Lets make it clear from the start, there is no such thing as a no maintenance garden or a completely self sufficient garden – Nature will see to that.Even if you concrete over your garden, it will need cleaning as Nature starts to form mosses and weeds on top and so on. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a garden that will look great with the minimum of maintenance.
The key to self sustaining and low maintenance gardens is very much the selection of materials and plants and the layout of the garden.
Why not make it all lawn?
I am often asked to create a low maintenance garden with as much lawn as possible. I have to explain that one of the most high maintenance mediums to have in your garden is lawn. Constant cutting; edging; weeding; feeding; raking; aerating; scarifying, the requirements are never ending if you want it to look good.
Moreover, a lawn dominating garden demands a style of garden which generally will require a higher level of maintenance. So lawn is about the last thing we should have in our low maintenance design.
Artificial lawn? Well yes you can lay an artificial material which these days are indeed a lot better than before. They are very expensive to lay and again they need a degree of maintenance.
What about having a wild flower garden?
The secret of a great wild flower garden is that it is the result of an awful lot of hard work, to prepare the ground to establish it in the first place and then to control the invasive plants to allow the planned range of wild flowers to develop. It is also a challenge to keep your wild flower area to the confines of your own patch – your neighbours may have a view of your selection of planting! In short, there is not a lot of low maintenance with this approach.
Self sufficient planting
With our changing climate, the plants selected for a true self sufficient garden have to put up with some extreme changes in the weather. Prolonged dry summers and freezing winters. The recipe for the best plant selection therefore has to be very weather tolerant; minimal maintenance; and high disease resistance. Here are some recommended plants for a low maintenance planting scheme :
Before planting ground cover plants, it is recommended that you remove all weeds. Once your blanket of ground cover plants have established, persistent weeds such as dandelions and nettles will push through and establish themselves. It is difficult to remove these after the groundcover has been planted. If the area in question is heavily covered in weeds, a systemic weed killer can prove the most appropriate solution.
- Ajuga reptans
- Vinca minor
- Hedera ‘Glacier’
- Lamium maculatum
- Hypericum Hidcote
- Alchemilla mollis
Perennials often suggest herbaceous borders which in turn suggests serious high maintenance. A plant puts a lot of energy into flowering so can’t really maintain it for a very long period. So that means a lot of work to cut back the exhausted ones and preparing fresh ones. Perennials do give a blaze of colour to the garden and can be planted in drifts which is less a little time consuming.
Here are some plants to consider that don’t need a huge amount of work other than dead heading and cutting back at the end of the season:-
- Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’
- Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’
- Geranium ‘Rozanne’
- Iris siberica ‘Caesar’s Brother’
- Rudbeckia maxima
Most of these plants will require deadheading and tidied up at the end of the season.
- Carex elata ‘Aurea’
- Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’
- Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’
- Lonicera periclymenum
- Clematis cirrhosa ‘Calycina’
Trees & Shrubs
In preference to perennials, you are probably better off planting shrubs that don’t need a lot of tending. Have a look at the following:
- Choisya ternata
- Fatsia japonica
- Ribes sanguineum
- Osmanthus × burkwoodii
- Ceanothus ‘Puget Blue’
- Mahonia japonica
- Phormium tenax
If you want trees, look out for evergreen trees that do not shed their leaves – the major area of maintenance. Slow growing trees will reduce the amount of pruning.
- Abies lasiocarpa
- Arbutus unedo
- Ilex aquafolium
- Acacia dealbata (Semi-tender)
- Drimys winteri
- Magnolia grandifolia
Hard Landscape Materials – Paving and Walling
When it comes to deciding on the best materials for your patios or paths, you want to avoid materials that can support moss or weeds. Although it is the cheapest, gravel, even with membrane underneath, it probably is the worst for hosting unwelcome visitors. Resin bound aggregate or stone sealant are good alternatives.
Resin Bound aggregate creates a low maintenance surface
With regard to walling, avoid rendering, which requires constant attention, especially if fronted by flower beds. Simple brick walling is about as good as you will get. If walling is too expensive and you revert to hedging, apply a growth retardant such as Cutless, which will reduce the maintenance requirements down to one or two cuts a year.
In short, with a bit of forward planning and research, you can still have a beautiful garden without being tied to it every spare minute of the day.
Happy low maintenance gardening!