When I visit a garden client, I have two duties. The first is to create the garden of their dreams. The second is to ensure that their dream garden is easy to maintain and looks good for a long time.
There are many features that clients request which start warning bells ringing. Phrases which fill me with impending doom are: Herb Bed, Rockery, Pond, Water Feature, Fire Pit and Wildflower Meadow. I can fully understand why people request these features. They are regularly illustrated in full glorious splendour in gardening magazines and on TV. The problem is that they are only ever photographed when they are freshly created and in full bloom. Have you ever seen a herb bed in the winter? I have, and it usually isn’t a pretty sight! Most herbs are tender annuals which do not survive the first frost. I have also seen too many rockeries which are more weeds than flowers and just look like the remains of a building site. Rockeries are very hard to maintain because the rocks create little areas for weeds to grow! A wildflower meadow is a real boost for wildlife and pollinating insects. However, it only looks good from August until October and must be completely dug over and re-seeded every year.
Ponds are very high maintenance and require regular clearing out to look good. Water features look spectacular in a stately home where they have employees to maintain them. In reality, most water pumps survive until the first hard winter or drought when they burn out. All that is left are the green, slimy remains and some weeds.
The next feature for the scrap heap is the fire pit. If it is too cold to sit outside of an evening, no fire pit will be big enough to make a difference. The barbecue is over and the host duly lights the fire pit. The guests huddle round wishing they could just go inside, but they don’t want to offend their host. Probably the host is thinking the same, but he doesn’t want to admit that he has paid for a feature that is ineffective!
The best advice is to avoid fads and aim for a design which is low maintenance, looks good all year round and has a good balance of hard and soft landscaping.
Instead of a pond or fountain, how about a classical stone bird bath on a plinth? This can be positioned in the garden as an interesting focal point as well as being useful for wildlife. If you would like to grow some herbs, plant them in a large pot which you can set outside the kitchen door. This will also be convenient to nip out with your scissors to harvest for your cooking. For lowest maintenance planting, some well selected shrubs are the best bet. Varieties of Lavatera, Hypericum, Leycesteria, Choisya, Kerria, Viburnum and Mahonia will ensure evergreen interest with flowers throughout the year. Once they are planted, as long as they are selected for size suited to the space, you shouldn’t have to prune or cut back for many years.
For another attractive, low maintenance focal point, look for an area of your garden which gets the last rays of the sun. This would be perfect for a small paved area for a bench seat or small table & chairs. The lowest maintenance paving would be Historic Flags grouted with mortar and laid flush with the surface of the lawn for ease of mowing. From there, you will be able to sit and enjoy your beautiful, low maintenance garden without feeling guilty!
Have a look at our Inspiration Gallery to help find the ideal hard landscaping products that will help you spend less time maintaining your garden and more precious time enjoying your outdoor space!