Hedge your bet for minimalism
LOW maintenance has undoubtedly become the most popular requirement for a new garden among the clients I've helped over the years.
This was recently highlighted in the letters and e-mails I received for the garden design competition.
Last week I made some suggestions of ways to make your garden easier to maintain with things like metal lawns edgings and the right choice of plants for your borders. Alternatively, you could model your garden in a modern, minimalist style which is by its very nature easy to maintain.
The minimalist style works best if you adopt the "room outside" approach.
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Here, areas of the garden are designated for different activities such as dining, relaxing or entertaining.
By using a few complementary hard landscaping surfaces like paving, decking and decorative stone chippings, these interlocked areas can be clearly defined and simultaneously provide interest and a sense of more space.
With all these hard surfaces, the proportion of exposed ground is dramatically reduced so that much less time is then required to keep it looking tidy. Brick, rendered block or timber raised beds are a great way to add emphasis to the garden layout. They can also create privacy with vertical interest and places where greenery can be introduced to soften all the hard edges.
Raised planting beds are ideal for a low maintenance garden for two main reasons.
Firstly, weeding and pruning can be done without getting down on your hands and knees. Secondly, the walls act as a barrier restricting unwanted plant spread.
This inherent root restriction provides a perfect opportunity to grow things like bamboo which can spread uncontrollably when planted directly into the ground.
Phyllostachys nigra (black bamboo) makes a refined statement for a minimalist garden style with its striking black canes and dark green leaves.
This can then be underplanted with the beautifully elegant silver and purple fronds of the athyrium niponicum (Japanese painted fern), which keeps a nice compact habit.
Combine with the complementary bronze and purple leaves of the evergreen ajuga reptans "atropurpurea" (bugle) for a perfect weed suppressing groundcover plant that also rewards you with a display of deep blue flowers throughout spring.
Another popular style of minimalist planting involves the use of neatly clipped tiered hedging to create a contemporary formal look that echoes the geometry of the hard landscaping.
Taxus baccata (English yew) is a good choice for the backdrop with its needle-like dark green leaves and slow growing evergreen form. This only requires a trim once or twice a year.
A smaller clipped hedge of buxus sempervirens (common box – also very slow growing) makes a good companion to a yew hedge, as a front tier and can be used to frame a small area for ornamental plants. The long-lasting luscious purple flowers of the verbena bonariensis would be ideal for this purpose.
An underplanting of the evergreen black grass ophiopogon planiscapus "nigrescens" would provide another means of natural weed suppressing groundcover. It will also contrast with the green leafed hedging and produce mauve flowers in the summer to harmonize with the purple verbena.