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’?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.