THE TERM low-maintenance gardening doesn’t exactly bring to mind the lush, sensual, productive garden most of us long for. In fact, low-maintenance must be among the least exciting couplings of words ever written or uttered. What gardener isn’t scornful of beauty bark, expanses of static evergreens, blanket spraying or whatever dismal picture low-maintenance brings to mind? Any garden worth the name takes work, and to pretend otherwise must be deceptive or ignorant, yes?
And yet we need to come to terms with our own time and energy versus the garden of our dreams. I suggest that a simplified, new low-maintenance garden is the route to truly enjoying your garden again, now and in the future.
New low-maintenance gardens are thoughtful spaces for outdoor living as well as plants, tailored to the needs of the people who create and use them. New low-maintenance gardens might be rich in flowers for cutting, feature places for kids to play, consist of a few pots or a luscious vegetable garden. Most often they’re on the small side, even though they might well be part of a much larger piece of property.
While new low-maintenance gardens are as various as climate, topography, personal needs and aesthetics can make them, they also have much in common. First and foremost, new low-maintenance gardens are defined by thoughtful choices and decisive editing. They have a minimum of lawn, little dividing or pruning to be done, and no spraying, staking or topiary. Most often plants are placed where they can grow to their own natural sizes and shapes without interference.
New low-maintenance gardens offer places to relax, to play, to eat and nap. Most are neither manicured nor scruffy, but maintained at a state somewhere in between that might be called lived-in, relaxed or better yet, inviting. They appeal to the senses with fragrance, color, water and art.
New low-maintenance gardens aren’t “gardening lite.” The exhaustion is taken out, not the fulfillment. These are full-bodied, nutrient-rich gardens — not merely creations that might look like gardens but fail to offer all the satisfactions. What it comes down to is that new low-maintenance gardens are about so much more than plants. We usually start our gardens with the best intentions and often with a plan in mind, which is soon abandoned when we tote home nursery pot after nursery pot. All those tiny trees and shrubs and baby perennials look so innocent. Just squeeze one more in, and then another and another. Soon enough our garden becomes a conglomeration of plants that isn’t particularly personal or reflective of our needs, as well as such a maintenance nightmare we don’t love it for long. If you come to gardening through your love of plants, and most of us do, how can you possibly create a non-plant-centered garden?
That’s the essential challenge. Limited time and resources, as well as changing weather patterns, make it smart if not imperative to find new, more sustainable models of gardening.