True story: last week, while waiting to get a haircut, I flipped through a local home and garden magazine and stumbled upon an article about garden maintenance. Mostly I skimmed it, but then my eye caught a quote from a landscape designer based at a local nursery. He said, “If a landscape is designed right, there should be NO maintenance. None at all. That’s what a designer is for.”My jaw dropped. No maintenance at all! See, if you hire the right designer, you’ll never have to so much as pluck a leaf off of your zero-input lawn! Apparently this guy can even design it so all the leaves from your trees blow into your neighbor’s yard, too!
I almost wanted to stand up right there in the hair salon and be, “ya’ll won’t BELIEVE what I just read here in this magazine, ladies!” but they probably would’ve thought it was some juicy sex tip from Cosmo and been disappointed when it turned out to be faulty landscaping advice — shocking though it was!
I think most people who have laid eyes on plant life realize that a “no maintenance” landscape is fantasy, regardless of what some shifty designer tries to make them believe. But most ordinary people do want to believe in “low-maintenance.”
“Low-maintenance” is a slippery term, though. One person’s idea of “low” might be completely different from his neighbor’s. The type of maintenance matters, too. Landscapes that require such things as getting up on tall ladders (high hedges) or setting fires (meadows) might be considered problematic by some folks, even if the overall time requirement is lower.
I also have a sneaking suspicion that if you graphed all this out, with “Garden Maintenance Level” on the Y-axis and “Garden Awesomeness Level” on the X-axis, you would probably get a slope of m=3/1 or something like that, whatever, it would be steep.
I want my garden to have the maximum “awesomeness” factor but unfortunately I am at a point in my life where I don’t have as much time for maintenance/management as I would like. I have a half acre, many different garden beds, lots of experiments going on, lots of ideas, loads of different soil and light conditions, plus I’m always wanting to try out new plants and I’m always changing my mind and moving things around.
It’s too much! I can’t keep up with it all, and too many areas wind up looking like sh-t.
I envision that in five or ten years I will have more time to garden, but I also recognize that my body is getting older and that I will probably be gardening slower in the future. I will have to sit down more often and take more Diet Coke breaks.
With all this in mind, here are two things that I have started doing that I think will make future gardening a bit easier/lower-maintenance, at least for me:
1. Planting more shrubs and fewer perennials.
I have an area in my backyard that I am struggling to landscape at the moment. It is a pretty big space, several plants have failed there, and there is a lot of empty ground there right now. At first I wanted to plant a small ornamental tree there, something like a ‘Hearts of Gold’ Redbud, but then I realized that I would still have to plant a bunch of stuff underneath the tree. Even though a tree is a large landscape feature it really doesn’t cover much soil, does it? Planting loads of perennials there just does not appeal to me, and since the area is far away from the house, I don’t think they’d be appreciated anyway. Plus, large quantities of perennials are expensive and tending them is usually a lot of work.
So now I’m thinking something like a Doublefile Viburnum would be just the ticket in that spot. It would spread itself out and cover lots of ground, and would still make a nice specimen plant visible from the house.
There are so many interesting shrubs out there that a full-blown “shrubbery” even carries a certain appeal.
Last year I planted this Bottlebrush Buckeye waaaay in the back of my yard and I am totally smitten by it.
These things are supposed to get HUGE, and I hope mine does, because as you can see I need it to block the god-awful mess behind it. Supposedly this shrub is a slow grower but mine has tripled in size in less than a year. Those skinny little pipe-cleaner flower buds should be big ol’ bottlebrushes very soon!
This Cornus sericea ‘Silver and Gold’ has spread quickly but hasn’t gotten too tall. And it has wonderful bright yellow stems in winter:
Below, this Variegated Five-Leaf Aralia (Acanthopanax siebolianus ‘Variagatus’) is spreading quickly and I am going to let it, even if I have to get some perennials out of its way. This thing brings an amazing lightness to a very shady spot and it’s growing right under my BW:
Other shrubs that have been handsome and reliable for me (and have covered ground) are boxwood, clumping bamboo, and Viburnum ‘Conoy’.
2. Looking at what grows well in my yard and planting more of those. Yes, part of the joy of gardening is trying new things, but when you’ve got limited time and energy it is probably prudent to keep your experimental planting areas small and manageable.
In my yard, toad lilies, Japanese painted ferns, geraniums, and phlox are always healthy and lush. Astilbes, butterfly weed, and heucheras always look pathetic.
Instead of trying to fight with my yard and make the latter plants work, instead of poking around the perennials area at the GC for something new (exhilarating as that it is!), I’m gonna stick to my shortlist of proven perennials for now. For now, I said.
With a lower-maintenance garden, you have time to read more garden blogs! Let’s see what some professional designers have to say about maintenance:
Follow the links below and see what our designers have to say!