Category Archives: Advice for those who aren’t great at gardening

Make your garden look like a Chelsea Show Garden

Chelsea Show Garden

 Want one of these?

RHS show Garden

But have one of these….

not quite a show garden

In my previous post on Chelsea show gardens, we looked at why it will be nigh on impossible to recreate a show garden at home but that we could take on board bits of the gardens to create a bit more glamour at home.

 

The gardens on show at Chelsea are packed with dozens of varieties of plants, in some cases over a hundred different plant species in one 100m sq garden – all of which creates that wow factor.  However recreating the look of the garden is not quite as simple as choosing some of the plants used and popping them all together in a border, you need to be a bit more bold. It is how the plants are used that creates the ‘wow’ factor at Chelsea, so to try and capture some of the magic in your own garden, you are going to have to shake things up a bit.

 

This year, spirals are in, as are plant humps and monoliths, but Chelsea show gardens don’t really have lawns and most back gardens need a lawn – they are vital if you have kids, pets, washing lines or enjoy sunbathing. As a result, you can’t use all that a show garden produces, but you can adapt it around your existing garden, but you have to be a little more creative with what is usually the most dominant feature in the garden, the lawn.

 

‘Chelsea-fying’ the lawn

 

Many gardens of whatever shape or size tend to adopt a ‘centrifugal’ pattern for the border – the theory (incorrectly) is it maximises the usefulness of the garden; it doesn’t.

centrifugal-gardenIt is really difficult to get the planting scheme  to have any real drama if all you can do is plant everything in a straight line around the fences.

There are lots of simple design shapes that will make the garden look a whole lot more interesting because you can create a deep enough border and thus combine the plants more effectively; so it resembles more closely a show style of garden. Combine your plants into bigger deeper borders to create more impact – it’s much better than a centrifuge garden!

 

narrow entrance offset oval Square corners

 

In all these lawn shapes, you still have plenty of space for grass, but now you also have a deeper border and that’s how you can begin to create real impact.

 

Reach for the sky!

 

Most humans are about 5-6ft tall, so when we look ahead, we look at things first that are directly in front of our eyes – things that are about 5-6 ft tall. You need eye-catching plants or structures in the garden that are 5-6ft tall. By including these, you will notice less the other structures that are 5-6ft tall around you – your fences.

 

chelsea 1000 pxAll of these design drawings for Chelsea use height, your eyes are made to look up and down to see all that is there.

 

You can use plants and or monoliths, sculpture or art to create this type of interest, you can also use small trees, but choose carefully, trees have a habit of dropping leaves, fruit and reduce light levels.

 

Putting it into practice.

It’s all very well saying all this stuff, but what if your garden really is a rather unattractive fence enclosed plot of nothingness – make that a Chelsea garden!

Case in point here, a really tiny space, with a dominant brick wall and an artwork of drainpipes for a view.

brick wall back yard

Firstly we need to include some stylish features, that make the space more interesting and that provides something to look at.

small-courtyard-plan

 So we have a basic shape and a reasonably good sized border, that still leaves enough space for a table and chairs. Incidentally (& garden purists please stop reading the next line) ditch the lawn, if you want green grass in a lawn this size, go artificial or use shingle.

 

Now to plant, the thing to remember about show gardens, is they use huge variety of plants, many of which won’t be suited to a small garden – ie speed spreaders, ‘buy one get thousands free’ type plants or even worse the plant ‘triffids’.… Show gardens only last a week, so any plant rebels in there don’t have time to begin a rebellion.

Download “Chelsea inspired border design” Chelsea-inspired-pdf-2016.pdf – Downloaded 129 times – 3 MB

The upshot is that although you may want to use the actual plants, it may be better to use other plants more suitable that give the same effect. 

To see what plants we’ve used to create these borders simply click on the download.

 

white-shade-small-garden-ch sunset-colours pink-and-magenta-small-gard

So you can create a wow factor in any size garden, albeit in small spaces there is probably only enough space for one ‘wow’, it’s a whole lot better than staring at a fence!

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Chelsea Flower Show 2016

chelsea 1000 px

Can you make a Chelsea Flower Show Garden at home?

 

Blue flowers

 

It’s show season & the horticultural world is gearing up for the biggest & most prestigious of all…. Chelsea Flower Show 2016.

 

We, as ‘garden mortals’, are going to look on in wonder at the ability of the professional horticulturalists and garden designers to produce the most amazing and utterly perfect looking plants. We will gaze upon beautifully constructed gardens that look like they have grown there for years and marvel at how they do all this, in just a few short weeks.

 

We will listen to experts eulogise over plants and the show gardens and tell us how we can be inspired to have a go at home…..but is this fanciful talk or could we really produce a garden of show standard beauty in our own back gardens?

Before we look at whether we can, what makes a show garden so spectacular?

Well the most obvious point, is that on average, show gardens can cost up to £250,000 and with an approximate size of 100m sq – that’s a whopping £2,500 spent per square metre! 

 

hampton court show garden

 

So clearly barring a lottery win, this is out of reach for the vast majority.

 

Chelsea Show ground, for much of the year, is a large open expanse of green, which is utterly transformed every year by an army of landscapers, builders and garden designers. This give the designer a distinct advantage over the rest of us, they all have a totally blank canvas to work with. 

 

Designers don’t have to fit a border around the tree roots creeping in from next door’s garden, nor do they have to consider how to disguise the ugly shed in the corner or prop up a derelict fence. It is so much easier to design a beautiful garden if you don’t have to compromise on anything!

 

Other key points that raise the show garden above the norm include planting density, you don’t ever see bare soil in a show garden. Now I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to fill every patch of my garden with plants; the problem arising here though is that if you don’t fill with plants…the garden happily fills the space with weeds!

 

Plant perfection, plants are expensive, we buy in 2’s and 3’s usually. Growing plants for a show involves growing hundreds at a time and picking only the best few for the show.

 

Lastly, and probably most importantly, most if not all the plants on show have been ‘tampered with’, now by this I mean that plants are kept in artificial conditions (heat to accelerate growth and flowering or cool to restrict the flowering), so by the time Chelsea arrives, all the plants behave a bit like racehorses in the starting gate, champing at the bit to all burst forth and flower….

 

So in your garden at home, you will not be able to reproduce the flowering intensity you see at Chelsea, in a normal environment your plants will flower as and when they should.

 

Now before you are disappointed, consider this, Chelsea is all about the show – and it lasts for 1 week. So if the following week all the plants have finished flowering it doesn’t matter – but in your garden it does, you want it to look pretty darn good for more than 5 days in the year.

 

Show gardens are the ‘Supermodels’ of the gardening world, we know they look fab, we’d love to look like one but we all know we haven’t the time, patience, money or the right body shape to be one. However, we can all take a few elements from the supermodels catwalk show and make ourselves feel a bit more glamorous.

 

chelsea 1000 px

These are just some of the design drawings for this years show, so what are the trends and the best bits you can take with you.

It easier if you break it down into 3 categories, colours, shapes and fashion.

 

Colour: Aside from greens, pale pinks, blues, magenta, a hint of copper tones, oranges and the colours of a sunset are popular.

 

harrod planting style M&G planting style Hartley botanic planting style Brewin Dolphin planting scheme

 

Shapes: Spirals and plant humps (as opposed to ball shapes) are in, formal ponds and straight water runways and monoliths; large tall structures that rise above the planting and there’s not a lot of lawn on show!

 

Fashions: The vast majority of the flowers used serve a dual purpose, not only are they pretty to look at but more importantly they provide a food source for wildlife. Gone are the big, complex flower heads – instead there is a focus on the natural shapes and colours of flowers.

 

Gardens are looking more natural, the plants look as though they could have self seeded and grown there on their own, (don’t be fooled though – this look is a product of expert plantsmanship), but it looks like we could recreate this at home.

Wildflowers and ferns are combined with delicate flowers to create a much more free flowing style of garden. It all looks very relaxed and not terribly manicured. The plants used are less showy, less ostentatious and aren’t high maintenance plant divas.

 

The overall result is to create a garden you can relax in, the plants seem to do the work all by themselves, leaving you free to wander round your estate with a glass of something nice; which is precisely the effect the designer has spent many sleepless nights trying to achieve for you.

 

So, what bits do I use?

 

This is where we start to take a look at personal taste and how things would fit in your garden.  The colour scheme is entirely a personal choice, but just like decorating the inside of your house, have a colour theme. Green is the background colour but then have no more than 3 colours for the border. This year designers have combined cerise, magenta and pale pinks, also bronzes, oranges and purples, or pale blues, soft pinks and cream colours.

 

All the planting in the designs is in layers, the plants generally rise to mid thigh height, the second layer is created with tall monoliths. You could use natural materials such as stone or wood or you could be more creative and use sculptures or screens. The idea being, the low level planting moves and sways in contrast to the monolith. Then over all the canopy of small trees holds your eyeline inside the garden.

 

The key point is that you can’t recreate the effect of a show stopping garden with only the plants, you have to be a bit bold and make a statement. Be different from the neighbours gardens.

 

Where in the manual of gardening does it state lawns have to rectangular and lie parallel to the fences, or that one has to have a hedge that’s solid and green and 6 feet tall.

 

The whole purpose of a show garden, just like a fashion show, is to open your eyes and make you think differently. You don’t need a Chelsea Show garden at home but that doesn’t mean yours can’t become a show garden either.

 

So have a colour plan, make sure you create enough depth and width in a border. It is better to have one deep border that  has real impact than a long thin border by the fence. Stand in the garden and look at the border – what do you see that’s directly in front of your eyes, the fence? If so, ‘plant’ something tall.

 

Most importantly remember it’s your garden, if you love what’s there, then who is anyone else to say that it’s not quite the done thing…?

 

heligan head

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Mini-Makeovers :- Garden Ideas for Tiny Back Yards

Garden Ideas: Tiny Back Yards or Courtyards

 

When space is tight, it can be tricky to make a garden or even to try to have anything that resembles a garden, sadly all too often, the courtyard consists of a couple of bins, the odd bicycle and maybe a threadbare patch of less than immaculate lawn!

 

But it doesn’t have to be this way….so how do you do it!

 

Firstly, have a plan….now this may sound blindingly obvious, but the temptation to wander into the nearest garden centre to find some plants you like and then try and fit them into the space you have usually leads to disappointment.

courtyard-gdn---sunset-boul

In the image, we have gone big & bold with pots. This garden is dominated by a rather unattractive concrete path, so to tone down the concrete colour scheme, we have dug up the tiny lawn and replaced it with grey shingle. Then the fence panels have been painted a soft mossy green colour (which is unassuming and easy on the eye). All this creates a muted background for you to go a bit wild with the planting.

The key point with the planting is to make it really bold and colourful so that you don’t notice the grey path as much and the plants are quite tall which create more impact. The purples, oranges and greens (see our MiniPlots ranges) now hold your visual attention.

We have also hidden the bins behind a small trellis and have of course added a hedgehog hole to help our furry friends forage from garden to garden.

courtyard-gdn-hedges-3

The second image paints a totally different picture. If pots are not your thing, as plants in pots do require more looking after, we thought we’d do a plan using one of our Fab Fronts designs (as they can be used in the back too!).

The most obvious new feature is a lawn, however, grass in small spaces gets an awful lot of traffic and can quickly resemble a mud patch, so we have artificial grass. The garden purists amongst you may feel this is not gardening, but the aim here is to create an usable and attractive outside space for as much of the year as possible.

 

The fence panels have also been painted black which is a great colour to use as a backdrop in the garden. Foliage colours stand out brilliantly against the dark background.

 

Space for planting is obviously limited, in this case the only real area is alongside the path. The temptation can be to plant low growing plants so they don’t take up too much room, but this is a mistake. If you plant low down, all you will see looking out of the window is a fence, there will be nothing that grabs your eyeballs and says ‘look at me’!

 

In addition a couple of pots have been added opposite the back door with drought tolerant plants (in case you forget to water as often as you should) and because the fence is now the same colour as the bin you don’t notice your bins now either.

£1.49 we make easier

 

How to get Low Maintenance Planting for Pots

Low Maintenance Planting for Pots

 

Well this is a bit of a misnomer  planting in pots will always more labour intensive than planting in soil.

Plants were not designed to grow in a pot and so will be more demanding. There are ways to reduce the time you spend tending to your pots.

 

tulips-in-pots

 

So what are our top tips to getting a gorgeous pot collection that not only looks lovely but also survives the summer sunshine and the winter rains!

 

What type of Pot?

 

DSCF7984Gone are the days we could only have terracotta pots, now you can get any shape any size and almost any material – so what are best.

 

You need to know the conditions your pot will be inDSCF7985 in order to pick the best material.

For example, if you have a sunny patio, then thin metal planters are going to absorb lots of heat and cook the roots of the plants, or if you have a plot that is prone to frost, thin terracotta pots will easily crack and break.

So the rules are this:

 

  • In hot sunny sites, use pots that have good thermal insulation, like wood or terracotta and avoid dark colours that will absorb more heat.
  • DSCF7974  Wooden pots and planters must have a liner or inner pot, to prevent the wood becoming rotten.
  • Metal pots must have a layer of insulation inserted, otherwise both the sun and the frost will cook and freeze the roots that curl around the edge of the pot.
  • Plastic or fibreglass pots are lighter and so should have some ballast added to the bottom of the pot to prevent them falling over.
  • Stone or large pots try to use castors under the pot before you plant. You will want to move the pot at some point – and you don’t need a hernia doing it!

DSCF8010

  • DSCF8004Urns or Round pots look lovely, apart from when you need to repot or remove a plant.

Getting an established plant out of a pot with a narrow neck without breaking the pot is tricky.

So either choose insert a pot that sits in the neck of the urn or only plant in pots that are wider at the top!

 

 

  • fibreglass_red_ball_planterTerracotta pots, the cheaper ones  aren’t usually frost hardy and are prone to cracking in winter. If you are investing in a nice pot, make sure it is – the rims usually break first.

 

 

Have enough holes!

DSCF7983

All pots need drainage holes, sadly many modern pots don’t seem to have them. Whilst this does prevent muddy puddles, it also drowns the plants.

So make sure there are 3-4 holes in the base. And if you have a large plant in a pot, check the roots aren’t blocking the holes up too.  In winter, raise the pots off the ground a little to prevent soggy bottoms!

 

 

Get the right filling.

The problem with multipurpose compost is that it’s just that – multipurpose. Your planted pots are going to need a bit more to grow well and stay looking good.

 

  • Multipurpose compost dries out really easily – which means more watering.
  • Once dried out this compost is hard to rehydrate, the compost shrinks and compacts making it hard to absorb the water.
  • If you plant certain types of plant in compost, they grow all fat & floppy and won’t produce enough flowers because the compost is too rich, they just produce green leaves.
  • Multipurpose compost is not good if you are planting perennials or shrubs, i.e plants you want to last. The compost loses any mineral elements pretty quickly so the plant is left starving and looking decidedly peaky.

 

So what to do.

 

  • Mix 2/3 topsoil with 1/3 compost in a pot mix. Plants know how to grow in soil….the compost just lightens the mix. Soil takes longer to dry out than compost and it hold nutrients better, so your plants will grow better for longer.
  • If you have plants that thrive in poor soils you can use a mix of topsoil, compost and also sand or grit or some subsoil. The plant will grow lean and mean, so it shouldn’t flop, droop and should produce more flowers!
  • Plants that love a rich moist soil, add water retaining granules, topsoil, compost and manure to give the plant the best start.

 

3 different plants requiring 3 different conditions

 

Aeonium type succulentThe succulent on the left hand pot appreciates a well drained soil.

It is drought tolerant (but tender) so it can thrive in a smaller pot that might dry out a bit more quickly.

 

canna wThe Canna on the right is a different kettle of fish.

This plant loves a rich moisture retentive soil, it won’t appreciate being waterlogged. It will look decidedly peaky if all it has to grow in is multipurpose compost. So use a mix of soil, multipurpose and a bit of garden manure to help it grow.

 

Box Ball 2Finally, the Box. This plant will last for years, so it is best to plant this in a pot that is predominantly soil as opposed to compost.

You will need to topdress with a feed and ensure it doesn’t dry out, every few years replenish with fresh soil.

 

THe upshot is; if plants have good growing conditions you won’t have to look after them so often!

Put the right stuff in the pot for the place you want it!

 

Apologies for maybe stating the obvious, but seeing as we are looking at ways to reduce unwanted garden chores, what you put where is really quite important.

  • In hot sunny areas, make sure all the plants you add to the pot will thrive in hot conditions.
  • Similarly in shade, don’t mix ferns and sun lovers for example.
  • Pots containing a mixture of plants look wonderful in magazines and garden centres but they are actually tricky to keep well fed and watered.

 

Filling your Pots:

 

pot fill 1  All Pots need ballast at the base to aid with drainage. Leave a gap at the top to allow for easier watering. The plant’s root ball should occupy the area shown in darker brown, that way the plant has enough room, which encourages new root growth.

 

  pot over fill Here the pot has been overfilled, so the water will simply run over the edge and not get into the soil.

 

  tall fill If you have a tall pot, you don’t need to fill the entire pot with expensive soil & compost. You will need some ballast for stability and to aid drainage at the base, add a lightweight layer above. This can be old polystyrene plant trays or empty plastic pots. Above that you add a membrane to prevent the soil being wash through and then add the soil as before.

 

Finally have little pot collections, rather than dotting individual pots here and there around the garden. It makes it much quicker to water them all.

 

Pots will always require more care and attention than plants in the ground. By choosing the type of pot and by thinking a little more about the compost and the plants, your plants will look healthier and last longer!

For more ideas tips and advice….

plotting shed blog

 

Next week As Spring is really starting to take hold:  how to revamp little bits of your garden with our Mini Makeovers.

 

How to get a Low Maintenance Border in your Garden

A Low Maintenance Border in the garden that looks great all year…yes please!

So can you get something that looks fantastic without spending hours tending to the garden? Well the answer has to be yes, otherwise there’s no point in reading the rest of this article!

 

not a low maintnenance border

 

What actually does ‘low maintenance’ mean?

Well, low maintenance is all about not having unwanted garden chores or at least minimising these as much as possible. So one person’s low maintenance garden may not be the same as someone else’s.

 

In the garden border, most time is taken up with:

  • Clipping and Pruningdesign-garden-sidebar
  • Tying things in or stopping plants flopping
  • Weeding
  • Deadheading
  • Stopping one plant taking over the border
  • Digging up unwanted seedlings
  • Planting plants only to have to lift them up at the end of the year
  • Daily inspections for the signs of bugs and diseases

There’s lots of advice further down this page to reduce your garden maintenance burden. However if you just want to know what plants to put in that won’t take over the garden….

 

We have loads of border designs available to download. All our designs are created to  minimise the amount of unwanted maintenance. We understand that although most of us would love to have a beautiful garden – many of us simply don’t have enough time to garden.

Our designs use ‘well-behaved’ plants that not only look good, they do good too; so bees and butterflies will love to visit too.

Why not have a browse through some of our lower maintenance designs…

lower-maintenance

 

 

If you are going to plant and you want to minimise maintenance, then follow these tips:

Shrubs:

  • Use evergreen shrubs
  • Avoid thorns…!
  • Check the size in 5, if it will be 10ft tall in 5 years, then it grows pretty fast and will need constant trimming.
  • If it says the diameter of the plant will be 80cm for example, then plant it at least 40 cm away from a wall or fence.
  • Don’t squash shrubs into tight spaces, like a skirt that’s too small – you’ll end up with a ‘muffin-top’!

mini-makeovers

Climbers:
  • Use self clinging ones – so you don’t have to constantly tie in tendrils.
  • Make sure the trellis is big and sturdy enough. A plant won’t get to the end of your trellis and stop – it will keep on growing and flop!
  • Hang the trellis onto a bracket attached to the wall. This leaves space for growth and you can lift the trellis off the wall if you need to.
  • Don’t mix different climbers on the same trellis – unless 1 is an annual that will die after 1 season.
  • Plant a climber in a space that fits the ultimate size. Montana Clematis for example will swamp most garden trellis or arches in a very short time.

grow-here

Plants:

  • Keep bedding and annual plants to a minimumplants to avoid 1
  • Avoid overbred flowers or overly large flowers – they require lots of food and water to keep performing.
  • Use bulbs rather than bedding plants to fill up spaces
  • Look for a AGM medal on the plant label – it will be a good performer and have better disease resistance.
  • Avoid tender perennials – these will need winter protection to stay alive in winter.

Pots:

  • Use larger pots – small ones dry out too easilygood garden plants
  • In sunny spots use water retaining granules in the soil.
  • Use a mixture of topsoil and compost, plants grow better in soil.
  • Raise the pots off the ground to help with drainage.
  • Have a pot collection in one place, watering is quicker.
  • Mix slow release fertiliser into the soil mix before you plant, then it’s done and you won’t have to remember to liquid feed every week.

 

The Ground:

  • Weed it properly, yanking off the weed leaves will not kill the weed, you need to dig them out. And it’s easier to do this before you plant anything else.
  • If the soil is really poor and you don’t want to add lots of compost or manure, then choose plants that thrive in tough places or those that have shallow root systems like grasses that won’t need much extra food.
  • Bare soil around plants is fine, if you pack too much in, then all the plants compete for light, space and food and only the toughest (normally weeds) win. So give your plants space to get going. Any weed seeds are easy to see and quick to remove.
  • Don’t let anything set seed unless you want more of them. 1 plant can set thousands of seeds, weeds throw out millions, so snip off seed heads before they ripen.

 

How to make an existing border lower maintenance:

As with anything, first you need to work out the problem, before you can find the right solution – which sometimes means starting again!

Here for example, the border does not look it’s best.

 

not a low maintenance border

 

Clearly every plant here is fighting for space, there is just too much and it has grown too big. The strappy leaves of the Crocosmia (the orange one), flop on the path ready to trip you up and the Perovskia (the blue plant) looks a bit like it’s been all night clubbing and needs a lie down!

 

You need to make a decision as to whether the border can be rejigged, or whether it’s best to lift everything and start again.

In this case…start again!

 

low maintenance border - start again

 

I’ll bet you didn’t think the border was triangular though. Aside from that, we now have a starting point. So what’s next?

What’s above & what’s below?:

You must match the plant to the position of the border and the type of soil you have.

 

Otherwise known as right plant, right place. Remember this is all about reducing garden maintenance. Read more

 

Download our free Right Plant – Wrong Place planting guides

 

Plants grow best if they are happy with the conditions. So sun lovers will be limp and feeble if stuffed in a shady corner and similarly plants that love a rich moist soil will look decidedly hungover if planted in a sun trap. All of which mean you have to tend to them more often or they die and you have to spend more money and time sorting it out.

 

Having said that, some plants will go on the rampage if you plant them in perfect conditions and so are best avoided. These tough plants do have a place, but generally you only plant them where weeds are currently thriving and then they are brilliant!

 

 

The upshot is this – if you get the conditions right for the plant, it will grow more strongly, it will grow into the shape it’s supposed to be and at the right speed. The stems will be less floppy and it will produce better flowers.

The plants will tend to look after themselves, so you don’t have to!

butterfly taste 12

Don’t create extra work unintentionally

You need a plan before you plant, the ‘stuff it in and see what happens approach’, very rarely works and can quickly become a tangled mess that needs sorting out.

 

You must look at the size a plant will become not the size it is now. Filling up the border with the small plants you have bought is not a good approach.

 

If the border is only 2m square, then you need to select plants that over time will fill up that 2m sq. Use bulbs for infills, especially small plants like crocus, snowdrops, alliums and narcissus. These are narrow plants that don’t fill ground space too much, but do fill the air above with colour!

 

cottage-with-planned-garden-1224357

 

You know a garden like the one above will keep you really busy, but so will a garden that looks like this…

 

not a low maintnenance border

 

Now you may have got to the end of this article (thank you by the way) and thought, ‘OK right, I get that, but what do I actually plant, what do I put with what and how many should I fit into the space I have. That’s what I really need to know about the low maintenance bit!’

Visit our Shop now to see our range of Low Maintenance Designs that would be just perfect for your garden.

beginners

Next Week: Pots – if you like plants in pots, but wished they kept looking good, then tune in and we’ll show you how to ‘pot plant’ better!

 

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How to get a Low Maintenance Lawn

Low Maintenance Lawns – are they possible?

Lawns are very definitely not low maintenance….but you can lower the time you have to spend manicuring them.

If you love mowing and trimming the lawn and it’s part of your favourite weekend routine, then please don’t read any more, if however your lawn is a bit of a pain in the ‘sunday mornings’ then do please carry on!

Back_Lawns,_Trinity_College,_Oxford

We love lawns though don’t we. In the UK we have always prided the standard of our lawns. A totally bump free, striped (of course), verdant swathe of green that has been trimmed to a regulation height and contains not one daisy has been seen as the ultimate status symbol in many a garden.

It is a statement of how Man can command nature to comply with our rules.

Well that’s great if you love military precision and mowing but it takes an awful lot of time and effort.

Lawns are one of the most time consuming chores any garden produces, so if garden maintenance is not your favourite occupation, how can you reduce the time spent mowing!

Analyse your lawn!

If you have heard of the Pareto principle – 80% of the work arises from 20% of the possible causes. In this case 20% of your lawn will be walked on 80% of the time and 80% of the lawn will not get much wear from you at all.

So in the interests of lowering the maintenance of the lawn, you need to decide if the lawn needs to be quite as large as it is.

Now before you all roll your eyes and think that digging up the grass and replacing it with flower beds would be even more work (which it would), think instead do you need to tend the 80% of the lawn that you don’t really use as much as the 20% you do?

This does mean, tackling the cultural icon of the perfect lawn as a status symbol, but in reality, perfect lawns like the one above are virtual deserts for insects. It’s like flying over the Sahara for a bee! They contain not a scrap of food and are there for our own pleasure, but if we aren’t really using 80% of it, then what pleasure are we indulging?

How would this apply to a small average garden lawn though, wouldn’t it look rather out of place? Well not really, think of it as adding to a boring flat lawn and play with different heights of grass. You can introduce blocks of unmown grass in the areas you don’t use much, so for example under the canopy of a tree, allow the grass to grow longer, so you don’t have to mow it so often.

If you have childrens swings or slides on the lawn, don’t try and mow up to the base of the swing, create a longer grass section and just mow a wide sweep around it. It won’t look as daft as you think it will and this is all about reducing the time mowing!

Decide if you really need a lawn at all

Small lawns really aren’t worth the effort and neither are unused lawns.

front garden bare

We’ve all passed by front gardens like this one, clearly gardening isn’t this owner’s passion,  but having a swathe of lawn like this is just adding to the list of weekly chores. Grass is a wonderful surface to walk on, if there is no traffic or use, why have the grass at all or at least reduce the weekly workload by reducing mowing.

Incidentally, this front garden would look fantastic as a grass garden, the soil is poor, dries out easily and it’s quite sunny – so a perfect place for easy to grow ornamental grasses – that require just one trim a year!

If you do have a tiny patch of grass, then the chances are it will get quite a lot of footfall, is a threadbare lawn really worth having.  In reality small lawns should be removed and replaced with another landscaping material…unless you decide on a tiny grass meadow and let the whole thing grow and cut it once in late autumn.

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Sort out your seed!

Most of you will have inherited the lawn that came with the property, it would be nice if it was a beautiful one, but most likely it had good bits and threadbare areas. So you probably have popped off to the DIY or Garden Centre and have bought yourself some ‘Super Fast Lawn Repair’ kit or have  splashed out on ‘Instant Patch Repair Seed Mix’, sown it  and ‘bob’s your uncle’ – lawn restored.

There is a but coming and it’s this, ‘Super Fast’ and ‘Instant’. These seed mixes aren’t actually that clever, they won’t repair the lawn super fast and then slow their growth rate down to match the rest of your grass!

These are fast growing grasses, so they keep growing and require mowing more often.

The same is true for ‘Hard Wearing Lawn Seed’, this too grows fast, so it can recover from the constant wear. Sow this seed in areas of normal use and you end up with patches of faster grass growing.

Adding different types of seed mix to a lawn creates a patchwork of differing growth rates and in some cases greens, which make the lawn look more unkempt and you end up mowing it more often.

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You are best buying a normal seed mix and keep adding to any bare patches. If the grass really struggles to grow in a certain corner, then you need to reconsider if the lawn is in the right place. If the problem is due to lots of feet running on a small area, then consider adding a grass mesh to help protect the grass. If the area is really shaded then most plants will struggle to grow, there are some tough plants that thrive in deep shade so maybe it’s worth ditching the threadbare grass for something more robust.

What shape is best?

Lawns come in all shapes and sizes, but if you want a speedy mow then follow these tips;

  • Don’t have tight corners to the lawn – it makes it awkward to get a mower round
  • Keep pots and chairs off the lawn if at all possible to speed things up.
  • Use plant supports that keep foliage off the grass and that are high enough for the mower to run underneath.
  • Raise the height of the cutter deck -since when was 1/2 inch the only height you could cut grass too!
  • Try to avoid raised edges on borders or paths that are tricky to mow next to.
  • If you have a grass path, make it at least 2 mower widths wide for ease of cutting.

Mowing Frequency

The best way to reduce the time mowing is to mow less. The grass will obviously be a bit longer, mow every other week but trim the edges every week, the lawn will still look pretty neat and you have spent less time mowing.

Unless of course you still just love mowing!

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Next Week: It’s all about your borders….exciting stuff!

How to get Low Maintenance Hedges

As part of our series on creating a low maintenance garden we thought it a good idea to see how you can grow a low maintenance hedge!

Ah hedges, us Brits love hedges!

 

There are millions of miles of hedging in our gardens, some more lovingly maintained than others and some are works of art in their own right.

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We trim them, straighten them, pleach and prune them to create boundaries and cocoon ourselves in these great green walls. Let’s face it hedges are fantastic in many ways. They are natural boundaries, really useful wildlife habitats the most effective windbreaks and are much prettier than fence panels.

 

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We should all try and plant more hedges. Unlike fencing, hedges have this annoying tendency to grow or drop leaves – which invariably causes more work in the garden.

How do you get low maintenance hedges then?

Hedges will never be no maintenance, but you can prevent them being high maintenance;

The ‘rules’ are as follows:

 

  • Hedges should be wider at the base than at the top.
  • Limit the height of the hedge to 6 ft – which is tall enough!
  • As a general rule, trim only a little off the side growth but you can take more from the top.
  • Make sure you have decent tools – an old pair of blunt shears will make a hard job 10 times worse
  • Don’t plant thorny climbers into your hedge – unless you are a real sucker for punishment.
  • Evergreen Hedging is pruned in the Spring and trimmed in the summer, so early flowering climbers are best avoided in case you chop off the flower buds.
  • Deciduous Hedging is pruned in Winter and trimmed again in Summer. Climbers that flower on new growth are good to use, if they get chopped in the winter prune, they’ll grow lots of new flowers for later in the year.
  • If you use annual climbers, then plant these away from the base of the hedge or in large pots, so they don’t compete with the hedge for water and food can and get a good start.
  • If at all possible, ‘flop’ the climber on the surface of the hedge, you can then move it off the hedge more easily to trim in the summer.

 

As we have said in previous posts, low maintenance really means reducing the number jobs you don’t like doing in the garden. If you have a hedge then you need to decide which part of it’s maintenance annoys you the most and look to change that.

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The Annual Trim!

You will not avoid pruning if you have a hedge, but you can make it easier with a little thought and a bit of planning.

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Tall hedges:

These are a real pain to keep in check, if you can’t easily trim the hedge you may have to hire specialists in, which is expensive. Decide, if the hedge really needs to be 7 feet high? If the hedge only needs to be 5ft tall to screen out next door’s windows, then why grow it to a height where you need steps and ladders to trim it?

Wide hedges:

Any hedge can to become too wide, which uses up valuable garden space and you can’t easily reach across the top. Most hedges are generally pruned harder on top and less on the sides. If you can see little shoots appearing on the woody stems of the hedge, it may well regrow from the base.

If the width does need to be reduced then it is best to tackle it over a couple of years. Cut back just one side of the hedge to the desired width, lightly trim the other side. If the hedge regrows from the pruned side, wait until this has sufficiently thickened before you prune the other side back.

By the way, this won’t work with any conifers or Leylandii hedge.

Bad pruning

Fast growing shrubs:

It sounds tempting when you need a hedge to screen something ugly fairly quickly, to plant something that will grow fast. But remember, FAST growing mean just that – for ever. If necessary, put up a temporary screen until the hedge grows but slow is definitely better here.

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Transform your garden today – we’ve lot’s of designs to choose form

We could list lots of shrubs and stuff that would be good, but the RHS have a pretty good list, so why duplicate something? The key point here is that you look for shrubs and plants that are slower to grow and try to avoid leylandii!

Precisely clipped hedges: 

If you do like nice sharp hedge edges, they will need regular clipping. Keep these hedges lower, waist height is a good height for faster easier strimming.

Leaves.

Why do leaves make a difference to whether the hedge is low maintenance or not, well

you can use hedge trimmers on small leaved hedges…

but you have to use these on any plants with large sized leaves…

because a hedge trimmer will cut a large leaf in bits and the hedge starts to look rather scraggy. However, all is not too bad, manual trimming may not be particularly low maintenance but you do get great looking arms!

Be Self Supporting

This may sound blindingly obvious, but if you have a hedge or you want to grow something to screen an ugly view – then it is much lower maintenance if you have plants that don’t need constant tying in, staking or supporting.

Growing flowering plants through hedging

This is often written about as a way to make hedges more interesting and ‘pretty’ and indeed it does, the problem arises if you don’t match the annual trim of the hedge with the flowering time of the climber.

The RHS have a good guide to when and how much various plants need pruning.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, do you really need to have a precisely clipped and geometrically rigid hedge?

Cutting ‘straight and true’ with either a strimmer or shears is actually more time consuming than you think.

Maybe your hedge can ‘go with the flow’ a little more?

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View our alternative hedge designs

Next week: It’s Low Maintenance Lawns…bet you can’t wait!

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How to get Low Maintenance Paths

Paths – we’ve all got them

 

Top tips for reducing the amount of time on unwanted garden chores!

 

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We all have paths in our gardens, but the choice of the type of path to use can really affect how much time you have to spend on unwanted chores and tidying up.

 

So what advice and tips are there for ensuring the garden paths you have are low maintenance?

 

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1 – Most importantly – how much traffic will it get?

 

Footfall, feet, kids running up and down, the route to the bins, the route to the washing line, the bit leading up to the back door. All of these will experience a lot of traffic, so you must have a hard wearing surface, any grass path will only turn to a muddy mush in winter with all that wear and tear.

 

If you can only have grass there, you can add a grass protection mesh to the surface, this way you walk on a frame and the grass grows though it.

 

The trick here is not to mow the grass too short so you don’t see the mesh. However, it may not be the ‘prettiest’ solution!

 

grass mat

 

2 – How little sun will the path get?

 

If you have a path that experiences little or no sun then it is best to avoid any surface that is fairly smooth – green algae and lichens will quickly turn your path into a speed skating rink after any rainfall.

 

  • Avoid any decking or wood stepping stones (unless you love pressure washing)
  • Concrete paths can be OK as long as they are not too smooth (but they will still go green in shade)
  • Avoid lighter coloured stone paths – you can’t stop the green algae growing, you’ll just notice it less on darker colours!

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3 – What is likely to drop onto the path?

 

This may not be an obvious tip, but your path will accumulate stuff, stuff blown in by the wind, stuff dropped by overhanging trees and also ‘stuff’ dropped by our feathered friends!

 

You need to decide not only how much stuff is likely to drop, but how much time you want to spend clearing it up!

 

  • Stones especially larger decorative stones are nigh on impossible to rake all the leaves  and other debris off, you need a blower or a leaf hoover of some kind. All of which take time. So under trees – have a path made of sweepable slabs or pavers.
  • If the birds roost in trees above any path, you will have bird poop. Beautiful crisp clean paving will show every dropping in all it’s glory. Shingle is a good alternative to disguise the pooping, but it needs properly edging in so you can easily rake it.
  • Will the soil wash off the borders onto the path
  • Are the plants hanging over the path and will they drop seeds into it?(weeding!!)

 

This path will have a lot of leaf fall and debris, on the plus side, there are raised edges to prevent soil falling onto the path, the planting does not spill onto the path too much. On the downside, the stones are too large to easily rake so you need a blower and although the light colour does lighten the space – you also see every bit of debris onto the path.

 

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4 – Do your Edges properly!

 

All paths have edges, obviously, but what the path edges onto will also determine how time consuming any maintenance will be.

 

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This may look attractive, but

a) the grass will creep over the stones;

b) it is tricky to edge the grass with shears and

c) the stones will camouflage themselves under grass ready to shoot out at breakneck speed onto your shin when you mow!

Any stone path need a proper edge that sits above the height of the stones to keep the stones where you want them and stop soil being washed onto the paths that will allow weeds to flourish.

 

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5 – Weeding, make it easy for yourself.

You will not stop weeds growing, but not getting the path type right can allow more weeds to grow that you would want! There are some simple rules to follow

  • The more joins you have, the more opportunity for weed seeds to sprout through the cracks
  • If you use block paving anywhere – don’t plant self seeding experts near or upwind of the path….think ornamental grasses, forget me nots etc!
  • If soil can get washed into the path (especially shingle or stones), it provides a perfect growing medium for new seedlings to pop up.
  • Make sure before you make a path, you HAVE dug out any roots that are lurking underneath especially ground elder, couch grass and bindweed, amongst others.
  • If you lay concrete paths near large trees, the path is likely to crack as the ground moves with the amount of water the tree is using, so use a path that can cope with ground movement
  • Do not plant plants that spread via underground roots anywhere near your paths unless you have either planted them in pots or you have a really good root barrier in place.

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So there you have it, you will not be able to reduce unwanted path maintenance, but you can reduce the amount of time you have to do, tidying up and trying to keep the garden looking it’s best.

Next week we are looking at hedging and making that a low maintenance task!

For some more ideas on paths and pathways, see our pinboard on Pinterest – although not all these are low maintenance, some are rather lovely!

 

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What is a Low Maintenance Garden – part 2

How to actually create one!

We all love the idea of having a low maintenance garden, it conjures an image of lazy summer days spent in your garden watching the bees buzzing and you just relaxing. The reality though, generally involves you spending far too much time on mowing the grass, trimming the edges, weeding paths and taming the triffids!

But with a little planning it is achievable – honestly! So how do you go about it?

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Well if you read last week’s post, part 1, you know some of the hard landscaping pitfalls to avoid and the idea that creating a low maintenance garden really involves creating a garden that minimises the stuff you don’t like doing.

This week we’ll take a closer look at what in your garden creates the maintenance, so you can avoid it!

Design tips for low maintenance gardens

The aim of a low maintenance garden, is to reduce the time you spend doing stuff you don’t like doing. So take a look at your garden, jot down how much time and effort you spend on certain tasks.

80% of your garden should require only annual attention or only a few minutes a week spent tidying up.

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This house owner is a garden lover, there are lots of plants that require regular attention, which is fine if you love gardening.

Once you have seen which elements of the garden require regular bursts of activity, you also need to consider how long each activity takes. In the image below, there are large hedges and a box parterre. The hedging may only require clipping twice a year, but if it takes several hours each time, you can decide if really sharply clipped hedges are your thing!

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Size is not the key determinant of the amount of time you spend gardening, although it obviously is still relevant, the types of plants you have are also crucial. The main workload in the image below comes from keeping the grass cut and the border edges neat. The rest can be tackled pretty much with one day’s gardening a year and a few little trips in between to dead head the roses.

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So you have identified those elements of the garden that are either regular chores or take up an inordinate amount of time that you would prefer doing something much more enjoyable!

What is next?

Changing what you have

Mowing the grass:  Reduce time and effort mowing by;

  • Keeping the shape simple, so there are no fiddly corners to mow round.lower-maintenance
  • Reduce the size of the lawn by adding in borders with low maintenance planting.
  • Do not have small lawns (especially in the front garden), where’s the benefit, you don’t need the grass to walk on so get rid of it entirely.
  • Let the grass grow, create mown paths through some parts of the grass, why do you have to mow it every week? You can add bulbs in spring and summer, so you only need to mow in the autumn.
  • Trim the edges of the lawn regularly but reduce the mowing frequency, since when did 1 inch become the height lawns MUST be kept to?

Plants and Planting: You will need to know a little bit about the plants in your garden!

  • Get rid of plants that you don’t like, for example ‘triffids’. We’ve all inadvertently got some; plants that never seem to stop growing. But they won’t ever stop growing, so if it’s too big for it’s boots get rid of it or give it away.
  • Make your borders at least 3 ft wide, it’s much easier to get a good display. The borders don’t have to run the whole length of the garden either! Creating deeper borders helps the plants grow and prevents the plants flopping over onto the grass all the time.

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Both images have the same ‘plants’, but the borders in the right image will grow and look much better

  • Avoid planting too many annuals, bedding plants, or plants that require staking, tying in, or lots of feeding and watering. Choose plants by how they make you feel and what you want them to be used for.
  • Don’t plant right up to the fence, all that happens is the plant grows away from your fence and will flop over the grass.
  • If you are going to plant climbers, then invest in really sturdy trellis – and allow for the growth of the climber! If it will grow to 14ft, you need to make sure there is at 14ft of trellis for it to grow on!
  • Never attach the trellis directly to the wall or fence, as the growing plants just fall off the front of the trellis. It’s much better instead to hang the trellis on sturdy brackets, that way, you can unhook the trellis if you need to get to the wall or fence.

Pots and Containers: These tend to be more labour intensive, so to keep unwanted chores to a minimum, follow these tips:

  • Avoid hanging baskets, unless you have automatic watering systems.design-garden-sidebar
  • Use a mixture of bulbs and perennials in pots, so they last for more than one season.
  • Avoid using only multipurpose compost, it dries out too easily. Use soil or a mixture of soil and multipurpose, plants will thrive better if the pot doesn’t keep drying out and soil is heavier so the pot is less prone to being blown over.
  • If using pots in sunny places, mix in water retaining granules with the soil.
  • If you are using pots with a thin skin, like aluminium, insert a thin insulating layer of polystyrene to protect the roots from heat and frost damage.
  • Keep all the pots together in collections, it looks better and takes less time to water!

Creating a low maintenance garden or at least one that minimises unwanted chores is achievable. You may need to be a little bold and decide to get rid of the elements of the garden that don’t work for you, even if it means your plot stands out from the neighbours gardens as being different – if it works for you, then it’s a good garden!

We have loads of free help and advice for your garden and we even have come up with lots of garden border designs that you can browse through as well to help get your garden the way you want it to be.

Next week: How to make your paths lower maintenance.

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What is a Low Maintenance Garden? part 1

What is a Low Maintenance Garden and how can I have one?

 

We would all love to have a beautiful but low maintenance garden, but what do we really mean by the phrase ‘low maintenance garden’?

 

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Reducing the amount of time spent on unwanted chores in the garden is always desirable, but really low maintenance gardens take a lot of planning to get right, so if you would love a low maintenance garden how do you go about achieving one?

 

First let’s debunk a misnomer, low maintenance does not mean no maintenance – the only option for you not having to maintain your garden is to hire someone else to do it for you.

 

So if you have a garden, you are going to have to get dirty and do some gardening, it’s just a question of how much and how often.

 

To start with, you need a piece of paper and a pen, list down all the jobs you loathe doing in the garden, all the bits of the garden you like and lastly what you enjoy doing most in the garden.

 

                     stuff i hate note        stuff I like note

 

This gives you a good starting point to work out how and what you need to change.

 

What you are really saying is not that you want a low maintenance garden, but you want to create a garden that minimises the stuff you don’t like to do but does have stuff you do like doing!

 

That’s the easy bit though, working out what you like and dislike, but how do you change what you have and actually get a garden that doesn’t require constant attention.

 

A good place to start is to know what bits of the garden take the most time and effort to maintain, of course, the level of neatness is up to you, but to achieve perfectly preened gardens all these are pretty labout intensive!

 

High maintenance stuff!

Lawns – especially those who love weed free, bowling green flat stripy ones

Vegetable Gardens – require constant attention all year

Pots – unless you have automatic watering systems, pots need a lot of feeding, watering and preening

Pergolas – look gorgeous but you will regularly be tying up those climbing plants

Topiary – only looks good if you regularly clip and neaten your ‘artwork’

Plant Divas – plants that require a lot of attention to look good!

Fruit Trees – all fruit trees create work, falling fruit and a constant battle with hungry birds

Large Trees – leaf fall, twig fall, seed drop, dry and deep shade all creates extra work

Ponds – It’s you vs the green algae and duck weed trying to take over

Shingle – a cheap and ‘covers a multitude of sins’ paving solution, but under deciduous trees or even worse, conifer or pines trees it’s a raking nightmare

Stone Mulches – these may seem an easy, cover all decorative fix to hiding bare soil and weeding, but beware, once down, weeding, clearing, cleaning and raking becomes a right royal pain in the proverbials. Especially white stone it goes green and if you don’t put them on a membrane, they gradually all sink into the ground.

 

Learn from others mistakes and garden bloopers!

Friends and neighbours can be valuable sources of useful advice, prevention is always better than cure. This is especially true if you are about to spend money on hard landscaping.

 

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Patios and Paving

 

Paving is expensive to put down and even more expensive to put right.

 

Drainage – where will the rainwater run off to and can it handle it, does the paving drain water away quickly or are you left with puddles.

Shade – will the paving become slippery when wet or get covered in slippery green algae from being shaded.

Sunshine – will the slabs get too hot to walk on?

Trees & Birds – apologies for being crude, but droppings! Fruit droppings, bird droppings even fruit coloured bird droppings. Is paving the right surface for here?

Joins/Mortar – what to have; sand is cheaper but prone to weed seedlings popping up, concrete costs more but also costs more to repair if it cracks

Roots – there is nothing worse than roots that get under the patios, they are so difficult to get rid of. Have you really dug out any unwanted invaders before you lay any slabs?

Lastly, think about the planting around patios, especially if you use sand as a base, you don’t want lots of self seed experts upwind of the patio!

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Shingle or Decorative Stones

 

Shingle covers a multitude of sins and is quick and easy to use, but there are pitfalls to shingle.

 

Trees – trees always drop lots of stuff, twigs, seeds, leaves. You can rake
shingle easily, but wet leaves and small seeds are more difficult to
rake and pines needles are impossible to remove from shingle!

 

Membranes – if you don’t want weeds growing up through the shingle, you can put down a weed membrane. This is great if you don’t want to plant anything else in that area, but is not a good idea if you want to plant bulbs for example!

 

If you add shingle on top of bare soil, then over time, the shingle will sink
into the soil, so regular top ups of shingle will be needed.

 

Paths – shingle paths are not nice to walk on in bare feet. If you have them near your doors, be prepared for shingle to appear in the house too.

 

Decorative Stones – look fantastic, but are a devil to keep looking fantastic especially in the shade or under deciduous shrubs and plants. White pebbles will also quickly go green.

 

Is this really low maintenance, pebbles are hard to weed between and keep looking pristine like this garden.

 

Decking

 

Some years ago, decking was everywhere, a wooden deck is admittedly, lovely to walk
on barefoot. If you are considering decking, then do consider the following before you start.

Shade – decking is great in full sun, but extremely slippery in shaded areas.

 

Vermin – rats can move in under the raised deck, they are attracted to leftover BBQ food, so ensure you can access under the deck if it becomes necessary.

 

Weeds – you must make sure the ground under the deck is properly weeded before you build the decking, it is so annoying for perennial weeds to keep growing through the gaps.

 

Creating the right garden for you starts with understanding what you want it to do for you. It may be you love lots of flowers but hate mowing, in which case large areas of lawn in the garden would not create the low maintenance garden you are after.

 

You have your lists of likes and dislikes, use these ideas to change your garden around so that you can minimise the impact of the negatives aspects and maximise the positive. You may need to be a bit radical, but if you really hate mowing lawns, why have one?

 

Gardens are spaces that should be enjoyed, not places for you to do even more chores.

 

Next week – learn how to reduce the time spent on unnecessary garden chores and create a garden that works for you.

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