11 TIPS FOR A LOW-MAINTENANCE GARDEN | Less work, more fun
Mowing, hoeing, weeding, fertilizing – a garden can keep you wildly busy.
Isn't it a shame when the very place you're supposed to go to for rest, relaxation and inspiration starts to occupy your daily to-do list – and even worse, when the work starts to feel too physically demanding. If all of this sounds familiar then it might be time to rethink what you're doing with your little patch of land.
Photo: Syl Gervais
I love gardening! For me, it's incredibly satisfying. And taking time out from the obligatory 21st century daily race is positively therapeutic. But: only because I also take the time to enjoy my little slice of paradise. From a deckchair.
People don't always believe me when I say this but I have clear boundaries when it comes to gardening.
Your private patch of green shouldn't be a place where you're always slogging your guts out but also somewhere you go to enjoy precious daily moments. Like relishing your morning coffee, having lunch under a tree or sipping a G&T swaying (carefully – we wouldn't want spillages!) in a hammock. To make sure you can do this, I've put together a list of tips for designing your own low-maintenance garden.
1. Put away the lawn mower
These are words I live by: it takes way more work to maintain a manicured lawn than it does to have a blooming flower bed. Why? Stating the ridiculously obvious, grass needs to be cut regularly. If you want a lawn, the kind that's strong, thick and even, there's a serious amount of work involved. And I mean a proper lawn, mowed stripes 'n all, not some mossy meadow with occasional patches of grass. You'll need to mow it every week, scarify it on a regular basis and constantly fertilize it, remove any moss and repair broken patches.
Having a wildflower meadow is much less exhausting. Once you've sown it, you can sit back and relax until the middle of July. You really wouldn't want to cut it any sooner than that so the flowers can form seeds that will then spread while you're cutting.
2. There's nothing like a good perennial
Most perennials will stick around for a long time. After flowering, they'll slowly start to withdraw in the fall, only to return full force the following spring.
Caring for them is pretty straightforward: simply cut them right back in the fall (or even better, early spring). A lot of perennials will get bigger and denser over time. When planting them, pay close attention to how much space they'll need (it should say so on the label). If you don't like lots of gaps in your flower beds when you first start out, you can always plant some annuals while the others grow.
3. Choose the right plants
You want to go for low-maintenance, durable plants. Avoid anything that needs a lot of water, for example, or requires nutrient-rich soil. And if you live somewhere with really hot summers, you might want to pick drought-resistant varieties. Oh, and if you go for plants that don't require a lot of nutrients, you won't have to worry about fertilizing them. Also, it's better to stay away from plants that need to be protected over the winter.
A little present for you: you can download a list of my favorite low-maintenance, grow (almost) anywhere flowers here.
4. Native wildflowers
Since they've already adapted to suit the weather and soil conditions in your local area, they'll tend to be more robust and easier to care for than flowers and shrubs from other places. I've always found my local wildflowers to be significantly less work.
5. Location, location, location
Don't plant hydrangeas on the southern side of your house in full sunshine or delphiniums in shady areas. It's just not going to work. Each plant has its own location requirements, whether that's full sun, shade or partial shade; with or without a breeze; in clayey soils or sandy soils. Your plants are most likely to thrive if you create their perfect conditions. You'll save yourself a lot of work (all that watering, for example) and frustration.
Take a peak over your garden fence – what are they growing over there? If a plant looks really at home in your neighbor's garden, it's a pretty good indication that it will work in yours.
6. Roses galore!
Especially wild and rambling roses that you don't even have to trim. Roses develop deep roots. Once they've established themselves, they'll find their own water. This means that you don't have to water them regularly – it's actually counterproductive to do that. They'll become lazy and will develop shallower roots. They won't establish themselves properly when they've got a constant supply of water coming in from the surface. I only water my roses when there's been a really (really!) long drought or heatwave. Of course though, you'll need to water them regularly the first few weeks after you've planted them. If you're looking for particularly resilient roses, you can always check out Old Roses or award-winning roses, they tend to be healthier.
Roses love a good feed in the spring, but I'd lay off for the first one or two years. Pruning encourages more flowers to grow – for me this is a lovely springtime activity. But, as I've already mentioned, if you go for wild or rambling roses, you don't really need to bother with this. If you choose a repeat-flowering variant you might want to deadhead them, it'll help them to flower more extravagantly the second time around. But again, I don't even bother with this if I don't feel like I have the time or the energy. My roses never take it personally – quite the opposite.
7. Weeding – Every gardener's worst nightmare
There's a way to make your life a lot easier here as well: you need ground cover plants. Small perennials like woodruff, cranesbill 'Ingwersen's Variety', knotweed 'Superba', periwinkle, Japanese spurge, lamb's ear and ivy all grow fast, creating a dense layer of vegetation that no weed can break through. There are also certain types of roses that offer great ground cover, such as 'Grouse' and 'Flower Carpet'.
I have wild strawberries all over my flower beds. They're delicious. And I plant things relatively close together. Do you have grass clippings? Then spread these across your flower beds. This locks in moisture and stops weeds from growing, as well as releasing essential nutrients.
8. Box hedging - Bad times
I have a lot of box hedging in my garden. It's perfect. It looks great and it adds structure to my organized chaos. It's green through the winter and it borders my flower beds. I love it so much – even when the wind changes direction and it smells like cat pee. I've just finished cutting it again (there's a lot of work involved, but I don't mind). Once the box tree moths move in, I'm constantly trying to remove them, spraying algae lime and bacillus thuringiensis. And I have to do that multiple times per season. There's a lot of work involved and it's not a lot of fun.
9. Leaves – Are they really a nuisance?
No, they can also be useful! You'll want to remove them from your lawn in the fall because your beloved (high-maintenance) lawn needs to breathe and it needs light. But it's safe to leave them lying in your flower beds. Leaves provide a layer of protection against the cold and they're also a form of natural fertilizer. Even in the spring, I leave some of my leaves in the flower beds. You just need to make sure that they aren't covering the first little shoots growing from your perennials. I usually shove a bit of fresh soil over the top of the leaves, it just makes everything look a bit nicer until your plants can grow out and cover everything.
10. Avoid pots
If you plant things in pots, you're making more work for yourself. There's just no way these little guys can take care of themselves. They'll be completely dependant on you for water (sometimes twice on hot days) and food. I do actually have some pots – and I love them. But they definitely keep me busy...
11. The Cottage Garden
A cottage garden isn't about neat borders, straight lines and meticulous precision. If a bit of Mexican fleabane decides to pop up on the edge of your path or a horned pansy appears between your paving stones, don't sweat it. Embrace organized chaos and allow your garden to bloom in all its charming richness and diversity. If a plant appears somewhere you didn't plan it to be, or its descendants turn up somewhere completely unexpected – appreciate it for what it is. Each year, your garden is reinventing itself.
At some point, I finally started to understand something. Something that changed my outlook.
"A garden is never finished."
It's a liberating sentiment. At least for me.
And so, my darlings. Put your feet up and let yourself unwind while you soak up those rays. Dig your bare hands through the dirt and simply enjoy your garden.
It's all good.
Love from My Cottage Garden,