Design for easy gardening

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updated 20th Aug 2015

1. Make gardening easy with careful design
2. Put in paths, patios and structures as soon as you can
3. Planning your low maintenance garden
4. Weed control in a low maintenance garden
5. Lawns – grass and non-grass fcror a low maintenance garden
6. Lawn alternatives – loose materials for a low maintenance garden
7. Lawn alternatives – blocks or flags for a low maintenance garden
8. Reduce watering and automate for low maintenance
9. Permanent plantings for low maintenance
10. Interesting planting schemes for low maintenance
11. Ground covering plants for low maintenance

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1. Make gardening easy with careful design

Why groan about the gardening? If you can incorporate the latest convenient and attractive features in your home, then you can easily do the same outside.

Low maintenance gardens are the dream of many of us, but you’ll have to plan carefully to keep work to a minimum.  And even in low maintenance gardens, regular tidying sessions are essential, although these won’t be so time-consuming or energy-sapping as in a conventional garden.

If you need help with the design and details, read our page on how to create a garden design master plan.

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2. Put in paths, patios and structures as soon as you can

It’s dealing with plants and soil which normally take up your time in the garden, so for low maintenance gardens, hard landscaping materials are a necessary expense. But splitting the project into stages spreads the costs and helps you avoid resorting to the attractively cheap make-do measure of turf, which inevitably becomes a major, permanent and very time-consuming feature that is hard work to remove too.

Remove this temptation by tackling the hard landscaping as soon as you can. With the paths and patios in place as a priority, you won’t be treading mud and grit into your indoor floorcoverings and you’ll have an area for sitting out. Additionally, the garden will have its main shape defined to complement your home, with only the boundaries and planting to tackle later at your leisure.

You may want a summerhouse, shed, Wendy house, greenhouse or other garden building so need to choose and position these, or at least their bases and paths leading to them. You also need to choose and install paving slabs for paths and patios, any wallinggates, fencingtrellisarches and arbours. Also take a look at the elegant but practical range made by Agriframes.

3. Planning your low maintenance garden

One person’s absorbing hobby is another’s detested chore – and we all resent the time and energy expended on chores. So make sure that your new garden only incorporates those tasks that you enjoy doing and have time to tackle. Lawn mowing, watering and weeding are on most people’s list of hates, so read on to discover how to avoid these jobs.

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4. Weed control in a low maintenance garden

Wherever there’s bare soil, there’ll be weeds, so cover up the garden with mulches (from B & Q, Rolawn and Wickes), plants and paving to eliminate weeds and weeding.

But before you cover up, let the weeds grow first in order to find them to kill them off, either by hoeing or digging. For persistent ones that return, try applying either boiling water (may need to repeat this for regrowth) or an appropriate weedkiller (from our online garden centre or B & Q).  Otherwise those unwanted plants with persistent roots will send their shoots up again and again.

If you’re not quite ready to start on the garden after removing the weeds, cover as much bare ground as possible with a mulching/landscaping fabric (from our online garden centreB & QScrewfixWickes) to prevent further weed growth. Black plastic will also do the job but cannot let rain through so the ground beneath will become hard in hot weather, and during cold weather will provide a home for slugs, so is best for a very short time only. Read our weed control article for more information on clearing weeds and keeping an area weed free.

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5. Lawns – grass and non-grass for a low maintenance garden

Lawns are an automatic choice for cheap ground cover, despite many hating the tyranny of the lawnmower and the edging shears.  Apart from cheapness, an expanse of green is also restful to the eye, helps set off plants around its edge and provides a reasonably firm surface for garden furniture and toys. A low maintenance alternative to a lawn must fulfil some or all of these requirements, but alternative plants to grass are less resilient, and require even more time and trouble than turf to establish and care for, so are non-starters for the non-enthusiast.

For helpful information on lawns, read more of our features:
Create and care for lawns – the basics
Non-grass lawns
Choosing a lawn mower – quick guide
Choosing a lawn mower – full guide

Rolawn has also produced some very useful guides, which can be found in their online information centre. The guides include preparation for laying a lawn, an aftercare guide, a seasonal lawn care guide plus turf pest and disease control.

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6. Lawn alternatives – loose materials for a low maintenance garden

The advantage of loose materials is that you can continue them into the planted areas, creating a sense of unity, but birds, cats and small children often do their utmost to spread them beyond their alloted space. It’s also difficult to sweep up the autumn leaves from these surfaces.

Gravel, chippings etc

Rounded river gravel and its larger versions – pebbles and cobbles – look attractive, but it’s difficult to walk on or trundle across on wheels. Gravel also tends to migrate unless firmly held in check with kerbing.  Slate chippings and paddlestones lay flat so tend to stay put.

Finer gravel is available that can be compacted with a roller to make a firm surface. This stays where it’s put, making it suitable for slopes and pathways too. We’ve seen it used in public places but have yet to track down a supplier of small amounts for domestic use, so if you know of a source of this self-setting gravel (aka Golden Gravel), please let us know.

Chippings are another option, easier to walk on than rounded material and available in fine grades in a variety of colours to tone with most house building materials. Another option is so-called paddle stones, which consist of slate pieces that have been tumbled to remove their sharp edges. These are available in dark grey, green and plum colours and look even better when wet.

All look good surrounding a few specimen plants, and another successful focal point is a boulder (choose an attractive shape from the selection of rockery stone at your local garden centre), so take a look at the possibilities from the following suppliers: B & Q, Wickes, and via our online garden centre.

Bark mulches

Tree bark (from B & Q, Rolawn and our online garden centre) are other possible lawn substitutes and easy to lay with little ground preparation, except for placing some water-permeable polyester matting (see our online garden centreB & Q, Crocus, Screwfix and Wickes onto the soil to act as a barrier to weed growth.  Visit Rolawn for their guide to applying bark mulch.

Bark is softer underfoot than gravel, and less likely to tread into the house, but does blow around after the local blackbirds have rearranged it. Cocoa shell stays put once it’s got wet, and has a lovely chocolatey smell but the downside is that dogs will guzzle it and poison themselves. So only for gardens without dogs.

Whatever you use, do be prepared for the appearance of some successful seedlings, which you should pull out when small to prevent them seeding everywhere.

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7. Lawn alternatives – blocks or flags for a low maintenance garden

Blocks or paving flags or a combination of these are more useful than loose materials in many situations. Although more expensive, they have the advantage of providing a firm surface for furniture, feet and toys, so are particularly appropriate for large patios.

Vast expanses of paving slabs aren’t terribly attractive, but fortunately there are numerous types of small blocks and easy-to-lay flags with cunning cobble-like finishes to fool the eye (see our online garden centreWickes and B and Q).

Booklets from companies that make garden landscaping materials contain inspirational designs for patios, barbecues and built-in features, so look out for these at garden centres and diy builders’ yards, as well as online (B and Q’s guide to laying a patio and block paving ; Wickes’ how-to videos)

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8. Reduce watering and automate for low maintenance

Fruit, vegetables and containers of plants demand watering, as do newly planted trees and shrubs, which need a generous dousing with water during drought.There’s not much place for vegetable growing in a low maintenance garden. And although fruit is more permanent and less demanding, it’s not a good idea unless you’re interested enough to master the pruning and pest control.

However, containers give so much pleasure that it’s hard to begrudge the watering that soaks up your time. Fortunately, automatic watering is easy to set up with
battery-powered water controls connected to one of the many patio watering systems. Or use drip watering cleverly controlled by mains pressure devices. Either will keep your plants happy in hanging baskets, troughs and tubs.

See:, hoses and reelswatering kitsirrigation systems porous pipe systemssprinkler systems and watering cans from our online garden centre.

Also from B and Q:
Watering, irrigation systems, sprinklers & hoses 

See water butts from:
WickesB and Q and Crocus.

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9. Permanent plantings for low maintenance

Permanent planting cuts down on work whereas seasonal bedding plants demand cultivation and care for much of the year. Permanent planting schemes win hands down, saving on work because each plant gradually spreads to hide the soil and suppress the weeds. Until this happens, a thick mulching layer (eg of coarse bark, cocoa shells or gravel) will prevent weed seeds in the soil from germinating, and make it easy for you to pull up seedlings.

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10. Interesting planting schemes for low maintenance

Avoid a monotonous scene – ensure that your choice of plants (be they trees, shrubs, alpines or herbaceous perennials) includes those that flower at different times of the year, so there’s always colour and variety.

Bulbs give seasonal splashes of colour throughout the year, with distinctive colour and form at ground level. They’ll push up their flower buds above low growing plants, and are ideal for planting beneath trees and leggy shrub

Low spreading conifers and taller evergreens provide a permanent and unchanging backdrop to seasonal plants.

For some ideas, take a look at plants for different places and select the appropriate categories.

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11. Ground covering plants for low maintenance

Plants sold specifically as ground cover plants may spread rapidly but not particularly attractively. For example, rose of Sharon (Hypericum calycinum) looks scruffy in winter and is invasive.Better mannered and readily available evergreens include winter and spring-flowering heathers for sunny spots, carpeting silvery-leaved deadnettles (Lamium species, darker-leaved bugles (Ajuga sp. and taller Bergenias with their leathery elephant’s ears leaves.

Amongst those plants which die down each autumn to revive in the spring, choose from the many hardy cranesbills (Geranium species or day lilies (Hemerocallis) for their spreading habit and long flowering season, and Hosta for their large leaves. And don’t forget that climbers such as ivies (Hedera), honeysuckle (Lonicera) and Clematis will happily scramble along the ground if deprived of support.

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