Low Maintenance Gardens
Very often I am asked to create gardens that would be in lush bloom from early spring to the fall. At the some time, customers expect gardens that require next to no maintenance. Realistically, those two wishes are impossible to combine. First, there is the space limit: one can fit only one plant into one spot. Second, most high-performance bloomers need a lot of attention from the gardener, are often short lived, and in many cases look sadly unattractive in the winter. And one needs to pack a lot of these together to achieve a fullness of color like in the 'Red Double Border" at Hidcote Manor, where professional garden artists and their assistants sweat year round to make it possible. These are by no means low-maintenance gardens!
However, this does not mean we have to content ourselves with boring gardens. We leave the English border to those who love to spent their free time working them over and over again - it is an honorable task and its own art form within the art of gardening. The more practical gardener, and the ones who like to limit their gardening activities to a few days per year, need to follow different approaches, and consider 'sustainablility', which starts with selecting 'the right plant for the right place'. Besides that, cultural practices have to be applied that use resources carefully and don't harm the environment but rather enrich it. What better place than a garden to enrich the environment!
I would describe 'low-maintenance plants' as having the following characteristics:
they are long-lived and do not need to be replaced every year
they are sufficiently vigorous and at the same time do not need frequent pruning, division, fertilizing or watering
they do not have invasive tendencies or grow to disproportional size
they are reliable, even under less-than-ideal conditions, and should not be prone to diseases and pests
they should be beautiful or at least not untidy to look at, even when their main show is over.
Fortunately, there are plants that meet these conditions: Many ornamental shrubs offer splendid flower shows in the spring or summer, and also have attractive foliage, berries or winter bark. The growth habit and branching structure should also be considered and plants that are unpleasing to look at during the winter should be avoided - or camouflaged by neater neighbors. There is also a good number of reliable, easy to grow perennials that offer multi-season beauty.
The more of such 'low-maintenance' plants are used, the easier it will be to take care of the garden.
However - there are many plants available to gardeners that don't meet all the criteria of sustainability, but we don't have to categorically exclude these from taking part in our gardening lives. The perfect garden with lots of enjoyable flowers in the spring and summer, and an attractive appearance even in the fall and winter, is achieved by combining "framework" and "highlights". Multi-season plants provide the structure and background year round, and help to organize the garden - this is the framework. Short-lived high-performance annuals and exotic perennials are added as highlights as it pleases the gardener.
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