The Low Maintenance Garden – For many gardeners, the overriding priority in a new garden is that it should require little maintenance. This design shows that such a brief need not compromise the overall look of the garden, nor restrict the choice of elements.
The design is for a long narrow plot, which is the perfect shape for sub-division into a number of separate ‘rooms’, each with its own identity. As you walk around the garden you will find it natural to pause in each area, increasing the feeling of total space.
Separate areas also have an advantage in terms of maintenance: it is often easier to look after several smaller areas rather than one large space, as you can tackle a section at a time and see the fruits of your labors more quickly. If you leave one area to its own devices for a year or so, you can still have a ‘finished’ area in which to sit.
Aside from creating ‘rooms’ within the garden, there are many ways in which you can keep work to a sensible minimum. Hard surfacing of an appropriate type is of course almost maintenance free. This is laid in a combination of blue-grey engineering bricks and precast concrete slabs in pale yellow. The terrace has raised beds around it, which are often easier to tend than planting at ground level.
A wall 1m/3ft high divides this first room from the next. Although you would easily see over this while standing, when you are sitting down it is just high enough to break the sight line down the garden. This increases interest from the house end, and gives a feeling of seclusion to the lower parts of the garden.
From the terrace, the path leads down the side of the next area and across it at the far end, so one’s progress is slowed and a feeling of greater space is created. The path also provides a labor- saving mowing edge to the central lawn, as does the row of pavers on the opposite side. A trellis provides a screen between this and the third garden area.
The furthest part of the garden is given over to a more natural theme. Rougher grass, naturalized with bulbs and wildflowers, provides the main floor. Stepping-stones sweep across the area, terminating at the seat that acts as a focal point. Groups of birch and hazel provide an attractive, self-sustaining habitat, and the rose hedge can be left to thicken up, with little annual trimming or attention. This area, once established, will reguire very little regular maintenance but will be a pleasure to sit in. Finally, at the bottom of the garden, there is room to accommodate a shed and compost heap.
In the low maintenance garden, it is most important that the plants should be as far as possible self-sustaining. They should require little or no pruning, not outgrow their allotted space, but cover the ground so that weeds are suppressed. Herbaceous perennials should be slow to need dividing; best of all will be those that prefer to be left completely undisturbed, such as the peonies.
Good preparation of the soil before planting is essential. Perennial weeds must be thoroughly eradicated, and plenty of organic matter dug in.
This planting scheme assumes a fertile soil, of neutral pH and deep enough not to dry out completely in summer. Half the garden is reasonably sunny, the rest in part or even dense shade. The main eye-catchers in this garden are the trees: a gleditsia dominates the central area, with silver birches near the trellis. A fastigiate beech and a cryptomeria at the far end form important focal points near the seat. However little maintenance a plant needs, it must still have decorative value. Examples are the hardy geraniums near the back door, the row of blue helictotrichon, which picks up the colors in the engineering brick, the senecio and ‘bottlebrush’ euphorbia that front them, and the alchemilla planted on either side of the low wall.