Photo: Annie Guilfoyle

Low maintenance gardening

Gardening can be a balancing act between your desired looks and the time you are able to spend on maintenance. So how do you get impressive results without devoting your whole life to your garden? Designer Annie Guilfoyle gives some tips

There is a difference between low maintenance and no maintenance gardening. Unless you want a garden that is completely devoid of plant life there is always going to be some level of care required. But, to avoid creating a garden that may veer out of control, it’s worth spending the time to work out exactly what type of maintenance is going to be necessary and what you are able to cope with, both in terms of your time and knowledge. Here’s a few things to consider before starting out.

Advertisement

Things to consider if you want a low-maintenance garden

Gardener clips a sculptural topiary hedge with shears
  1. Think about the location of the garden and the soil conditions before you start. Do you have clay soil or sand? If your garden is very exposed, hedges might be high on your list but as you’ll see below they aren’t the best option for a low-maintenance gardener.
  2. Hedges and topiary can add valuable interest and structure to a garden but they do require a lot of maintenance to keep them looking good.
  3. Grasses can be relatively low maintenance in the garden and for many, simply cutting back the dead stems in spring is all you will need to do to keep them growing well
  4. Avoid plants that spread. Do your homework and choose plants that behave and don’t grow too large or too quickly.
  5. Fallen leaves are very useful for leaf mould, but if you don’t fancy spending the time raking up the leaves, consider the amount of evergreen and deciduos plants that you want in the garden and try to strike a balance.
  6. Increasing the lawn area isn’t a quick fix to reducing the amount of work. Keeping a lawn looking good all year round is labour intensive.

Plant suggestions

Here is a list of ‘well-behaved’ plants that Annie Guilfoyle use regularly.

Shrubs

Nandina domestica.
Nandina domestica ‘Richmond’. An evergreen shrub with red berries in autumn. Photo: Maayke de Ridder
  • Abelia x grandiflora AGM*
  • Choisya x dewitteana ‘Aztec Pearl’ AGM
  • Cotoneaster lacteus AGM
  • Itea ilicifolia AGM
  • Nandina domestica AGM
  • Olearia macrodonta AGM
  • Sarcococca confusa AGM
  • Syringa microphylla ‘Superba’ AGM

Perennials and grasses

Ballota Pseudodictamnus
Ballota pseudodictamnus is a grey-leaved plant that catches the light attractively and gives a silvery sheen. Photo: Jason Ingram.
  • Astrantia major (does self-seed but worth it!)
  • Ballota pseudodictamnus
  • Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’
  • Carex buchananii
  • Epimedium x perralchicum ‘Fröhnleiten’
  • Heuchera cultivars
  • Liriope muscari
  • Phlox paniculata ‘David’
  • Salvia x sylvestris ‘Mainacht’

Bulbs

Allium hollandicum 'Purple Sensation'
Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ has flower heads the size of tennis balls. Easy to grow and flowers May to July. Photo: Torie Chugg
  • Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’
  • Narcissus ‘Petrel’
  • Nectaroscordum siculum

Great ground cover

Spring border with Euonymus fortunei 'Silver Queen' used as an anchor plant amongst Tulipa - Tulips in the Long Border at Great Dixter
Euonymus fortunei ‘Silver Queen’ amongst tulips in a spring border. Photo: Jonathan Buckley
  • Ajuga reptans Black Scallop( = ‘Binblasca’)
  • Asarum europaeum
  • Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’
  • Euonymus fortunei ‘Silver Queen’
  • Geranium macrorrhizum ‘White Ness’
  • Luzula sylvatica
  • Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’
  • Pulmonaria saccharata ‘Smoky Blue’
  • Trachystemon orientalis
  • Vinca difformis AGM

Books for further reading

  • 50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants by Tracy DiSabato-Aust (Timber Press, £9.99)
  • Care-free Plants (Reader’s Digest, £14.99)
  • Gardener’s Essential Plant Guide by Brian Davis (Silverdale). One of the best books for understanding trees, shrubs and climbers – including details on growth rate and maintenance.  (out of print but second-hand copies may be available)
  • Low Maintenance Gardening by Andi Clevely (Frances Lincoln, £9.99)
  • Low Maintenance Gardens by Caroline Tilston (Wiley, £9.99)
  • The No-work Garden by Bob Flowerdew (Kyle Cathie). Out of print but second-hand copies may be available.

Courses

  • Try your local botanical gardens for course details.
  • The RHS hold courses at all their gardens: Wisley, Harlow Carr, Rosemoor and Hyde Hall. Go to www.rhs.org.uk/Courses/Leisure-learning
  • There’s also a useful list of possible courses here
Advertisement

Words Annie Guilfoyle is Director of Garden Design at KLC School of Design. She is also Garden Course Coordinator at West Dean College and runs her own garden design studio, Creative Landscapes.