Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Low Maintenance" Plants and Gardens

Today I snuck out into the garden for an hour between morning and afternoon rains, and did some more cleanup. While I was there, I was musing to myself about the concept of "low maintenance" and "no maintenance" plants and gardens.

It seems a number of my newbie or wannabe garden friends, or perhaps more accurately not-sure-if-I-wannabe-but-I-still-want-a-garden-like-yours friends ask for advice on "low maintenance" plants they can start with. I suppose that really comes down to how "low" your meaning of "low maintenance" is. My lower neighbour (next to us on the downhill side) makes a REALLY big deal about her garden cleanup activity, which is maybe one or two times per year, that she gets out to weed between her low maintenance (heathers, daylilies, etc) plants, which [I know this sounds snobby but...] I wouldn't think of as a "garden", it's really more like "landscaping".

For me, "low maintenance" means perennials, so I don't need to reseed or replant each year. If I can keep it under control with an average of about 1 hour per day about 250 days of the year, then it's pretty low maintenance, or at least pretty reasonable. After all, that's why I have a garden, so I can go out and do gardening!

As I cleaned up dead leaves and branches, pulling the weeds hiding cleverly beneath, I mused about a neighbour on the other side of the duplex where we previously lived. She was an elderly lady, and not able to get out and do much in her "garden" - which looked like weeds to just about anyone else who looked it it - but she would come out occasionally and really enjoy her "flowers". She had found a real gem of a secret in gardening - if you learn to enjoy whatever grows, then you are guaranteed to be happy with your garden. In the extreme, if you think about what an abandoned lot looks like... There is always lots growing, that's for sure! So if you like that garden "look", it is not hard to achieve success and gardening happiness.

Then I mused about my dear friend Betty. She is a definite wannabe, but lives a very busy work and social life. She has a beautiful garden on both front and back of her house. In fact, she had been enticed to buy the house by the previous owner's fresh planting of a HUGE numbers of tulips, and a nice brick deck in back surrounded by a semicircular garden and two beautiful palm trees. But the deep rich soil meant that very soon the weeds also found it a nice place to grow. So she quickly began the search for "low maintenance" plantings to compete with the weeds. I was happy to provide her with some of mine which clump or spread to cover an area quickly (which is one strategy for keeping weeds under control), but the following year she took further steps to bring in ornamental grasses which were even lower maintenance. Over time, by careful planting and holding the occasional weeding party with friends, she has come to where the garden is manageable to her, and still enjoyable.

My idea of "low maintenance" are plants which need care only once or twice per year (usually Spring and Fall). Some of my strategies for keeping things under control are:

1) Start weeding early, after thaw, but before the plants are really actively growing. In Vancouver, that often means January or February. Pulling away dead leaves and twigs from last year reveals bright green weeds hiding below. This time of year, the ground is moist and soft, and the weeds (except the taproot ones) pull up quite easily.
2) Get to the weeds before they have a chance to reseed. I can never achieve this 100%, but aggressive weeding early in the year can avoid a bigger load of weeding in the following year.
3) Cover the soil. I happen to like the look of no soil showing in the height of the growing season. But it also helps to suppress weeds between plants.
4) Grow only perennials. No replanting or re-seeding. I love perennials which expand and clump over time. Evergreen ones are even better.
5) Deadhead anything which reseeds too freely. Unless you want more of the plants to use in your garden or trade with friends, then deadheading can also avoid a lot of weeding out later.
6) Be at peace with what you have. It may not be "perfect", but then again it depends on what "look" you are trying to achieve.


Tootsie said...

what a beautiful garden you shared with us today...and your tips are right on the money!

Hortist said...

awsome, pleaze keep it up:)

essay help said...

amazing flowers. floral art is the nearest to creativity among all other arts. I saw website of online florist in japan
and when I gave them the idea about your gardens and your blog reference they appreciated a lot. I quite wonder how they will assort these flowers with their bouquets and other flowers arrangements.

Garden Lily said...

What is it with these online florist links I keep getting in my comments all the time? Do you other garden bloggers get that too? Since that one is the most creative one so far (and I didn't know "assort" was a verb!), I think I will let it stay - at least for now. The others are promptly deleted.

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