The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
a cloud come over the sunlit arch,
And wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.
From Two Tramps in Mud Time by Robert Frost (1926)
If I had a euro for every time someone says to me ‘but I want a low maintenance garden’ I’d be as rich as Croesus. It is possible to have a relatively low maintenance garden but there really are no low maintenance blowsy, old-fashioned flower gardens; they are like those blonde, demanding glossy women you see on the arms of oligarchs – super high-maintenance. A garden that performs season after season requires intensive work, bulb planting, cutting back, dividing, moving, deadheading and planning.
For truly low maintenance the best way to proceed is to stick to flowering and evergreen shrubs which only require an annual pruning, small trees and very easy perennials that come up from year to year, do not self-seed profligately and some spring and summer bulbs which come up reliably from year to year.
A number of companies manufacture porous membrane (categorically not plastic sheeting) which you can put over freshly weeded and prepared soil. You then cut a flaps in the membrane, dig planting holes, pop in the plants and then cover u the holes again around the plants with a mulch – general of gravel. Make sure you use plenty of mulch so absolutely none of the membrane is visible, especially around the edges. Err on the side of excess, as the mulch will settle and spread out quickly and you don’t want any bald spots to appear. It is really important to plant generously too – nothing looks drearier or more depressing than an expanse of gravel with three of four miserable, tiny shrubs dotted about. Seeds will still self-sow and grow in gravel or other mulch, but they should be easier to weed out when there is a membrane between their roots and the soil below.
If you have your heart set on a ‘proper’ flower garden but don’t have a lot of time or are just bone idle and can’t be bothered, there are some short cuts and lazy tricks to make things easier. Firstly really do a bit of homework and find the very best, all-round, top performing plants. So go for the most disease-resistant, repeat-flowering roses and plants which will put on a good show for a long season. Another trick is to grow plants slugs and snails don’t like, thus saving you a lot of time and heartache with slug patrol. You can still grow Hostas but just choose a variety like Sieboldiana which are more resistant. You can also use the porous membrane trick described above to cut down on weeding. Only use bulbs that come up reliably year after year and don’t need dividing very often, so no tulips or iris reticulata – you can use these, but plant them in pots. Similarly only use dahlia in pots, so you don’t have to lift and replant year after year. You can just pop the pots in a shed or frost free spot during winter and then dot the pots around the garden where you want the flowers to be. If you want to grow tender and half hardy annuals and you have no greenhouse and don’t want the faff of seeds, pricking out and potting on use plug plants (order them now). They’re sent at just the right time for planting, and with step by step instructions. You can also sow hardy annuals like opium poppies and nigella straight into gravel and they will come up and survive just fine. Most gardening books and magazines advise adding organic matter to your soil each spring – a great and accurate tip, but they usually specify laborious digging in. I find that this is totally unnecessary. If you make sure you have weeded the soil, you can just bung a load of compost or other well-rotted organic matter on top and the worms and wiggies will work it into the soil beneath for you. You can also save time on staking tall plants by putting in the supports around the plants before they come up. If you don’t mind the garden looking a bit Derek Jarman fire a load of twiggy sticks in the ground around the plants or seeds and they will grow up using the supports as they come along. A famous and well-regarded garden designer I know of never, ever cleared fallen leaves but left them as a ‘natural mulch’ in her woodland garden without any ill effects, though I would advise removal to make leaf mould in the flower garden.
So there you go, tips for lazy bones like me, I’m off for a lie down with a book now – happy gardening.