Natural landscaping, or matching plants and gardening techniques to a garden's site and climate so that maintenance and care are minimized, is both beautiful and practical. By giving attention to building healthy soil, choosing plants that are well-adapted to the site and climate, applying water sparingly and effectively, and designing with creativity and imagination, you can create an attractive garden that gives the impression of a relaxed integration with the natural landscape. Once plants are established, their ease of care is a bonus.
Think of a lawn as a green pool that sets off the rest of the garden and use it sparingly, both to save water and to make it an effective design element. If your site is uneven, place the lawn at the low point, the place where water would gather. Or build up the planting beds around your small lawn, mounding them by incorporating the organic matter that helps hold moisture, creating deep, rich soil for roots to thrive.
Draw the lawn on your site with a garden hose, making it an interestingly shaped feature on its own, not just a blank space between garden beds. Don't be afraid to break up the green with tiny, low flowers, English daisies, yarrow or other plants that take well to mowing. Keep your mower set high for best lawn maintenance.
Paths and Edges
These are the permanent lines drawn on your property, so make them flow naturally, like streams, from one place to another. Just as rivers and creeks make large, curving lines across the landscape, use broad strokes in your garden. Small, fussy curves rarely look attractive.
Use trees, shrubs and perennials from ecosystems similar to your own, as well as plants native to the surrounding area. This gives a sense of harmony and makes it easy to choose plants that complement. Their watering needs will suit your climate, too. Give them deep, healthy soil and you should have little trouble with pests or diseases.
Natural areas don't have spots of bare soil and neither should your garden. Fill up your beds with plants like low, intertwined groundcovers, thickly-planted perennials or low shrubs planted closely together. In the beginning, of course, the soil will be visible among the small plants, so be sure to mulch well until the shade from your groundcovers can keep the weeds down.
Stones and Boulders
Nothing makes a garden seem more natural than rocks, but they need to be placed carefully to give a natural effect. Never just plunk them down on top of the soil. In nature, boulders are found half-buried, usually in groups. Take a look at photos of wild landscapes to get a sense of the ways boulders might be used in your garden.
You can also use rocks effectively in dry streambeds meandering through perennials, or as paving stones, even just a few along the edge of a path. The expense of acquiring rocks is offset by the permanence of their effect in the garden, so use them as generously as you can.