Laid-back gardening is a matter of mindfulness, says landscape designer Trish Bartleet, who really enjoys the physicality of getting out into her own backyard before sitting down with a nice cold beer, job well done. Here she shares her philosophies…
Get the balance right: An easy-going approach to gardening is all very well, but if you’re too hands-off the aesthetics will suffer. For easier maintenance, the trick is to balance some once-a-year tasks with on-going maintenance. “Plants add another dimension: they need regular attention.”
Schedule it: Unless you’re keen to dig, prune, weed and feed, you’ll need a gentle reminder of must-do annual tasks. Create a to-do diary that’s a seasonal prompt. “Just having a schedule takes the stress away and gives you some perspective about how little of your time you actually spend on outdoor maintenance.” For example, once a year (usually in spring) you’ll need to scrub and water-blast paving, decks and stairs. Feed the garden once a year. Aerate the lawn once a year.
Rules for pools: Trish isn’t a fan of pool covers – she says it’s like hiding an asset. “Pools throw such beautiful light and reflection into a house and add to the ambience of the outdoor and indoor spaces,” she says. A cover, she points out, collects just as much dirt and leaf matter so you may as well clear those out of the pool. Protect your investment and build the cost of regular maintenance (cleaning and servicing) into the household running expenses. Darker coloured pools and surrounds show much less dirt. Investigate bio pools, which have a more natural appearance that melds into the surrounding landscape.
Amass the troops: Bona fide plants are your in-house army against the enemy forces of weeds. One species planted en masse (rather than mixed planting) makes gardening easier because every plant will be performing in the same way at the same time and the sheer volume will provide cover so the weeds cannot infiltrate. “If there’s no light getting to the soil, the weeds can’t grow. The tractor seat plant – Ligularia reniformis – with its broad leaves is a real trooper.” At a lower level, clipped star jasmine works well as a weed-suppressing ground cover.
Busting the myths: Bromeliads aren’t low care. Sure, they’re pretty bulletproof but once the parent pups, if you don’t remove the original plant they soon start looking tatty. Even the beloved cabbage tree seems to drops its leaves every few seconds (and picking them up can become tedious). Better by far to use a plant where the leaves fall and rot naturally into the ground. Succulents are the ideal example and mondo grass only needs a very occasional combing with your fingers to get rid of the dead leaves. Don’t yawn over the lawn: In climates that are humid with lots of rain, lawns are often blanketed with weeds as soon as you turn your back. Again Trish hasn’t got good news for the truly lackadaisical gardener. Maintenance is critical so be vigilant – once a week scout out any weeds or they’ll multiply faster than rabbits. Get Jim in to mow, and timetable a yearly date with the pitchfork to create aeration (along with a top-dressing routine) to improve drainage. Think artificial grass is the answer? “Maybe in some situations, but with fake lawn you have to vacuum up the leaves as they don’t decompose naturally and, over time, soil will build up on the surface where weeds can grow.”
Monitor your mindset: When you compare how long you spend renovating, decorating and cleaning the inside of your home, maintaining the garden takes very little time proportionately. And it gives so much pleasure: as New Zealanders we live, play and entertain beyond the French doors.
It’s an investment: As Kiwis, we tend to feel that it’s cheating to get people in to garden, but without the will to learn or the time to do it, you’re destined to fail – and sometimes that can be costly. Hiring an expert’s services is a necessary cost to maintain your investment: many people fall in love with and buy a house because they are won over by a spectacular outdoor area. >
THIS PAGE Get the balance right between hard landscaping and planting, says Trish Bartleet; in this garden she designed, Alpine Mix pebbles meander past rusted steel beds softened by feathery plants such as the coral-tipped Russelia equisetiformis.