In this day and age, many of us are short on time. We may think that we are too busy to do much with our gardens. Some busy gardeners believe that a low maintenance garden has to be practically plant free. But choose low maintenance plants for your garden and you can enjoy a lush, productive and beautiful outside space – even if you have not got much time to tend it.
So, before you resort to ripping out those plants and creating a barren wasteland of concrete, paving or gravel, take some time to consider some eco-friendly ways to create a low maintenance garden.
Lawn or No Lawn?
Many gardeners end up a martyr to mowing the lawn during the summer months. But still, many believe that a lawn is a lower maintenance option than growing food, and than a more biodiverse garden. This could not be further from the truth.
You can get some grasses that are slow growing, reducing the amount that you have to mow. And allowing ‘weeds’ to flourish in amongst the grass could help make your garden a wildlife haven and free you from the tyranny of maintaining the perfect bowling green lawn.
But nonetheless, there are definitely planting schemes that require far less maintenance than a lawn. Replacing your lawn with a self-regulating forest garden will mean that, once established, the abundant, beautiful and useful space will more or less take care of itself. Polyculture beds with closely spaced, perennial planting will also require less maintenance than many more traditional garden growing systems, and could be another way to get food from your garden without hours of work.
To help you plan your forest garden or perennial beds, here are some low maintenance plants that you could consider for your garden:
Low Maintenance Trees
Trees can find a space in even the smallest of low maintenance gardens. They will reward you well for very little work and some may even provide you with an abundant yield of edible fruit. Smaller trees that will not grow too large too quickly are ideal for low maintenance planting schemes. This is because, once established, they will require far less tending than you might imagine – they may not even need much pruning.
Fruit trees are great value in a low maintenance garden – once they are established, the only job you will really need to do most of the time is harvesting. And that is hardly a chore! Easy fruit trees you could consider include:
- apple trees (or crab apples)
- cherry trees
- plum trees
- damson trees
- pear trees
People sometimes imagine that there is a lot of work involved in growing fruit trees. Growing them under cover in a polytunnel or fruit cage can make things even easier. But even outdoors, fruit trees can be pretty low maintenance.
The key to making sure that your fruit trees are low maintenance is creating a balanced ecosystem, planting companion plants near your trees which can help repel pests, attract predators and help the tree in other ways. You can find out more about creating guilds for fruit trees, and other organic gardening practices elsewhere on this site. Once your resilient ecosystem is established, it will take very little work. It is important to remember, especially if you want a low maintenance garden, that plants should not be considered in isolation. By setting up a garden with many plants with beneficial interactions, you can minimise the input you yourself need to make.
There are also plenty of other deciduous trees that are excellent for a low maintenance garden – even a small one. Options might include:
- Japanese maples
- Birch/Silver birch
Each of these options can be wonderfully ornamental, require little work, and,when they drop their leaves in the autumn, will provide organic matter to naturally replenish the soil around them without you even necessarily having to gather and distribute the material.
Around, under and between your low maintenance garden trees, there are also plenty of low maintenance shrubs that you could consider. Again, in a low maintenance garden, the key is to think not about individual plants so much as how all the elements can work together to reduce the input required from you, reduce pests and attract beneficial wildlife. It is, of course, also important to choose plants that will thrive where you live – in the climate, conditions and soil in your garden.
You should make sure that you have shrubs that:
- Provide year round interest, with some evergreens and some deciduous plants that will drop their leaves to feed the soil in your garden.
- Some flowering shrubs, and berry bearing shrubs that will attract beneficial wildlife throughout the year.
- In a low maintenance garden, it is also a good idea to choose slow growing/ compact shrubs that will require little pruning or shaping and pretty much get on with things on their own.
Options might include:
- Japanese laurel
Though of course, there are plenty more wonderful plants to choose from, and many shrubs will have their own particular benefits in an organic, low maintenance garden.
Easy Perennial Flowers
Annual flowers frequently take up a lot of time, even if you just choose plug plants/ bedding plants rather than growing your own from seed. In a low maintenance garden, it is a great idea to go for perennial flowers, that will return to enhance your garden year after year. Try to choose an array of perennial flowers that will bloom in succession over the course of the whole year, so there will always be nectar available for pollinators helping you with your garden. The more you co-opt the wildlife to help you, the less you will have to do yourself.
A few lovely perennial flowers that you could consider are:
- Perennial geraniums
- Centaurea (Perennial cornflowers)
- Shasta daisies
- Crocosmia/ montbretia
Again, it is important to choose the right plants for the right places, so for less fuss and hassle, make sure you choose flowers suited to different parts of your particular garden.
Low Maintenance Perennial Vegetables
Many busy people believe they don’t have enough time to start a vegetable garden. But you might be amazed by how low-maintenance certain types of vegetable gardening can be. It is important to realise that growing annual fruits and vegetables in mixed polycultures, with little space between them and well-mulched, takes far less work than growing them traditionally in rows. ‘No dig gardening,as the name suggests, means far less effort and time working the soil. And close planting and sheet mulching means fewer weeds and less watering.
But if even that seems like too much work, you could consider growing perennial vegetables that come back year after year rather than annual ones. Including some perennial vegetables like,for example:
- globe artichokes
- perennial brassicas
- perennial onions
- Good King Henry
- vegetable mallow, etc..
in amongst other perennial plants can give you food each year for surprisingly little effort, especially in a well-balanced, natural garden. Remember, even weeds can provide edible produce from your garden – with no effort on your part at all!
Easy Perennial Herbs
Growing herbs can also be surprisingly low maintenance, especially if you just pop a few perennial herbs for cooking and garnishes in amongst your other perennial plants, shrubs and trees. Herbs like:
can not only provide food, medicine etc. but can also help to repel pests, attract welcome visitors and keep your low maintenance garden healthy and functioning well.
Remember, it is often not the plants themselves but the interactions between the plants and wildlife in your garden that can make it an easy to garden and low maintenance space.
Even when you have very little time to spend in your garden, you do not need to compromise. You can still grow edibles, and enjoy a relaxing and beautiful space throughout the year. Spend a little time now developing your low maintenance garden and you will be able to enjoy it with little effort for many years to come.
Do you have a beautiful, plant-filled, productive low maintenance garden? Let us and others know just how little effort it takes in the comments below.
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.