Design considerations

When deciding what to have, what it will be like and where it will go, it’s important to consider the time implications of what you’re creating.

Border shapes

Curved edges and fussy shaped borders and beds may look lovely, but can be problematic for a low maintenance garden. If they are bordered with hard landscaping then it would be expensive to have paving going up to their edges. However, you could solve this by having gravel edging the borders, so that the paving can still have straight edges. If they are bordered by lawn then this is going to take longer to mow and it will cost more to put in edging to keep the lawn and border plants separate.

Water features

If you would like water in your garden then a large pond can often be less time consuming than having a planted border or bed. You will need to rake out overgrown plants and occasionally divide others, but apart from that a pond’s pretty low maintenance. If you decide to have moving water then the pump and fittings will need annual maintenance. A small, moving water feature will be easier to manage if there is no open water to evaporate or accumulate algae, so consider a pebble based feature.

If you decide to go for a good sized pond, ensure that you include some of the following types of plants in your pond:

  • Oxygenators which will help keep the water clean and, if you have fish, provide oxygen for them. Callitriche verna is good for smaller ponds, Elodea crispa for larger ones.
  • Surface floaters which will help shade the water and discourage algae growth. Water lilies are a great example and come in varying sizes to suit any pond.

What you can’t have!

With the best will in the world, you won’t be able to create a plantsman’s paradise with a low maintenance theme. You will struggle to combine a neat, formal garden with a love of plants. Compromises will need to be made. Here are a few things you’re unlikely to be able to create with a low maintenance garden:

  • A perfect lawn. Perfect lawns need regular mowing, scarifying, aerating, feeding, weeding, top dressing, brushing, rolling and edging. It’s exhausting just reading the list! Only raise your lawn expectations if you’re prepared to put the time in, or pay someone else to do it.
  • Enough food to feed the family. There are some fruit and veg which can be produced with relatively little effort (see the section on fruit and veg), but these are the exception rather than the rule.
  • A rose garden. Roses need quite a lot of effort in terms of pruning, feeding and dealing with pests and diseases. Only get them if you’re prepared to put in the effort!
  • Perennial tender plants. By their very nature, tender plants need extra care and attention. First and foremost, they have to be protected over the winter, be that by moving them somewhere warm or wrapping them up against the elements. However, if you’re happy to treat them as annuals (ie bin them each autumn) then go ahead.
  • Lots of containers and hanging baskets. These take more time than you might think to look after properly. ‘Few and big’ is the rule here to minimise your workload.
  • Bare ground. Sounds a bit daft to say it, but any ground which isn’t either hard landscaped or well planted will be more effort to look after, particularly to control the weeds.
  • Tall hedges take a lot of effort to trim, even if they are slow growing. Keep them to the minimum height you need.
  • The garden you saw at a National Trust property or the Chelsea Flower Show – they may have looked beautifully kempt and therefore easy to copy, but almost without exception they are the result of many hours of regular toil!