Many people make the mistake of thinking that a low maintenance garden is one with few plants, and larger paved or gravelled areas. But this is not the case.
Truly low maintenance gardens are gardens where nature is allowed to take the reigns, where plants are carefully chosen and combined to create systems that can largely take care of themselves.
Here are the key concepts that should underpin all low maintenance garden ideas:
- Get a Great Design in Place Before You Begin
- Think About Layout and Access
- Get the Basics in Place for Water and Fertility
- Plant the Right Plants in the Right Places
- Embrace Perennial Planting
- Find Simple Solutions to Common Challenges
- Protect Plants To Build Resilience
- Increase Biodiversity as Much as Possible
- Rewild Your Space – Don’t be Afraid of Natural Changes
- Take Good Care of the Soil
Many articles online and different sources will suggest options for a low maintenance garden that are expensive, non-sustainable and harmful to the environment.
But if you think about the key concepts listed above, you will find plenty of ideas for a cheap low maintenance garden that truly is great for people and planet.
Get a Great Design in Place Before You Begin
A little careful planning and preparation up front can save you a lot of time and effort down the line. Before you begin to make any choices for a low maintenance garden it is a very good idea to have a clear plan in place, with a design that helps you set a roadmap for your goals and how you will reach them.
A great, beautiful and productive garden does not necessarily have to take a lot of time and effort to maintain. Spending some time and effort up front will help you avoid many of the common pitfalls that make gardening far more time consuming and difficult than it needs to be.
The most important things to do are to get a sense of your space and the conditions it can provide in terms of sunlight and shade, wind and water, and the properties of the soil. Establishing these things will help you choose the right methods, and come up with a great design.
Think About Layout and Access
When you are coming up with the design for a low maintenance garden, it is important to consider your own needs, as well as the needs of the plants that you wish to grow. In order for a garden to be low maintenance, it has to be laid out carefully, in such a way that it minimises the effort that you must expend.
It really is simple common sense. Those places that you have to visit and tend most frequently should be closest to the home, and easiest to get to. The easier access is, the less time simple garden jobs will take you. So make sure there are good pathways in place.
Zoning your garden is a strategy to save time and effort longer term. Zone 1 is for areas visited most frequently, and is closest to the centre of operations. And the wildest and least managed areas will be further away.
Get the Basics in Place for Water and Fertility
There are a few other things that you should think about doing up front in order to enjoy a lower maintenance garden in the long run.
One key thing to think about is water. By carefully thinking about where water comes from and where it is used within the space, you can avoid the necessity of laborious watering and other management in your garden.
Creating earthworks, taking steps to catch and store water in your garden in plants and in the soil, as well as harvesting rainwater and directing it to where it is needed can significantly cut down on ongoing maintenance.
Another job to consider up front is thinking about how fertility will be maintained in the garden over time. Creating a simple composting system does not take a lot of work or time, and could make it far easier to create a cheap low maintenance garden without having to buy in materials.
Plant the Right Plants in the Right Places
Once you have an overall plan, and have the basics in place, choose plants wisely. Selecting the right plants for the right places really is key to a low maintenance garden.
The key to finding plants that can cope with far less intervention from you as the gardener is to match the requirements of different plants with the conditions that you can provide.
It is also important to think not only about the individual plants that you choose but also the ways in which they are combined.
Creating systems that are resilient and can cope well without too much work from you means creating functioning ecosystems, where all the plants work well alongside one another, and there are as many beneficial interactions between plants, and between different elements in the system as possible.
Embrace Perennial Planting
A low maintenance garden can be beautiful and bountiful. With a little work up front, you can enjoy a garden that requires very little ongoing work but which also provides you with abundant food, and other things you need.
Rather than opting for typical annual crops, grown in a kitchen garden in the ground or in raised beds or containers, those looking to create a low maintenance garden should embrace perennial plants.
Fruit trees, fruit bushes, and perennial herbs and vegetables can provide abundant yields. And when these are grown in the right combinations, and in the right places, they will take far less work and effort than annual crops.
Creating a food forest or other perennial system from which you can forage over time is a wonderful way to establish a fairly low-maintenance system that will also provide food for you and your family.
Find Simple Solutions to Common Challenges
Many people who want to create a low maintenance garden struggle to understand how they can overcome particular challenges in their gardens without putting in a lot of time and effort.
Weeding, for a example, is one garden task that can often overwhelm. Weeds will of course grow in any space, whether it is a low maintenance garden or not.
The key is to embrace weeds where they may in fact actually be beneficial, to remain a little relaxed about the odd weed here and there, and to take steps like mulching and creating dense planting with good ground cover to reduce ongoing weed growth in garden systems.
Protect Plants To Build Resilience
Even when we do want to grow annual crops rather than just perennial systems, we can reduce the time and effort a garden takes by planning well, and by making the right choices about how and where specifically we grow.
While we can do a lot to improve the resilience and self-reliance in a garden through the design and layout, and the planting itself, we can also consider adding physical barriers and protection to improve the environmental conditions for certain plants and reduce the chances of things going wrong when we don’t necessarily have quite as much time to devote to our outside spaces.
For example, we can use planted features like shelter belts and wind break hedgerows. And we can add structures like polytunnels, fruit cages, row covers or cloches to protect our plants from weather, pests, etc.. and grow with less hassle throughout the year.
Increase Biodiversity as Much as Possible
Dealing with pests organically is the only sensible and ethical option. In an organic garden, it is important to remember that you are not going it alone. An army of helpers exists in the wildlife that surrounds you, so welcoming in as many creatures as possible can mean far less work for you.
Planting as many different plants and varietals as possible, and embracing wildlife, enriches the biodiversity of a space and increases garden resilience. The more beneficial interactions there are, the more stable the system will be and the less input and time investment will be required from you for its perpetuation.
Biodiverse low maintenance gardens have pests. But those pests are kept in balance by those creatures that eat them, so an equilibrium is maintained and the garden flourishes.
Take Good Care of the Soil
Remember, the living creatures that can help us in a low maintenance garden are not only those we observe above the soil, but also those hidden helpers below the ground. Living, healthy soil teems with life, and when there is healthy soil, there will be healthy plants.
Adopting low impact approaches like no dig gardening, keeping a living root in the soil as much of the time as you can, minimising bare soil with mulches and ground covers… these are all simple and easy ways to take care of the soil.
Remember, in creating healthy soil is often more about what we don’t do than what we do. So this can be relatively easy in a low maintenance garden.
Rewild Your Space – Don’t be Afraid of Natural Changes
One final thing to remember if you want to create a low maintenance garden that is also eco-friendly, wonderful for people and our planet, is that you should not try to tame nature too much.
The more we try to keep nature in check, the more it can fight back against us. So embracing wilder areas and letting things evolve and change naturally over time is a good idea. Embracing and adapting to change will ensure that you don’t have to do too much work or spend too much time tending your low maintenance garden.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.