Low maintenance gardening

By Paul Hervey-Brookes

Low maintenance gardening has had a long appeal as a magical answer to having a stunning garden without the work, beautiful green oasis offering a tranquil space to relax and entertain friends when the mood takes hold, so the obvious questions are, How is it done, and How does it work!  The simple answer is through planning and careful selection of hard working plants and durable materials you can great a stylish garden that is packed with interest without hours of back breaking work and care.

With a new garden starting from a blank canvas its easy to plan and install lots of labour saving gadgets such as timed watering systems, rain water harvesters and raised planting beds alongside labour saving materials such as easy to care for porcelain paving and solar led lights.  If you intend to use a landscape designer they can really help you maximise planting schemes to reduce your gardening work load but with a little time and research you can achieve a low maintenance garden either on your own if you are an able DIY person or with the help of landscaper to lay paving and other skilled jobs.  With an established or inherited garden minimising labour and making them easier to maintain is a slightly harder process which requires dedication to the long term goal.

Starting with new gardens and designing in low maintenance think about using easy and durable materials, good 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, if budget is a consideration then composite materials will give a wood effect without the short life span and maintenance of soft woods.  Raised planting beds with built in irrigation are going to be easier to care for long term.  Raised beds are often a really sensible plan if you are planning a garden for the long term, we know that gardening can increase your life span but less bending over beds and more easy to maintain heights are not a bad thing either!

With existing gardens editing planting towards large swaths of shrubs with flower and good autumn foliage and hard working perennial will cut down weeding, installing a ground covering geo textile and covering with a mulch will also reduce weeding and improve water retention 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, things like Pachysandra, Sasa are hardy woody plants that will spread and fill, these combined with Geraniums, Artemisia and Ajuga which are are seasonal perennials with long flowering periods will add interest and still cover the ground well.  When researching or selecting key plants to consider are those that offer more than one season of interest, this may be shrubs which flower and fruit or have interesting autumn foliage and perennials which do a job such as covering ground with a long season of flower.

Realistically 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 or olive style jars standing in planting can add a sculptural and design 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 of a pot with swathes of green planting below.  Its easy and good alternative to lots of busy flowers and dead heading work.

The great thing about thinking low maintenance is that you can edit and adjust a garden to suit your needs over time, well designed gathering spaces like terraces for tables and chairs and nooks hidden away for contemplative seating will require little work to keep them going, adding in an irrigation system can be done almost any winter you feel.  The biggest amount of time spent on the ‘work’ of a garden is mowing the lawn and tending the borders and these are two jobs that can be extremely intensive or thought about cleverly reduced or increased in terms of work load at any time over the course of a gardens life.

Meet the author

Paul Hervey-Brookes

Paul had his own highly successful landscape design business, and has also designed a range of gardening gifts for Marks & Spencers.