Designing for Low Maintenance

Although there are many ways to approach low maintenance gardening, there is one feature which is common to all of them – the most successful designs make good use of hard landscaping and easily maintained plants which require little effort to look good.

For the modern gardener, advances in the range of hard landscaping materials available, coupled with the success of countless plant breeders in producing dwarf and disease-resistant varieties has made the job of creating low maintenance gardens far less difficult than ever before. Although to make a truly low maintenance garden, you really need to start from scratch, but even very well-established existing plots can be modified to make them easier to care for by including a few simple elements in the overall design.

Garden Design

The traditional suburban back garden – dominated by a well-manicured lawn and surrounded by borders filled with a range of annual and hardy perennial flowers – attractive though it may be, is about as far removed from the idea of low maintenance gardening as you can get. The neat lines of cut grass and lawn edges need almost constant attention to stay at their best and the beds and borders demand regular and careful weeding.

It’s often tempting to look on the rural cottage garden as a low maintenance alternative, but although it does not have the compulsive neatness of the typical town garden, in its own way, this design demands almost as much attention. To achieve a truly low maintenance style of gardening it’s important to reduce the need for time consuming tasks, such as weeding, watering, pruning and cutting, as much as possible.

Landscaping Elements In The Design

Hard landscaping plays an important role in the low maintenance design, providing a weed-free setting to set off the easily maintained plants chosen. The balance between hard and soft landscape elements is largely a matter for personal choice. At one extreme, gravel or paving can provide little more than the paths through and around carefully planted beds, while at the other, plants take a more architectural role, with containers and specimen trees or shrubs placed artistically within a garden dominated by the hard landscaping.

The soft landscaping features need to be chosen for their hardiness and suitability for the conditions they are likely to encounter in their intended place in the garden. As a result, it’s obviously important to research your planting regime carefully and avoid any impulse buys at the garden centre – at least as much as possible!

With a little care, it’s possible to include examples of all of the main groups of plants in a low maintenance design and there are plenty of easily cared for varieties available – from bulbs and bedding plants to shrubs and trees – so there’s no shortage of choice.

Good ground cover is another valuable low maintenance element, since open soil invites weeds and condemn the gardener to endless weeding. The usual approach to this is to blanket the ground with attractive ornamental plants that grow thick foliage, forming a dense blanket to help suppress weed-growth, though in some less plant-centred designs, mulching is used as an alternative approach. A thick layer of bark chippings, well-rotted manure or straw on the surface of the soil means weed seeds have a much tougher time getting established and the soil itself tends to dry out more slowly – making both weeding and watering much less hard work.

Although a whole range of mulch materials are readily available, on the whole mulching is largely under-used in most gardens; for the low maintenance gardener, it’s another technique well worth considering, if it fits in with your overall landscaping design.

Every garden needs some work to stay at its best, but with clever use of hard landscaping, evergreens to provide year-round interest and wisely chosen plants for colour and interest, it is certainly possible to keep the amount to a minimum.

Hard landscaping materials selected for their colour or texture, coupled with artistic planting can give you all the scope you need to produce an easy to care for garden which is every bit as good to look at as any traditional design – but with the bonus of more time to enjoy it!