Low-maintenance garden design: 5 steps to designing low-maintenance gardens
Large or small, traditional or contemporary, town or rural, we’ve probably all found ourselves thinking at some point or other that our gardens are too high-maintenance. We're all so busy, and there are so many other demands on our time. It's hardly surprising, therefore, that in all the years I’ve been a professional garden designer for Grantham, Stamford, Newark and surrounding areas, I have never once had a customer ask me to design them a high-maintenance garden.
For many people, a successful garden is primarily about relaxing and spending happy times with friends and family. If looking after a garden like the one in the photograph above takes up too much valuable time then it's only natural that it can quickly begin to cause a source of frustration. But it is possible to make most gardens easier to maintain, and here's where garden design can help.
Here's the Tythorne Garden Design 5 step guide to low-maintenance garden design:
1: Be honest with how much time you are prepared to spend ‘working’ in the garden
Being completely honest with ourselves is the most important step. Everyone tends to have their own idea of how much time is too much time. For some of us, pottering in the garden on a weekend provides a welcome break from other commitments, whilst for others every second spent having to 'work' in the garden feels like a chore. We all have different ideas of how our ‘free’ time should be spent, and so it is extremely important that we are honest and realistic when deciding how much time we are prepared to invest in maintaining our outside space.
Now, as I'm sure everyone knows, garden maintenance tends to be rather seasonal. Winter is often very quiet, mainly due to the fact that our lawn and plants tend not to be growing so much over the colder months. Spring and summer, on the other hand, can seem rather more hectic despite us enjoying longer days. The warmer weather makes everything grow alarmingly quickly and all at once, and it's easy to feel rather overwhelmed by how much there seems to do.
So, when I suggest that we consider how much time we are prepared to spend maintaining the garden what I’m really asking us to decide is how much time we want to spend every week in the spring and summer. Once we’ve got an idea of whether we are prepared to spend 10 minutes, 1 hour, or 5 hours per week we can start to think about designing the garden.
2: Plan for lower-maintenance
Naturally, some gardens are more time-consuming than others, but it doesn’t always follow that a larger garden requires more work than a smaller one. We need to ask ourselves what tasks we are actually doing, and how long they are actually taking us. It is important that we don’t automatically assume that we already know the answers to these questions.
People often tend to assume, for example, that plants hard higher maintenance than lawns. This leads them to want to make their planting areas smaller and their lawns bigger. In reality, however, a well-planned planting scheme is often rather less time-consuming than the weekly care a lawn requires. Planting is also nearly always a lot more enjoyable to look at.
New planting schemes do, of course, demand some attention. We need to keep on top of the weeds, and commit to some supplementary watering over the first spring and summer. But once established, a well-designed planting scheme should be largely self-sufficient for a number of years, barring a quick ‘spring clean’ and the occasional tidy-up.
Mature planting schemes demand more from us as some plants may become tired and leggy or too large for their allotted space, but this shouldn’t be too difficult providing it is planned carefully. When I'm asked to design a new planting area I will always look to incorporate a few existing mature plants if I can. They provide height and depth, whilst new planting can offer ground cover to smother weeds and provide seasonal colour and interest.
3: De-clutter for a better garden
Now that we know how much time we’d like to spend working in our garden, and which tasks are taking us the most time currently, we can start to think about making the improvements that will ensure that our garden is quicker and easier to maintain. It seems logical to begin the process by focusing on the most time-consuming areas first and this often means thinking carefully about our lawn (see step 4). We can then take each area in turn and consider what we need to do to ensure that it is low-maintenance.
Throughout this process, we really need to focus on de-cluttering. So many of the gardens we are ask to visit are ridiculously complicated and cluttered (like the one in the picture at the top of this page). Too many different spaces, different paths or different materials can really make a garden look and feel fussy and hard work. Even too many pots and containers can create a messy look. The old adage of 'KEEP IT SIMPLE' really applies to garden design, so lots ensure that we are deliberately restrained.
4. Low-maintenance lawn design
Most gardens have a patch of grass, and most people seem to accept that they will need to look after it (to a greater or lesser extent) every week or so in the summer. But lawns are often the single largest element in our gardens, and so we need to think carefully about how they are designed.
I’m certainly not suggesting that we all rip up all of our lawns and replace them with hard-landscaping, but rather that we try to ensure that our lawns are as manageable as possible. For example, are there any areas that are difficult to mow? That annoying little corner next to the apple tree whose branches are at a perfect height to poke us in the eye spring to mind. That strip next to the patio that's slightly higher is also an issue because the mower catches the paving every single time.
Is the lawn shaped in such a way that makes it quick and easy to trim the edges? Could a permanent edging in brick, timber or galvanised steel help to keep it looking more neat and tidy? Is it level enough to enable us to move around it easily and safely? If not, what can we do to make things better?
5. Designing low-maintenance hard landscaping
Paths can be another common area of frustration. Is that gravel path to the seating and entertaining area a haven for weeds? Is our paving excessively slippery? Does it twist and turn so much that the kids and the dog (and us, if we're honest) find ourselves regularly taking a short cut and damaging the adjacent lawn or planting? 'Desire lines' are the route we'll actually take if we're in a hurry and it is always worth planning our paths with these in mind.
Elsewhere, is our patio or terrace designed appropriately to keep maintenance to a minimum? Do we need to replace that porous Indian sandstone with something that's less likely to turn green and slippery every winter? Could our vegetable garden be re-designed to make it easier to use? Could we find somewhere better for the bin store so that we are less likely to put off taking the rubbish out?
A good garden designer should be able to help with all of these issues, but it is also possible to tackle these things without professional help. So, next time you find yourself saying that your garden is too high-maintenance and in need of a rethink, follow these 5 simple steps and see how much easier (and better) you could make it.
Everyone deserves to enjoy their garden more, so let’s make it quicker and easier to look after so that you can spend more time in your garden doing the fun things. In the meantime, if you’re looking for more inspiration why not take a look at some of these garden design projects.
Tythorne Garden Design provides professional fixed-fee garden design solutions for customers in Grantham, Stamford, Newark and surrounding areas. Let's see how we can help you to enjoy your garden more. Call us on 07900 224 239 or 01529 455 355.