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Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne Volcano Garden

Low Maintenance Garden Design

– Posted in: Sustainable Gardening

A low maintenance garden is a sustainable garden.  If designed well, it will save you time, energy, water and money.

Low maintenance Plants

Having plants that suit your climate gives you a much better chance of ending up with a healthy garden without the extra time and resources. That is a more sustainable garden.

Plant selection

The best way of having a low maintenance garden is to have plants that don’t have much need for attention in the first place.  For a start, that means getting plants that will grow to an appropriate size.  Make sure that your new tree or shrub is not going to end up being too big for the space.  You will otherwise end up with an overgrown garden or you will be spending your valuable time having to keep cutting back aggressive foliage.  Even worse, you might be spending hundreds of dollars removing an enormous and dangerous tree.

You might prefer a very formal garden where every plant is kept very neat, trim and symmetrical.  Usually that means keeping plants regularly clipped and maintained to ensure the neatness.  If you select plants that naturally grow to a neat compact form, you can achieve a controlled looking garden with minimal hedging.  It’s not unusual to see gardens with scruffy overgrown box or privet plants that used to be neatly clipped hedging.

Plant Origin

Using plants that are indigenous to your local area can be a good tactic. However not all indigenous plants are low maintenance. Native violets, for example, prefer shady moist situations and will resent being in a garden that doesn’t get those conditions.  There are several indigenous nurseries in Melbourne that can be a great source of plants and information about them.

Choosing plants from similar climate regions can also work well. Areas with Mediterranean climates match Melbourne reasonably well. Cool winters and hot drying summers occur in South Africa, California, Southern Europe and parts of the Middle East and China. A word of caution with these plants is that they can do so well they can escape and become environmental weeds. Nature isn’t always simple.

Plant Needs

Once you have the most appropriate plants for your landscape, you need to make sure their basic needs are attended to.  The prime requirements for a plant are light, water and adequate drainage.  To minimise the on-going maintenance and to keep your garden healthy, this bit of thought before planting is a wise investment in time.

Plant Placement

If you are aware of the conditions of your site, you will understand how much light and water you are getting in different areas.  You can then place your plants to match each area.  You can care for your plants in each garden area in the same way if they have same requirements. That avoids fussing with a variety of treatments to different plants in the same bed.  You can take this a step further with mass plantings of the same species.  This tactic provides a nice consistent appearance and it also makes it easier to care for.

Garden Preparation

Preparing the soil adequately prior to planting time is another good time investment.  A nursery grown plant is provided with optimal growing conditions in its pot before you bring it home.  It will be a stressful experience if its roots are then embedded pure clay.  You need to make sure you know what kind of soil conditions you have and, if need be, improve the soil to create a healthy garden.  Adding well matured compost will improve your soil, whether it is clay or sand.  You should ideally dig your initial planting hole to twice the size of your pot. That will ensure the soil around the roots will find it easier to grow out.  An organic mulch to 7.5 cm will help protect the soil as well as discourage weeds.  An application of seaweed extract will also help stimulate root growth.

Garden Layout

There is often a lot of unnecessary maintenance time spent in those ill-defined parts of the garden.  Those areas that are not quite grass and not quite garden bed.  They might be patches of what was lawn under a shady tree or down the side of a shed.  They might be a dead patch of garden bed that has been invaded by lawn.

Being very specific about the size, shape and position of your lawn and garden beds will reduce maintenance.  You can design your garden so that you can be confident that light and water are going to be adequate in each zone.  You can then clearly separate your lawn from your garden beds with edging so that one doesn’t invade the other. 

This way you can avoid having to mow those odd spots around the garden where the lawn doesn’t really want to grow anyway.

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