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Low Maintenance Planting Schemes

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 17 Dec 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
Plants Low Maintenance Garden Beds

While the hard landscaping elements tend to set the scene and define the overall structure of the low maintenance garden, like any other garden, the whole thing only really comes to life with the addition of plants.

As a quick visit to any local garden centre makes very clear, there’s more than enough possible candidates to meet the needs of the most demanding gardener and complete any design you can imagine.

With so much on offer, how do you go about planning the planting for a low maintenance garden, what features should it have – and which ones is it best to avoid?

Beds And Borders

For the low maintenance garden, formally arranged beds and borders are definitely out, especially for displaying annuals or as a home for herbaceous perennials that need a lot of staking and tying to look good. There is still a place for the bed in a planting regime designed to be easy to care for, but the wide and extensive expanses of soil which demand so much attention to stay at their best are something to avoid in this kind of garden.

Aim to create raised beds where possible, which will allow all of the plants to be reached without the need to stand on the soil; it makes looking after them quicker and easier and stops you compacting the soil – which you’ll only then have to break up and lighten.

Any open soil will benefit from being mulched or planted with suitable kinds of ground cover, to cut down on the amount of weeding and help the ground retain moisture – reducing the need for watering.

Lawns

The lawn has become so central to our image of the garden that it may be difficult to imagine one without its patch of grass. However, many very attractive designs work with little or no lawn area, substituting either an alternative plant, such as camomile, or more commonly, dispensing with a living lawn altogether and substituting paving, decking, gravel or bark. Particularly for the small urban plot, this kind of low maintenance approach can be very effective at both reducing the hard work – since a small pocket handkerchief of grass can be more difficult to cut than a larger lawn – and providing a strikingly different sort of garden to enjoy.

If you really cannot bring yourself to do away with grass altogether, then be kind to yourself and do away with lines and sharp corners that are hard to mow in favour of gentle curves in the lawn. They make it much easier to manoeuvre the mower and are more forgiving of the odd poorly cut patch. Leave an area of rough grassland, perhaps with naturalising bulbs, at the far end if your overall planting scheme will allow; not only will this reduce the need to constantly cut the grass, but a whole host of native wildlife will appreciate the new habitat.

Plants To Include

The trick with choosing plants for the low maintenance garden is to try as much as possible to pick the kinds which will give the maximum show for the minimum amount of work, which unfortunately means that many of the old favourites end up taking a bit of a back-seat.

In this kind of planting scheme, bedding plants for instance are best used either in containers or as fillers in the garden’s reduced borders. Evergreens, flowering shrubs and many kinds of trees can make up for the loss of many of the demanding perennials from the garden – but you’ll need to pick your varieties carefully, to make sure that they really are low maintenance. Look out for hardy types which have a naturally compact habit and so need little pruning to stay in good shape.

Bulbs can come into their own, particularly those varieties which will multiply and spread well over time – so most of the traditional flowers of spring are perfect for the low maintenance approach. Narcissi, daffodils, snowdrops, crocuses, grape hyacinths and bluebells – all of which you simply plant and then leave to get on with things themselves – are ideal, but you don’t have to restrict yourself to these; there are plenty of summer and autumn bulbs to try too.

However, not all kinds of bulbs are suitable, so leave any such as hyacinths, gladioli and garden – as opposed to botanical or species – tulips, which need to be lifted and stored from one year to the next.

Picking the right plants for the job, which will look good, suit the site and not demand too much looking after really comes down to good research, but before you get as far as deciding on the individual specimens, it’s important to have a suitable overall planting scheme in mind. It’s probably the only way to be sure that what you come home with will really work!

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