Life is short, and so are British summers. Why not consider moving to a low maintenance garden?
We all want a beautiful garden like those on TV or in magazines, but very few of us have the time or enthusiasm to make it happen. Many of the beautiful gardens that inspire us have teams of full-time gardeners, or the owners are very knowledgeable, artistic and have lots of time and energy to build and maintain spectacular outdoor spaces.
As our lives have become busier and time seems to pass more quickly than ever, it’s no surprise that there is a growing trend towards low maintenance gardens. Outdoor space that we can enjoy whenever our fickle weather allows it, without having to spend hours, or even whole days and weekends, making our fingers green and giving ourselves backache.
What exactly is ‘low maintenance’?
Low maintenance garden design does not mean having a fully paved garden with no grass and not much going on within it. If you go too minimalist, there’s a risk you won’t be inspired to spend time outside, which of course defeats the whole purpose of having a garden!
Low maintenance might simply mean having a smaller, simpler lawn, with straight paved paths, and low maintenance plants such as evergreen shrubs and conifers that don’t grow too tall and require minimal pruning.
Why consider a low maintenance garden?
There are several reasons: lack of time, lack of knowledge or experience are the most common ones. Maybe you’re simply not up to it physically, or perhaps, like many of our clients, you simply want to enjoy your garden with the least possible effort.
Create a wish list
Whatever your reasons, it’s worth spending some time to figure out exactly what you want from your garden. Perhaps you’re a family with young children. In this case, you might want a lawn for the children to play on, and a small vegetable patch so they can learn to grow their own food. Some of my fondest childhood memories were digging up potatoes with my dad, or picking strawberries or peas that we grew in the garden.
If you’re less interested in grass, you might instead want to prioritise a patio/decking area so your summer BBQs can become the talk of the neighbourhood.
Whatever your priorities are, it’s important to make a list so you can plan your garden effectively. As my dad always told me, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail…
How to design a low maintenance garden that meets your priorities
Let’s imagine you’re the family with young children I mentioned, and you want a lawn/play area. In this case you might go for a simple lawn with straight edges to make cutting quick and easy. You should choose a hard-wearing lawn grass that needs less maintenance.
You might then install a small vegetable patch close to the house and then plant the beds and borders with low maintenance evergreen shrubs so that there are fewer fallen leaves to collect in the Autumn. You can also mulch the soil with bark or chippings to suppress weeds.
You can also consider creating paths using porcelain paving, which is far more durable, longer lasting and more cost-effective than paving in traditional concrete or natural stone.
Finally, you might opt for a ‘wood look’ aluminium fence. These are becoming very popular, since they look like real wood but don’t need painting and are longer lasting.
Some ideas for your low maintenance garden
1. Choose low maintenance plants
This one is really important, since if you make the wrong choices, you might end up with plants that require annual and even monthly maintenance that you’re trying to eliminate.
So choose evergreen plants and take into consideration their eventual sizes. Ideal evergreen plants and shrubs include daphne, lavender, holly and euonymus. Try to choose shrubs that won’t grow too much. Less growth means less pruning. Rocket science it ain’t…
Also, evergreen plants obviously mean there won’t be many fallen leaves and debris to collect, and very little cutting back to do. Again, these are important time-savers.
Some shrubs are ground-spreaders that help to suppress weeds, as well as providing a backdrop of green and bright flowers during the summer. Consider including these too.
Other evergreen plants include conifers. These range from small, low-growing varieties such as Juniperus (Blue Carpet), to larger varieties, so do some research and choose the best conifers for your intended position.
Conifers can also be useful for creating a low maintenance privacy ‘screen’. Again, choose carefully and stick to varieties that only grow to around 7ft (2m) high, such as Thuja occidentalis (Smaragd) for easy trimming. Avoid varieties such as Leylandii that grow very quickly and require regular pruning.
Create a low maintenance lawn
Yes, it’s certainly possible to create a lawn that becomes the focal point of your garden, but which requires little maintenance. Choose a hard-wearing lawn turf that requires less care, and try to keep all the edges straight as opposed to curved, which are harder to cut.
You can also consider using artificial grass. These days there are many suppliers and some very high quality artificial grasses are available. Although the initial outlay is more expensive, it’s the ultimate in low maintenance grass solutions and can give you a care-free lawn for many years to come.
Low maintenance beds and borders
We’ve already talked about low maintenance shrubs and conifers, but try also adding a mulch or bark or stone onto the borders. If you use a ground cover fabric underneath the mulch, this will suppress weeds and will help to keep the soil damp reducing the need for watering. The most common types of mulch are bark chipping and coloured stone. Others include rubber chips and glass chips, which are also both effective.
Also think about creating defined borders with timbers such as sleepers, metal edging such as everedge or stone setts. This will allow you to keep everything in its proper place. This allows your garden to always keep its structure even if you planting doesn’t.
Things to avoid, if you want low maintenance
There are several things you should steer clear of, if you really want the lowest possible low maintenance garden:
1. Avoid high maintenance bedding plants such as petunia, lobelia, antirrhinums, marigolds and cosmos, since they need regular watering and feeding. They are also seasonal and need replanting every Spring. If you do want bedding plants, you should stick to varieties that don’t need as much watering such as begonias, geraniums and busy lizzies.
2. Avoid planting lots of tubs and planters, as they do require regular watering and feeding, almost daily in summer. If you really want some planters, choose larger ones that will hold the moisture better, and plants that are better suited to dry weather.
3. Avoid fast-growing hedge plants such as Leylandii and Laurels, and opt for slower growing cultivars like Photinia (Red Robin) and Buxus.
4. Avoid having a pond with expensive fish. This will likely require a lot more time and money than you think. Instead, go for more of a natural pond that can be left untreated and will attract frogs and other wildlife.
5. Avoid large areas of softwood decking that require painting yearly. Instead, consider composite decking, which is more durable, requires far less maintenance and is more cost-effective. If you missed it, take a look at our recent blog article on the benefits of composite decking: https://www.firstlightlandscaping.co.uk/blog/the-benefits-of-composite-decking-over-timber
The Final Word
Gardens can be real sources of pleasure whether you enjoy the social side or getting your hands dirty. It doesn't have to be difficult or expensive to design and build a low maintenance garden. Having said this a bit of pre-planning is required; it’s well worth the effort.
It’s all about saving time; time you can spend planning which bottle of rosé or prosecco you’re going to serve at your next barbecue.
Have you gone low maintenance with your garden? What has worked for you? We’d love to hear from you, so do get in touch and let us know.