See 12 ways to set up your garden so you spend less time working on it and more time enjoying it
The most common request that I, as a garden designer, receive from clients is for a low-maintenance garden. While I may be quick to point out that no garden is no-maintenance, there are indeed some strategies for cutting down on garden chores. Here are 12 ideas to set up your garden to spend less time weeding, mowing and mulching, and more time enjoying the space itself.
Low Maintenance 1: Westover Landscape Design, Inc., original photo on Houzz
1. Create outdoor living areas. Extend your living space and options for entertaining in warm weather with outdoor dining areas, lounges and seating nooks around fire pits. Patios, decks and terraces cut down on planting space and lawns to maintain. Not only do these gathering spaces tempt you to be outside enjoying your garden more often, but they also generally require less maintenance than garden beds.
2. Lose the lawn or reduce its size. Having fewer grassy areas to care for means less time mowing, fertilizing, weeding and reseeding. If you’re not interested in getting rid of your lawn entirely, consider decreasing its size. In this front yard in upstate New York, the designer reduced the lawn size and carved out space for a satellite patio with a pair of inviting Adirondack chairs.
3. Limit planting space. While I’m not advocating wall-to-wall hardscape from a design perspective, there’s no denying that it would cut down on the time spent mowing, mulching and general garden bed maintenance.
Low Maintenance 2: Richmond Bell Architects Ltd, original photo on Houzz
Look at the ratio of planting space to patio in this backyard in Wiltshire, England. Despite its small square footage, the narrow planting bed bordering the seating area has big impact in the design by being lifted to waist-height in an L-shaped raised bed. The dwarf trees, trained to a standard form, and the mix of culinary herbs and perennial mourning bride flowers (Scabiosa atropurpurea) don’t require too much care to look good.
This planting bed in San Francisco features rosette-forming Echeveria ‘Perle von Nürnberg’, Breeze mat rush (Lomandra longifolia ‘LM300’), silver ‘Big Ears’ lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina ‘Big Ears’) and ‘Elijah Blue’ blue fescue (Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’).
4. Choose unfussy plants well-suited to your area. Getting the right plant in the right place may take a bit of effort upfront, but it can be a major time and money saver in the long run. Don’t insist on growing citrus in slow-draining soil or rhododendrons in a dry, windswept area. Likewise, if you don’t have the time for pruning, it’s probably best to skip climbing roses, ficus or wisteria, which can easily get out of hand without proper maintenance. Instead, choose plants that naturally grow in your area or similar climate regions and that need little care to thrive.
Low Maintenance 3: Growsgreen Landscape Design, original photo on Houzz
5. Swap a flower border for shrubs. Seasonal flower beds are maintenance time-sucks — requiring a good deal of planting, staking, watering and deadheading for their fleeting display of blooms. While you may not want to get rid of them entirely, consider replacing some of the planting space with easy-care shrubs. This landscape in Sydney, made up almost entirely of shrubs, provides a beautiful example of how enticing a garden without blooms can be.
6. Go for a modern, minimalist look. Skip fussy, labor-intensive flower beds and opt for easy-care shrubs paired with sleek hardscape. In this contemporary garden in Southern California, the elements of the hardscape are just as diverse and interesting as the plants in the border, and they take little effort to maintain.
7. Let some areas go wild. Take a step back and let go of maintaining some areas of the garden, allowing nature to take the helm. While it can be difficult to give up order in areas close to the house, spaces such as the property’s back border and shady areas under mature trees can be good options to let go wild. Sit back and observe as fallen leaves form a natural mulch on the ground, native plants take root, and wild birds return to feed.
Low Maintenance 4: Secret Gardens, original photo on Houzz
8. Opt for a simple water feature. As anyone who has mucked out a pond can attest, maintaining large water features can be a lot of work — messy and unpleasant. For the benefits of adding a water element to your landscape without the hassle, choose a simple design that’s easy to clean. For example, consider filling a stone basin with water and watching the birds enjoy a drink, or invest in a simple recirculating fountain for the relaxing sound of water.
9. Choose perennials for color. Ditch the annual bedding plants that fade after a season and turn to hardy perennials for color year after year. Stalwarts like English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and spurge (Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii) bloom for months and need only an annual trim to keep from getting too woody. Plus, most perennials offer more for pollinators in terms of pollen and nectar than bedding plants bred for color.
Low Maintenance 5: debora carl landscape design, original photo on Houzz
10. Organize your tools. Hunting for the shovel or a missing part for the lawn mower can take up even more time than the garden job itself. Set yourself up to be organized — and stay organized — with a storage system that works for you. This could be a garden shed, area of the garage for garden tools, or just pegs on the side of the house under the eaves. The trick is to designate a specific place where each tool can be found and put away easily.
11. Spread mulch on beds. Mulch is one of the best garden maintenance timesavers. It suppresses weed growth, cuts down on water loss, and breaks down to help improve soil texture. Plus, spreading a few bags of wood-chip or bark mulch over planting beds instantly gives your garden a well-maintained look with minimal effort.
12. Create a spot to relax. If the real goal is to spend more time enjoying your garden, don’t forget to make it an inviting place to be. Set up a hammock, pull a pair of chairs under a shade tree, or spread a cheerful outdoor rug down on the patio. Then sit back and relax.
Low Maintenance 6: Mark Hickman Homes, original photo on Houzz
What strategies have you used to spend less time maintaining and more time enjoying your garden?