Cre­at­ing a Low-Main­te­nance Gar­den

If you’re ready to down tools and en­joy your gar­den rather than de­vot­ing long hours to its up­keep, land­scape de­signer Paul Her­vey-Brookes ex­plains how

Homebuilding & Renovating - - CONTENTS -

Land­scape de­signer Paul Her­vey-Brookes ex­plains how to stop be­ing a slave to your new gar­den and en­joy the green­ery

Low main­te­nance gar­den­ing has had long ap­peal as a mag­i­cal an­swer to hav­ing a stun­ning gar­den with­out the work. It can be achieved, how­ever, with plan­ning and care­ful se­lec­tion of hard-work­ing plants and durable ma­te­ri­als. Fol­low th­ese rules and you can cre­ate a stylish gar­den packed with in­ter­est, with­out hours of back-break­ing work and care.

pre-plan­ning is vi­tal

If you are a self-builder start­ing from a blank canvas, it is a lot sim­pler to plan and in­stall lots of labour-sav­ing gad­gets, such as timed wa­ter­ing sys­tems, raised plant­ing beds, along­side easy to care ma­te­ri­als like porce­lain paving.

If you in­tend to use a land­scape de­signer they can re­ally help you max­imise plant­ing schemes to re­duce your gar­den­ing work­load, too. How­ever, with a lit­tle time and re­search you can achieve a low main­te­nance gar­den ei­ther on your own if you are an able DIYer, or with the help of a land­scaper to lay paving and other skilled jobs. As with any project, get quotes from at least three pro­fes­sion­als and al­ways in­sist on a fixed price. Re­mem­ber to de­tail what you are ex­pected to pro­vide and what’s in­cluded in re­la­tion to ma­te­ri­als, waste re­moval and labour.

Start by think­ing about us­ing easy and durable ma­te­ri­als. High-qual­ity porce­lain paving which is not over­sized is easy to care for and will last a very long time with min­i­mal ef­fort. Tra­di­tional ma­te­ri­als like aged oak will last an ex­cep­tion­ally long time, and if bud­get is a con­sid­er­a­tion then con­sider com­pos­ite ma­te­ri­als. They will give a tim­ber ef­fect with­out the short life­span and main­te­nance of some soft­woods.

Raised plant­ing beds with built-in ir­ri­ga­tion are go­ing to be eas­ier to care for in the long run. They are of­ten a re­ally sen­si­ble idea if you are plan­ning a gar­den for the long term. We know that gar­den­ing can in­crease your life­span but less bend­ing over beds and more easy-to-main­tain heights are not a bad thing ei­ther! Th­ese beds and borders can be planted with a good range of shrubs and some hard-work­ing peren­ni­als, which flower year after year. When fit­ted with an ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem, th­ese beds will be largely main­te­nance-free if given a good feed and mulch at the begin­ning of the year.

If you have in­her­ited small ar­eas of grass then con­sider re­plac­ing them with ag­gre­gates laid over a geo­tex­tile, paving or a good qual­ity ar­ti­fi­cial lawn pro­fes­sion­ally fit­ted. This of­ten looks bet­ter than small, worn patches of grass and, what’s more, only re­quires an oc­ca­sional hoover! This will cut down on hours of labour try­ing to main­tain hope­less pieces of grass, which will prob­a­bly al­ways look slightly ha­rassed.

Choos­ing the right plants

With an es­tab­lished or in­her­ited gar­den, min­imis­ing labour and mak­ing it eas­ier to main­tain is a slightly harder process which re­quires ded­i­ca­tion to the long-term goal. Here, edit­ing plant­ing to­wards large swaths of shrubs with flow­ers and good au­tumn fo­liage and peren­ni­als will cut down on weed­ing. In­stalling a ground cov­er­ing geo­tex­tile and top­ping with a mulch will also re­duce weed­ing and im­prove wa­ter re­ten­tion, thus cut­ting down work. Look out for plants which are de­scribed as ground cover. They tend to root as they go and will cre­ate a thick mat of plant­ing which will look good and stop weeds. Con­sider Pachysan­dra and Sasa, both hardy woody plants that will spread and fill. When com­bined with Gera­ni­ums, Artemisia and Ajuga (all sea­sonal peren­ni­als with long flow­er­ing pe­ri­ods), they will add in­ter­est and still cover the ground well.

When re­search­ing or se­lect­ing key plants, con­sider those that of­fer more than one sea­son of in­ter­est. Th­ese in­clude shrubs which flower and fruit or have in­ter­est­ing au­tumn fo­liage, and peren­ni­als that do a job such as cov­er­ing ground with a long sea­son of flower. Again, th­ese plants will knit to­gether over time and re­move the need to weed. Ev­er­greens can also be used and will give good win­ter cover but they shed old leaves in June so can, if over used, look un­sightly and gen­er­ate work.

Pots and con­tain­ers are not par­tic­u­larly low main­te­nance un­less you in­stall a wa­ter­ing sys­tem. So if you can, stick to plant­ing in the ground which will give the plants a chance of tap­ping into the wa­ter ta­ble and sup­port­ing them­selves in the long run. How­ever, large empty pots stand­ing in plant­ing can add a sculp­tural feel, so don’t rule them out com­pletely in your plans. You could even add vis­ual in­ter­est by us­ing large con­tain­ers as a wa­ter fea­ture with wa­ter gently lip­ping over the sides with swaths of green plant­ing be­low. It’s easy and a good al­ter­na­tive to lots of busy flow­ers and

dead­head­ing work.

“It’s re­ally about se­lect­ing durable ma­te­ri­als that look after them­selves, com­bined with clever de­sign”

Re­mem­ber, too, that you can edit and ad­just a gar­den to suit your needs over time. The largest amount of time spent on ‘work’ in a gar­den is mow­ing the lawn and tend­ing the borders, and th­ese are two jobs that can be ex­tremely in­ten­sive. Both can be clev­erly re­duced in terms of work­load at any time in a gar­den’s life. Well-de­signed gath­er­ing spa­ces like ter­races for ta­bles and chairs and nooks hid­den away, for in­stance, will re­quire lit­tle work to keep them go­ing, and adding in an ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem can be done al­most any win­ter you like.

putting it all to­gether

Low main­te­nance doesn’t mean bor­ing. It’s re­ally about se­lect­ing durable, long-last­ing ma­te­ri­als that look after them­selves or at least re­quire min­i­mal ef­fort, com­bined with clever de­sign: edit­ing out awk­ward cor­ners, small lawns and im­pos­si­bly sized plant­ing beds that are ei­ther too small for plants to grow well or so large you get lost try­ing to weed. Se­lect­ing the right plants for the right area will also save time and money: shade lovers in the shade, for ex­am­ple, or plants that suit dry soil if the soil dries out quickly. A de­cent mulch and, if newly planted, a mem­brane to re­duce the chance of weed ger­mi­na­tion while plants are grow­ing, will re­duce your in­volve­ment sig­nif­i­cantly on all plant­ing beds. Longer term, a wa­ter­ing sys­tem will mean you can leave the gar­den to its own de­vices. How­ever you do it there are many ways to min­imise the work in the gar­den and max­imise the time spent en­joy­ing and re­lax­ing in a green oa­sis. Next month: How to make the most of small gar­dens


Paul Her­vey-Brookes Paul Her­vey-Brookes is an award-win­ning land­scape de­signer who lives in the Cotswolds.

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