAINTENANCE GARDEN?
A. This is a common problem. Many gardeners have developed a lovely mature garden, but don’t have the time or energy to keep it going. One thing that can be a great help is landscape fabric over large planting areas, as it completely stops weeds coming through but lets water drain away. It can be tricky to install, but is well worth the effort. Remove any small plants or weeds, and lift any established perennials, editing out any high-maintenance specimens as you go. Place and pin down the fabric over the soil, cutting slits or circles around established shrubs until all the ground is covered. Then replant the perennials you want to keep, cutting holes in the fabric to plant through. Mulch over the fabric with a thick layer of gravel or bark chips, leaving mini paths as easy access to plants. Also get rid of any fiddly areas of lawn and use a solid surface. You’ll be amazed at how much it will reduce the work, and it’ll still look good once the plants have grown.
Q. WHAT ARE THE GOLDEN RULES FOR LOW-MAINTENANCE DESIGN WHEN CREATING A GARDEN?
A. If you have a blank canvas, then you can create an exciting, low-maintenance garden. Lawns need regular care, so it’s probably best to avoid them altogether. Keep the shapes of surfaces simple by linking geometrics, such as squares, rectangles and circles. Transitions and edges are key, too, so it’s easy to mow or sweep without having to edge a lawn or ddle around with tight corners. Access is important, so place stepping stones on beds or mulched areas. Initial soil preparation, by incorporating organic matter, is one of the most important elements as it will make your plants grow quicker and healthily, but also reduce watering and feeding over time.