Herbacious borders in June, a Tierra Designs garden in Datchworth

The art of the low maintenance garden


One of the most common requests we hear from clients is for a low-maintenance garden.

That’s no surprise given the ever-increasingly busy lives that we lead, meaning that there’s less time or inclination to look after our garden. Quite often a garden has got in such a state that the owner just wants to start from scratch with something that’s doesn’t require too much work. Sometimes that is the answer, but more often than not it’s to do with the way the garden is being maintained rather than the plants and materials.

Many times, we are too keen to cut back a hedge or tree to make it neater, rather than allow it to reach its optimum size and enjoy its beauty. Take Philadelphus for example: a common plant with splendid arching branches and richly-scented flowers. But sadly, all too often we don’t get a chance to see these magnificent flowers at their best because they are hacked into submission. Yes, many plants and shrubs do need regular maintenance, but if you pick the right ones that doesn’t need to be the case.


It’s also a popular misconception that fewer plants mean less work and grass is easier to keep. In fact, the upkeep of hard surfaces such as decking, paving and lawns can be even more arduous and costly (we will explain the best way to maintain a lawn in a future Journal entry).

The trick is to choose plants that will thrive in the conditions in your garden and are easy to stay on top of. A perfect example of this is, if the location permits, herbaceous perennials. They can be left for the entire summer and winter season without any intervention, and then cut back once a year in the spring. With such little intervention needed they can provide huge return for minimal maintenance.

Herbacious borders, lawn and shed

The plants in this border only need to be cut back once a year, whereas the grass needs cutting every fortnight through the summer

Another method is to plant species that will compete with each other for space, thereby covering the immediate area around them and preventing weeds from growing.

Good groundcover varieties include Germanium, Persicaria affinis, Stachys byzantine, Waldsteinia, Lamium orvala and Vinca minor. Mulching also helps to keep the weeds down, but it should be reapplied every year.

Vinca minor grows on a steep slope

The use of a solid ground cover like this Vinca minor can cover ground so weeds do not take hold

In summary, there’s no such thing as a maintenance-free garden. However, there are plants you can use that are both easy to care for and will bring your garden to life. Planted in the right situation, you can sit back and enjoy their benefits all year round with a minimum effort required.

Top tips for a low-maintenance garden:

  • Avoid too much hard surface – this is costly to install, needs to be cleared, and will deteriorate over time if the wrong materials are selected
  • Choose free-draining surfaces - this alleviates issues elsewhere on the property as the water that builds up has to go somewhere
  • Use materials that will improve aesthetically over time such as smooth hardwoods for decking, which can be easily sanded back and jet washed, and brick and Yorkstone for paving
  • Choose vigorous plants that will cover the ground and suppress the weeds
  • Research the full size of the plants at maturity to make sure they won’t grow too big
  • Don’t be put off by herbaceous borders: the value you get in terms of colour is well worth the time and effort
  • Don’t choose plants that need regular pruning at specific times of the year