The Low-Maintenance Garden
There are numerous ways to tackle the issue of cutting down work in the garden, but if you want your garden to look attractive as well as be easy to look after, design is a key element that needs to be addressed at the outset.
If you want a garden that looks after itself but which is not entirely concreted over, the first and most valuable lesson you must learn is to garden with nature, not against it. All growing plants make some demands, but these demands are reduced if the right plants are chosen for the conditions. You also need to abandon previously held notions about what constitutes a garden -- that all gardens demand a central portion of grass with flower borders around it -- and start to look at other alternatives. The options open to you are varied, but the following features all contribute to a generally low-maintenance approach.
First, an area where you can sit and relax that has some form of permanent, easy to maintain, hard surface. In a very low-maintenance approach in a small urban garden, the entire plot can be turned into a hard-surfaced patio, but in a larger garden it would be prohibitively expensive to pave the entire area, although gravel is an easy to maintain, less expensive option for larger gardens.
Second, the planting can be much easier to look after if you plan it carefully. Evergreens are generally easier to look after than deciduous plants (less pruning, no sweeping up of leaves). Shrub borders and ground-covering perennials are the easiest options but it is vital that you choose plants that are appropriate for the climate and soil conditions, so that they thrive when left largely to their own devices. To this end, you also need to choose plants that are not too invasive or too fast-growing.
Third, it pays not to hanker after traditional flower borders that demand time and effort to look their best. New, but equally attractive and less time-consuming solutions involve planting perennials in drifts in a far more naturalistic way. However, this is still a time-consuming form of planting compared with, say, ground cover or evergreen shrub planting.
Fourth, water features are surprisingly low-maintenance and are a great visual asset in gardens in which hard surfaces predominate. Anyone opting for the hard surface solution would be well-advised to include a water feature to go with it, as the sound and movement of the water helps to counteract the rigidity of hard surfacing materials.
Fifth, you can turn a portion of your garden into either rough grass or semi-wild planting, which will not only benefit nature but ease the work in a larger garden. If you have only a very small area -- such as a patio -- you will need to find ways to make container planting less time-consuming by choosing plants that require less watering-one of the major time-consuming elements in any container-dominated garden. (See the chapters on easier surfaces and features, where choices are given a star (*) rating out of five.)
Finally, consider ways of dealing with essential garden tasks as effectively and efficiently as possible. Traditionally, one way of cutting down on maintenance was to blast weeds with chemicals, but this solution is not advocated here. Design solutions, such as mulches and ground covering plants, are a more natural and ecologically friendly way to solve the problem.
Your low-maintenance plans and solutions will depend on the size of your garden, your lifestyle, how much time you have, whether you have a small amount of time to spare regularly or time for periodic blitzes only, and also whether you simply want to reduce the labor involved in an existing garden or create a low-maintenance garden from scratch. Turning an existing labor-intensive garden into a low-maintenance one clearly takes some initial work (unless you hire someone to do the job for you), but once the job is done, you then save yourself a great deal of time and worry later on.
The Low Maintenance Garden Essential reading for those who desire a beautiful garden without the back-breaking work, The Low-Maintenance Garden is the guide to enjoying your garden rather than spending hours toiling in it. This book shows how to minimize and simplify gardening tasks, and over time create a virtually maintenance-free garden.