Where to put plants

Beds and borders

You can keep your beds and borders and still have a low maintenance garden. To reduce the weeding and watering required, it is important that you mulch them well. Ideally you should cover the soil surface with a weed proof woven membrane, with holes cut in it for planting through. Make sure the soil is well prepared and has plenty of organic matter forked into it and soak it well before you cover it. You can then cover this with a mulch. It will need to be fed with liquid fertiliser after this as dry fertilisers won’t reach the plants. Alternatively, you can just put the mulch on the soil, although this will be less fool-proof against weeds and will need topping up more frequently, as the mulch gets drawn into the soil.

Mulches you could use include; bark chippings, composted bark, gravel, horticultural grit, well rotted farmyard manure or leaf mould.

Edging the borders will help to retain the soil and plants within them and, if bordered by lawn, may make mowing easier. If the border edges are straight then this will be a less expensive task (you could simply use treated wooden boards sunk into the soil, bricks or rectangular paving slabs laid lengthways along the edge) but it’s still worth edging even the borders are curved. There are many different materials you can use to edge your borders:

  • Bricks (laid lengthways along straight edged borders or widthways where the edging needs to curve).*
  • Miniature willow hurdles.
  • Bamboo edging for a minimalist or Japanese feel.
  • Polypropylene, in Victorian ‘rope’ edging design, with a lip for mowing over.*
  • ‘Smartedge’ polypropylene strips which bind to the edge of the lawn to keep it in place.*
  • Strips of short logs (‘log rolls’).
  • Wine bottles (burried bottoms up).

* If the border butts up to a lawn, the items marked with an asterisk can be laid flush to the lawn so the mower mows over them, thereby removing the need to strim the edges of the lawn.

Raised beds

Raised beds act a bit like containers, but their additional size (and openness to the soil below) mean that they provide a better source of water for the plant (therefore less watering is needed) and their height makes them easy to maintain. In fact, if you have a wide enough edge to your raised bed, you can sit on the edge with a glass of wine in one hand, doing the weeding with the other – now that’s relaxing gardening!


Growing in containers can seem a great solution to low maintenance gardening, but the problem with containers is that they need a lot of watering – up to twice a day in hot spells unless it’s a particularly large container. Depending on the plants chosen, they might also need re-planting every year or so. The types of plants chosen can reduce the workload and an automated watering system can make it much easier, but think carefully about the number of containers you intend to have and consider all the work involved.

Having said that, containers can add height and interest to areas of hard landscaping and can allow flexibility in the type and range of plants you can use. Just keep to a few rules…

  • Stick to fewer, larger containers, rather than lots of little ones. You can still plant a variety of plants – just put several in the same large container rather than putting them all in individual ones.
  • If you don’t have an automated watering system, stick to a few containers which are as large as possible. Put them in one or two groups and make sure they are not in the rain shadow of the house.
  • Use plants which tolerate drought.
  • Use plastic or resin containers (or stone ones if you have the money!). These will retain water better than terracotta or clay pots. You can also get ’self watering’ containers which have their own resevoir of water and keep the compost moist for up to a couple of weeks without watering.
  • Mulch the top of the soil in the pot with composted bark, gravel or stone chippings to reduce water evaporation from the soil surface and to suppress weeds. Mulches can also be quite decorative.
  • While watering is important, so is drainage, particularly in wet winter months. Make sure the drainage holes in the base of your containers remain unblocked and that the container is raised a little off the ground (eg on ‘feet’) particularly over the winter months.

Some good examples of plants for containers include:

  • Aucuba japonica work well in pots, although they will eventually out grow all but the largest containers. Try the A.j. ‘Variegata’ cultivar for a speckled yellow effect.
  • Berberis thunbergiif. atropurpurea ‘Helmond Pillar’ will provide fantastic red foliage, though it will need a fairly large pot.
  • Bergenia varieties are evergreen with rich hues in winter months, try Bergenia ‘Bressingham White’ or Bergenia cordifolia ‘Purpurea’ for a larger plant.
  • Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’ is one of many Carex grasses which will thrive in containers. This cultivar has bright yellow stripes.
  • Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald and Gold’ or E. Fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’ are great, evergreen rufty tufty plants which will bring a bit of brightness to a difficult spot.
  • Fatsia japonica is a magnificent architectural foliage plant which is happiest in a sheltered, shady spot.
  • Helichrysum italicum, the curry plant, has a fragrance that lives up to its name, but will keep flowering throughout the summer.
  • Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’ has an eye-catching combination of green, cream and red colouring and works well in pots. Try it with Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’ (Japanese blood grass) to bring out the red tones.
  • Japanese hollies, which can be clipped as topiary, such as Ilex crenata ‘Golden Gem’.
  • Dwarf conifers such as Pinus mugo ‘Humpy’ give great year round value.
  • The silvery grey cotton lavender Santolina chamaecyparissus, which will just need hard pruning in spring to keep it compact.