Most homeowners are looking for ways to reduce the amount of time and money expended on the garden. The demand for a garden that is low in its maintenance requirements is one of the first things the designer or garden contractor tends to hear from prospective clients. Yet on the other hand, most people associate the term garden with the growing and enjoying of plants, which invariably involves at least some care, attention and maintenance.
While a garden almost bare of plants is a definite design option, and would be easy maintain, it is hardly what the average homeowner has in mind when dreaming of having a garden. How then can one have plenty of garden plants in the backyard, without it becoming both a time and money liability? On this subject, many myths abound, so let’s start demolishing them right now!
Dealing with weeds is on average the single most time-consuming horticultural activity. For this reason, many people cover the ground between the plants with a mulch of decorative stones or pebbles, in the anticipation that this prevents weeds from emerging. Admittedly, weeds are retarded to some extent, but overall, dealing with those that inevitably grow through the pebbles, becomes harder not easier. Decorative organic mulches like wood chippings are better at keeping down the weeds by inhibiting the germination of weed seeds.
There are many criteria to consider when choosing an ornamental or fruit tree for the garden, but from the low maintenance angle, the tree should be small enough to allow for pruning without having to call in a tree surgeon at enormous expense every few years. So before planting a plane tree that is going to reach over 20 meters in maturity, think about how you are going to look after it in the years to come. In any case, a common design mistake is to choose a tree that is too large and therefore out of scale with the size of the plot.
Climbers and Vines
Rampant vines – the plants that create an unmanageable tangle – really make gardening work a pain in the neck, (not to speak of another part of the anatomy) or cause you to spend a lot of money on a gardener to clear up the chaos. Because they tend to grow rapidly, often covering walls, fences and other surfaces without assistance, the widespread illusion is that are low maintenance plants. As the unsuspecting find out to their cost, the exact opposite is usually the case. My suggestion is to avoid such plants like the plague. Shrubs and bushes with neat form, and delicate foliage are both easier to handle, although they need regular clipping, and are more suited aesthetically, to the small space of the average backyard plot.
Contrary to popular opinion, lawns are relatively east to maintain, providing the contours of the grass are simple and the lines clean. Squiggly edges are difficult to keep neat and eat up valuable time and trouble. Edging materials make work with the mechanical strimmer (“weed whacker”) easier and more efficient. A practice that leads to more problematical maintenance is to plant the hedging or border plants too close to the grass, although plants spilling over onto the lawn add a more flowing, natural feel to the garden. As usual, the good things in life cost some time and money.
The great myth in gardening is that herbaceous perennials require less care and attention, while annuals are much more labor intensive. A few perennials admittedly, are relatively stable elements in the garden, like Agapanthus or most ornamental grasses, but as a rule, a border based on perennials will take up more time, (cutting back, dividing, transplanting etc) than one replaced en masse two or three times a year with annuals.