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10 Ways to get a low-maintenance garden

Whether it's battling unruly borders or losing against the leaves keeping up with your garden can be hard work. But help is at hand from Sue Parry, Muddy Stilettos Best Garden Designer 2021! Ready to transform your jungle into a stress-free, low maintenance sanctuary? Read on.

woman sitting in garden

We all want a garden that is high on enjoyment and low on effort right? But getting to that sweet spot can feel like a relentless challenge. From ever-encroaching ivy to weeds where they shouldn’t be, and rampant bushes, it’s hard to know where to begin.

But as the leaves turn golden and the garden hunkers down for the colder months, there’s no better time to plan ahead for what you want your sanctuary to look like next year.

Want a space that will be totally gorgeous but stress-free? Low maintenance doesn’t have to mean boring, or full of patios, paving and artificial turf. Far from it. It can be just as beautiful as a garden that demands attention every day of the year.

We turned to expert garden designer (and Muddy Awards 2021 Best Garden Designer no less) to show us how …

10 Top tips for creating a stress-free outdoor space

woman with plan

1. Keep it simple

Use a small palette of plants with lots of the same plant rather than lots of different plants. So stick to a few key players rather than a full orchestra. That way you can do the same task to lots of the same plant simultaneously, rather than to lots of different plants at different times of the year. I like Hydrangea Annabelle and Alchemilla Mollis.

A lovely Hydrangea Annabelle fits right in

2. Choose the right plants

Select plants that will flower for a long time and only need attention once or twice a year. One of my favourites is Geranium Rozanne, which flowers non-stop from June until the first frosts. The only maintenance it needs is a quick tidy up of the leaves before it re-grows in spring.

Geranium Rozanne gets Sue’s approval

3. Ditch the containers

Plants in containers by the front door or on the terrace look lovely but they’re actually quite a lot of work. They dry out quickly so they need lots of watering, every day in hot weather. So my advice is to have really large containers or to ditch them completely. I especially like these galvanised troughs you can get from farming supply companies.

4. Ditch the annuals

Are you tempted by the displays of dazzling plants in the garden centre at Easter? Lots of us rush out to buy Petunias and Busy Lizzies in the spring. We continuously deadhead them, water them and feed them to keep them flowering. Come the autumn they die and we pull them out and consign them to the compost heap, leaving a gap in the garden over winter. For a low maintenance garden forget these annual plants. Switch to plants that will give you a wonderful display every year. The plants are much less demanding once they get established and you’ll save a fortune on buying new plants every year.

woman drawing garden plan

5. Re-think your lawn

It might look great on the Grid, but a striped ‘bowling green type’ lawn needs lots of attention. Instead, mow every fortnight in the summer, letting the grass get a little longer between cuts. Leaving some grass to grow long and mowing paths through it can look lovely and is great for wildlife. Mowing a strip around the edges of your lawn prevents your lawn seeds spreading into your borders and growing into weeds. Try creating a permanent edge too. My favourite method is adding an edge of setts, set in mortar. I’ve done this in my garden and when I mow the lawn I simply run the wheel of the lawnmower along the setts for a nice neat finish every time. As an alternative add metal edging, pushed into the edge of the border. Both of these help to keep the shape of your borders too.

Granite setts frame your lawn

6. Get mulching!

Add a layer of compost or bark to your borders to suppress weeds and keep the moisture in. It’ll also feed the soil as it gradually breaks down. I don’t recommend weed suppressant membrane – it’s made of plastic, as it ages it deteriorates allowing weeds to grow through and it’s really difficult to remove if you want to take a plant out or add a new one.

garden

7. Don’t rush to cut back in autumn

Don’t feel you must rush out and cut back all your plants in autumn, as soon as they fade and the frosts begin. Take the pressure off by letting them die back naturally, gradually pruning them as you have time over the winter. As long as they are ready for the new season’s growth in spring they’ll be fine. The old leaves actually protect the plants from hard frosts and you’ll provide a wonderful winter habitat for all sorts of bugs. Even the birds will be happy to peck away at seed heads over winter.

8. Invest in good irrigation

Rain is the best kind of water for your garden and collecting it in water butts is a great way of ensuring a plentiful supply. But it’s not always practical to water your whole garden with a watering can, especially if you are going away on holiday in the summer. Installing a permanent irrigation system means the watering looks after itself. There are lots of systems available from mini sprinklers to porous pipes you lay in the soil. Add a timer to create a fully automated system.

9. Buy these top 5 low-maintenance plants

Allium Purple Sensation and Cristophii have strong flower heads that can be brought indoors in the autumn and used as decorations. Winter bulbs like snowdrops – just pop them in the soil and they will grow, flower and die back without any effort. Hydrangea Annabelle or Limelight have beautiful structural flowers which fade gracefully. Once they’ve faded you can cut them and bring them inside as a decoration. Geranium Rozanne and Hakonechloa Macra are great choices too.

Hakonechloa Macra

10. Create a balance

And finally, allow a few pests in. A natural organic approach allows the garden to reach its own balance. Ladybirds eat greenfly, birds, frogs and slow worms eat slugs. So rather than reaching for pest killing sprays or slug pellets allow a natural balance in your garden.

woman and dog in garden

Whether your idea of a backyard sanctuary is a hot tub and Hawaiian bar-filled fantasy (moi?!), or a rambling country cottage garden with veg patch and meditation pod, contact Sue to chat about your project, or book in for one of her Plant Inspiration Sessions. Find her in Muddy Stilettos Little Black Book. Or go to www.gardensdesignedbysue.co.uk. Email on gardensdesignedbysue@gmail.com or call 07906 017935.

Gardens Designed by Sue is based in Dursley in Gloucestershire, and covers the Cotswolds and surrounding areas.

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