Low maintenance plants look good all year round and forgive a little neglect, especially during a dry spell. Many have year round interest with flowers, fruits, gorgeous foliage in autumn and sometimes colourful bark that stands out when all else is grey in winter.
If you want to grow a low maintenance garden you need to make sure all of your plants suit the conditions and the site – that they are not too large or too fast-growing, that they like the amount of sun or shade, or the chemical makeup of the soil and the rainfall that your garden experiences. Our friendly and knowledgeable staff at Cleeve Nursery can offer advice on all of these, including soil analysis.
Bushes and trees are the quickest and easiest way to form the ‘skeleton’ of your low maintenance garden, giving you the opportunity to add colour around them with a few higher-maintenance flowering plants. Lots of structural evergreens look good together, but you can still have colour, for instance the Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) has yellow spring flowers and purplish-black fruits. Hollies are good, slow-growing evergreens with the bonus of bright berries, although you do need both a male and female to produce them. Hydrangeas love a damp situation and their flowers in shades of blue, pink or white provide interesting shapes even in winter.
Exposed planting location conditions, poor sandy soils and the likelihood of drought call for tough bushes. Choose evergreens that have moisture retentive foliage such as needles, or silvery foliage plants which have water conserving hairs. Conifers, once considered so 1970s, are making a comeback and are ideal because many of them will tolerate a sunny dry spot, and with their strong shapes – upright columns and cones, or unstructured and prone – they come in varieties of blue, green and gold. Perhaps the most perfect shrub for a tough site is the Mexican Orange Blossom (Choisya trenata), which is both hardy and a sun loving drought tolerant plant. It has evergreen aromatic foliage all year round and is an effective screen but is ground covering too, so it suppresses weed growth.
Care of your low maintenance garden
New plantings do benefit from a little care and ground-preparation in the beginning. Always dig plenty of planting compost and fertilizer into dry, sandy, impoverished soils, and watering the bush thoroughly immediately after planting helps to establish deep roots.
Laying a surface mulch of composted decorative bark helps conserve any moisture within the soil, as well as keeping down weeds. Carry on watering regularly while young plants are establishing. In the 2nd year, once the bushes are established, only fertilize in the spring and water in dry spells.
A few bulbs planted under the bushes will lift the heart in spring and not add greatly to your gardening jobs. As well as the usual daffodils, tulips etc, we suggest the fritillaria, Crown Imperial. Its tall stems and dramatic crowns of hanging bell-shaped flowers beneath a circle of leaf-like bracts look good at the back of the border, and as a bonus, its aroma (said to be ‘foxy’) might deter moles and rodents.