The 'New' Low-Maintenance Garden

irene_dsc(5)September 10, 2010

So, I found this book at the library yesterday, and grabbed it. Granted, one of the very first thing she mentions is that cottage gardens are OUT. But, I found that I'm already doing most of what she considers to be the New Low-Maintenance Garden! But then, I've never been willing to devote my entire life to my garden, so I guess I got to that point way before the author did. ;)

But, anyhow, I was amused that my attitude of only including plants that will survive with little work from me is considered a new idea to the author. I've also always been an organic gardener - if I need to spray chemicals, forget it. Also, my strategy of narrowing down plant choices by using a color scheme, and repeating plants that do well. I've only gradually been adding more shrubs, however.

I was also amused that she considers containers to be low maintenance. I would need some sort of drip watering system before I would consider it low maintenance. Granted, I've never planted really large containers like she shows.

I was intrigued by the amount of metal raised beds she showed. I kept wondering if the owners cut themselves on the exposed edges!

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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Haven't read this book, Irene, but I had a similar experience recently. I read about a book on another forum, titled 'Gardening for a Lifetime' written by an older woman who realizes she has to change the way she gardens if she is going to keep gardening as she gets older. I also was very happy to see that just about everything she suggested were things I was already doing.

I've always needed to keep the garden low maintenance and I'm organic too so I won't grow anything that requires any kind of chemical intervention. Some of the ideas in her book....

She stays away from tropicals and reseeders
She rarely makes an impulsive buy, but considers a plant based on a 'standard of behavior' that she set for what she needs from a plant.
She looks for 4 season plants
She replaced a lot of perennials with shrubs
She emphasizes shade borders that she feels create less weeding
She suggests using natives as much as you can

I don't consider containers low maintenance either. Not only planting but moving them in and out and watering them daily. I do use large Pots and some houseplants come out in smaller pots for the summer, but I've cut way back and stopped buying more containers. It is really a LOT less work. I place four large containers strategically where they will offer the biggest impact and that's it. One large Hay Rack that is the first thing you see when you pull in the driveway, one pot by the gate with a rose and annuals in it. One near the sitting area with two large pots that have evergreens in them that stay out summer and winter, and this year I filled a large ceramic pot that was a gift last Christmas, with as much flower punch as I could give it, a standard tropical Hibiscus. I've grown them before and they winter over for me in the house and I find them to be low care. It blooms it's head off all summer. That's not a lot of pots to have to water and I don't miss the 12 that I used to have.

The author of 'Gardening for a Lifetime' has a lot more to say in later chapters. It was a good refresher. It was an interesting read too. I am always trying to refine what I am growing and how. I haven't gotten there yet. I look around my garden and if I ask myself the question, 'How would it fare, if I broke a leg and was out of action all summer?' and I feel my anxiety level rise, I know I haven't reached my goal yet. [g] It's always a work in progress.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 12:01PM
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I haven't read either book, but thanks for the recommendations. I'm always looking for good ideas to help my mom have less work in her garden. She's been adding more shrubs, including roses, but also butterfly bushes, forsythia, spirea...which are all pretty low maintenance in our area.

While perennials are great, I like having them in front of the shrubs. That way, the shrubs provide a nice border all year round, but the perennials (and her bulbs) offer plenty of color in spring and summer. She always has a few annuals she either sets out from starts or from seed, but it's much easier (and cheaper) when you just need a few.

Containers are a lot of work and she's only got about six of those, now. I think using bigger pots does help, since they don't need to be watered as often. She also got rid of all of her hanging pots around the porch. That's been a lot less work this summer.

For me, I try to find plants that will do well with just water and a little weeding. We have very cold winters, very hot summers and not a long growing season, so shrubs and perennials have been a good combination. I'm planning to add more bulbs this year (love that spring color) and I always have room for some cosmos, stock, petunias and alyssum :)

    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 12:26PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

With containers, it's not just the watering. I know plants do much better in larger pots, but I still feel I have to water them every day unless it's cloudy or raining. Fertilizing, I've discovered really helps the plants to bloom more and so does deadheading and there's more attention. Then you have to buy potting soil and I don't like commercial potting soil so we end up buying ingredients and making our own. More cost, more work. And getting them all ready in the spring is not so much of a chore, because I've been in the house all winter and I can't wait to get outside and growing something, but in the fall, I usually empty all the soil out of the large containers and have to find a place for it, usually in a pile in a corner for the winter. Wash out all the containers and put them away for the winter. Get the houseplants ready to come in. Plus, you have to have a fairly good size area to store all the pots for the winter. I'm sure it is very doable for many people, but if you are counting hours and sometimes minutes that you can spend gardening, it's just a great time saver to limit the amount of containers. I still get the satisfaction of growing annuals, just in manageable numbers. My goal is to produce enough flowers in the borders and beds that I don't miss containers.

LLass, I agree, some 'reseeders' are really a help more than a drawback. Comsos, alyssum are for me. Cosmos comes back very reliably and are never a nuisance.

I find Butterfly Bushes are very easy and drought tolerant. In one location, Spirea has reseeded and turned into a colony, so I have taken that off my list of must haves. I have one that I will keep because it hasn't reseeded at all and it has great fall color too.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 1:51PM
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People need to write about something, so they twist an old idea into a new one and put a price of 14.99 on it and there ya go LOL.

I would also consider growing in pots to be the antithesis of low-maintenance! Mine required watering every single day, sometimes twice. They needed fertilization more often, etc. I had to spray them, too, as opposed to in-the-ground plants.

And who the heck decided that cottage gardens were "Out"? Someone HGTV or something?

    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 8:45PM
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girlgroupgirl(8 ATL)

Someone should have told Tasha Tudor that cottage gardens were out for people who are gardening later in life!

Actually, I have begun to think about this because the Dr. has said I've got some serious arthritis rapidly spreading in my spine and in my elbows (of all places). I will still enjoy cottage garden areas, but I want to simplify. More shrubs that need less care, installing an automatic watering system eventually (or a series of them) that all use grey water, have concentrated areas where I would do more work (veggie beds make up a lot of that) and specific re-seeder areas etc.
I think what the author is really saying is that cottage gardens are out for people who need lower maintenance.
Last month I worked on a clients garden. She had someone design a low maintenance garden for her and it was BORING. Same 20 plants everyone around here uses. We were able to easily switch it up, give her a few raised beds for veggies and then a small, designated cottage garden. I learned a lot from that re-design (a lot of my work these days is re-design).

    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 10:02PM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

GGG - sorry to hear about arthritis, that has to be a real dampener on your garden activity. Hopefully you can get help controlling it.

My gardens are a lot of work and I need to cut back. The obvious improvement would be to simply reduce the amount of garden that I have. Let some go. But that is so hard . . .

    Bookmark   September 11, 2010 at 9:10AM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

I'm slowly trying to incorporate more shrubs into the perennial beds. Love the color the beds provide, but the upkeep inches closer to overwhelming the older I get.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2010 at 11:47AM
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This is a very timely topic for me because at my age I don't need to be making more work for myself but that's what I've done with the style of garden I have. So I will definitely be looking for more ideas to implement to make my garden lower-maintenance.

I have already started adding more shrubs and using cardboard/mulch to reduce weeding. Plan to use more groundcovers as well, more drought resistant plants, and specifically look for easy care perennials rather than buying 'pretties' on impulse as I do now.

I know I don't want to try to keep up the pace the way I have so must focus on this. I'll probably plant swaths of plants such as clover, short grasses, yarrow, poppies, and wildflowers to reduce the number of tended beds.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2010 at 11:59AM
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I think with me getting older and starting to get a bad back and very low tolerance of our summer heat and humidity, that's why I'm planting more Rose bushes. Easy one's though.

But that doesn't mean my garden won't look like a Cottage Garden with mostly Roses planted with little fillers inbetween. And I don't think cottage gardens will ever go out of style.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2010 at 12:22PM
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midnightsmum (Z4, ON)

An interesting topic. My gardens had to do without me for a fair while this early Summer. Since we had lots of rain, they mostly did OK, except in the shade, where the rain does not penetrate as well. Weeds almost choked out my veggie garden, and retarded a lot of things. Still, the potatoes and beets have done well, and the beans are not so prolific that my twig arbour has collapsed!! I was fortunate to have neighbours who came over with their riding mowers to keep the grass at bay, though some areas where they could not penetrate almost had to be hayed. Yesterday, I got 2/3's of my lawn cut. I also got down on my knees for the first time in a couple of years. My new knee complained, but I finally found a position that wasn't too bad. I paid this am for the work. I'm heading back out t his aft to finish the grass, and maybe do a little more weeding on my knees. We'll see how I do.

All in all, I think my gardens fared OK. A bit of a preview though. I have been adding flowering shrubs the last couple of years, as anchors for a new perennial border. I like the look. GGG, the tip for arthritis in the garden is to change up your tasks, to work everything as equally as possible, and not overwork any one joint. Hot showers and ibuprophen!! Stretching before you start helps. I need to get back to my yoga, as well. Just a few ideas that help me.


    Bookmark   September 11, 2010 at 2:06PM
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girlgroupgirl(8 ATL)

Nancy, my tip is to get the hot tub in sooner rather than later ;)

    Bookmark   September 12, 2010 at 10:27AM
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Prairiemoon..I have a lot of big containers and I just leave them alone all winter...I don't empty the dirt or anything. Then in Spring I dig out the old roots that are left and fluff up the soil and use it again! I've been doing it that way for years. I am in zone 6B but that's not too different than yours. My pots are all either plastic or foam type stuff ceramic. That said I do have to water them every day in summer so that's certainly not low mainenance!!!

    Bookmark   September 12, 2010 at 11:51AM
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lois(PA Zone 6)

Cottage style going out? Phooey on garden trends! I like what I like, and will continue to do what looks good and works for me in my yard regardless of trends.

And what works for me is a cottage garden style. My house is a very un-interesting early modular style, and I can't afford to make any structural changes to the building for a while. So the only way to increase the curb appeal of my house is by using shrubs and landscaping to break up the long horizontal lines of the house. Since I don't really know what I am doing, it is still a work in progress. But it does look better than it did 6 years ago.

I agree that containers are a lot of work. Also, I found this summer that veggies are a lot of work (mostly because of daily watering).

    Bookmark   September 12, 2010 at 11:54AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Joann, thanks for sharing how you handle your containers. IÂm always interested to hear how other gardeners do things. I actually do have two large styrofoam containers that I found that I liked and they are planted with arborvitae and Sedum ÂAngelinaÂ. TheyÂve been outside year round undisturbed for about 3 years now. TheyÂve done very well and have been no care at all really aside from the watering. The rim has started to show wear, but I've gotten my money's worth out of them. I think I will still be able to renovate them when they get worse. IÂve tried to leave plastic out year round, but I found that they lasted longer when I brought them in for the winter. The color would fade a lot faster. I am always on the look out for another couple of styrofoam containers because they really are easy and lightweight and no worries about freezing and breaking. I usually use the soil in my containers 2-3 years, and add about 1/3 fresh soil to each pot every year. Maybe I will try just leaving the soil in the pots over winter as you do. Maybe itÂs worth replacing the pots a little sooner to save the effort. Thanks! It often gets down to more work vs more cost, it seems.

ggg, I read Tasha TudorÂs book. She had a beautiful garden! I had forgotten how old she was when she was still taking care of it herself. Sorry to hear about your arthritis. I wonder do they have any recommendations for you to slow it down at all? I havenÂt had to deal with that so far, but I thought I read somewhere that they believe antioxidants help? I have been reading a book called ÂGreen for Life that had some testimonials in it about people who had improvement following some of the diet changes in the book. A hot tub sure sounds like a help!

Nancy, stretching really makes a big difference for me when I am consistent with it. I also do some regular strengthening exercises and that tip about changing up tasks really helps too. My husband has bad knees and he does much better when he doesnÂt stay in the same position too long and also when he stays active and keeps the muscles that support the knees strong.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2010 at 1:27PM
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midnightsmum (Z4, ON)

I am rather stiff today!! I am amazed at how my thigh muscles have atrophied in just a couple of months. I got all of the lawn cut, and the one garden that was bothering me weeded. One small garden, 2/3's full in the wheelbarrow!! This was the start of the new herb border. My 'new' knee is sore, but not painful. I think it's just getting used to kneeling on it. It will be a learning process, but I took my tea outside this am to admire my work. It is cool and windy, and we are waiting for rain. I see so much work that needs doing, but will stay inside today to clean the seeds I have saved. My 'new' low maintenance garden will probably be my old garden, with more soaker hoses, and emitters for the pots!!

GGG, that hot tub sounds good!


    Bookmark   September 12, 2010 at 2:05PM
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"Phooey on garden trends! I like what I like, and will continue to do what looks good and works for me in my yard regardless of trends."

Amen to that!!!

    Bookmark   September 12, 2010 at 7:21PM
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valree3(Nv zone 4)

Cottage gardens will never go out of style. There's to many of us that love that type of gardening! Sorry to change this topic...Nancy did you have a full knee replacement? Is your knee better? Are you glad that you had it replaced? I'm looking at getting both knees done in the future and my husband is always saying " let the yard work for you, not you work for the yard". I haven't listened to him and keep adding to the yard. I keep thinking that if I enlarge the flower beds that's less lawn to mow. I'm also adding more shrubs into the flower beds for more winter interest. Like lavendar lass I live in an area with short, hot summers and very cold winters. I'm also feeling sorry for myself because we had a very short summer (2 months and 3weeks without freezing temps.) My veggie and flower gardens froze Sept. 6 and they were starting to look really nice! I have a question for you cut back your perennials to the ground for winter or just deadhead them and cut back later in the spring? I deadheaded last winter and the gofers and mice ate really well under the snow. Long live the Cottage Garden!!!

    Bookmark   September 12, 2010 at 11:32PM
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midnightsmum (Z4, ON)

Valree - I had left total knee replacement. I am so pleased that I did. It was 4 months ago, so I am still 'new'. However, I can stand on one leg, that one, no problem. I won't kid you, the first 4 weeks were HELL. Then, magically, it started getting better every day. Better and better. Like I said, this weekend was the first time I really got down on my new knee, and it was OK. Not great, but if history is a teacher, it will get better. Go for it. Don't go for the partial, I haven't heard good things about it. My surgeon/doctor said they are now getting 30 years out of the polymer that they are using. The downside will be the next time I go through airport security!! lol. I'm so sorry that your garden froze so early - is that normal? I'm guessing that you are in northern Nevada? Wow, you are actually south of me, but you must be in mountains. As far as the feasting vermin, as long as they don't eat the roots, I guess it is OK. I deadhead, and leave the stems, to hold the snow in place, in case there isn't enough.
Down with lawns; up with Cottage Gardens!


    Bookmark   September 13, 2010 at 1:25PM
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valree3(Nv zone 4)

Nancy- I'm glad that your knee surgery went really well. I just need to decide when to have it done. My doctor thinks I'm a bit to young to have them done yet. I'm taking that as a compliment! I need to ask him about the 30yr. knee. Our weather this yr. has be really wacky. Our summers are normally around 80-90 days long. I live at an elevation of 5400 ft. and the Ruby mountains are about 10 miles away. I went outside today and dug up a new flower bed and I feel much better about my frozen garden and flowers. I cant wait to get the new seed catalogs this winter for next years flower beds!! Congrats on your new knee!!!!! Val

    Bookmark   September 13, 2010 at 11:31PM
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lily51(OH 5)

Who cares what type of garden is in or out of style... who determines style, anyway? Plant what you love, call it what you want and enjoy. That's the fun of gardening to me, the creativity it allows. It's like being an artist but using nature as a canvass, all the colors, textures, aromas, designs.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2010 at 3:32PM
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Daughter picked up The New low maintenance garden book today from the library for me. I DO NOT RECOMMEND IT. There are some great pictures - or they would be great if larger and clearer and if the plants were ID'd. As others have said, there's a ton of rehashing bits and pieces of advice that all but the newest gardeners already know.

Will admit I'm one-day post-op from grim oral surgery so not in the best of moods.

Grumpy in Georgia, Rosie

    Bookmark   September 14, 2010 at 5:37PM
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The only low-maintenance garden would be one that the hired help takes care of.

Rosie - be grumpy all you want. My mouth hurts for you.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2010 at 6:35PM
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I guess I didn't worry about plants not being labelled, since she is a zone or 2 warmer than me. ;) I was more interested in the creative ways to have raised beds, I have to admit. I've never seen metal used to make raised beds, and she showed a whole bunch of gardens that way, for instance. It also seemed like a lot of it was her own personal discovery process, as a former collector-type gardener. Since I've never been a collector of anything, I think that's why it didn't apply to me.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2010 at 6:22AM
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Btw, I went back to find the quote about cottage gardens being out. It was actually a sidebar quote by Jane Berger, of Garden Design Online (who I've never heard of before). The whole quote: "What's in: clean lines in design, minimal but dynamic plantings, outdoor rooms with all the creature comforts that extend the useable living space. What's out: English perennial borders, cottage gardens, blowsy plantings, formal European monstrosities.". Just so you can be upset at the right person, lol!

    Bookmark   September 15, 2010 at 9:49PM
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That sweet old lady who wore 100 year old clothes accrued a whole lot of money and still had years to live. She created an industry.She was shrewd. Trust me, she had a gardener, a housekeeper, and a lawyer or two keeping her investments sound.
The gardens were created by her, but she had people help with the backbreaking work as do most gardeners with many acres and many gardens. No shame in that whatsoever, but lets not assess ourselves deficient compared to Tasha Tudor!


    Bookmark   September 24, 2010 at 11:07PM
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