Garden Designers Roundtable – Maintenance


Does this garden look low maintenance to you?

As The Personal Garden Coach, one of the TOP things that clients ask for most frequently is a “Low Maintenance” garden. My job is to ask a lot of questions, delve into the sometimes hidden meanings of key phrases and find out what this means to each individual gardener. It can have a HUGE number of variations.

The idea of maintaining our landscape has different meaning to different people, depending on what your experiences and soft spots might be.  Here are a few of the hidden meanings behind this phrase “I want a LOW Maintenance landscape or garden.”:

1) My parents made me weed and mow the lawn as a kid, I don’t want to be in a position tobe “forced” into hard labor on my valuable weekend ever again.

2) We just removed a giant juniper and an over grown rhododendron that I’ve been hacking back now every year for the last 10 years and I don’t want to deal with THAT again.

3) Does it bloom? If so, I don’t want to deal with it.

4) I have a dog/deer that eats my landscape, I don’t want to deal with that.

5) I want my mow and blow guys to deal with it.

6) ***My personal favorite – Why can’t I put that 20 foot shrub/tree in the garden? I can just machete it to three feet right?

Once we have determined what exactly your specific “issues” are with maintenance, then we can get down to the nitty-gritty of the topic. HOW MUCH maintenance time are you willing to put into your landscape?

20 minutes per day after work with a glass of wine or a beer in hand?

Quickie weekend mowing, edging and catch a weed here and there?

One day per month, filling the yard waste bin and planting?

Full blown weekend warrior with projects like installing a terrace of pavers and
building an arbor after visiting the nursery in the morning?

It’s likely that you’re somewhere in the middle of all of those typical scenarios. My point is that we’re often not terribly conscious of what we really can or even want to commit to doing when it comes to caring for our landscape. Its really important that you’re realistic with yourself and what you will be up for when it comes to the weekly labor of love that it takes to care for a beautiful landscape.

On the flip side however, there are many people out there who also automatically assume that a particular landscape automatically MUST be a high maintenance and laborious place to be if it looks THAT great. I am here to tell you that it’s not so at all!


A very low maintenance vignette

It’s all really about how you view your commitment of money, time and labor, right? I am forever telling my clients that I think it’s really un-cool for a plant to be taking up real estate space in my landscape, space that I’m paying a mortgage and taxes on, and this plant (whatever it might be) has the NERVE to send up suckers everywhere, bloom for MAYBE a month out of twelve, not have ANY interesting fall color and zero winter interest. Ugh…..

If I’m going to be spending MY money, time and labor on a plant or a planting plan for that matter, I want it to have as much bang for my buck as I can get. That’s at the heart of the idea of “right plant- right place” in my opinion. But, let’s also be certain not to forget that a low maintenance landscape is also set up for success before you have any maintenance problems anyway, right?

Proper plant spacing, efficient and effective watering techniques and above all, excellent soils and mulches that support your plant investment and deter weeds. This is the insurance policy that you take out when you are “Pro-active and not re-active” when it comes to maintaining your garden and landscape.

Cutting the lawnNow, there is such a thing as an “Over-maintained” landscape too. We’ve all seen that right? Hedges clipped to within and inch of their life. Trees pruned into strange and alien shapes. The space between the plants is SO aggressively raked that you can see the roots of the trees on the surface of the soil. This is a topic that I could spend days on by itself.

Maintenance of your garden or landscape is a commitment to consider for sure when you’re planning or remodeling. Be sure to take the care advice on plants from your local independent garden center sales person, county extension agent/master gardener or horticulturist. It will keep your expectations realistic and your goals achievable. Also, remember that what might SEEM low maintenance to one person might be an astronomically high investment in time and energy to another. That’s why good guidance is SO crucial!

To see more fabulous blog posts from the other Lords and Ladies of the Roundtable please follow these links below:

David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque, NM

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

20 thoughts on “Garden Designers Roundtable – Maintenance

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  5. Excellent article, Christina!  Good perspective and advice!  Have a lovely day.  =)   Dawn Denton Gardens by You & Me

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  6. I often hear the comment,” I LOVE your yard, I want MINE to look like that!” To this I reply that it is MY passion and not necessarily yours! I do ask a lot of questions, the first being how much time they are willing to spend on maintenance…that dependent upon plant choices…Yes! Good guidance is so crucial! At Scotland Yards Greenhouse,we like to remind our customers that not only do we have knowledgeable staff, but that good basic information is readily available on tags. That being said, I tend to not restrain myself in my personal gardens! I need “Personal Garden Coaching”!!!!

  7. I love that vignette with all the small shrubs…really pretty. Do you think it is really low-maintenance, though? It seems like they would soon crowd each other and things would have to be moved. I love your list of typical client questions. They should pass that around at landscape design school!

    • Thank you Mary! There are two sides to answer your question; Yes, they are planted densely in that shot that you liked, however 1) I haven’t had to weed or do much of anything there for over 4-5 years. And 2) as Susan Cohan said so well above, the garden is always in a state of change and that’s a part of it that is super easy for me to accept over the long run. You are correct, I may have to remove some plants from that mix eventually, but that’s cool. If, I only have that as my main task in that section once every 5-7 years or, that ain’t bad! 🙂
      Be sure to take note of Jeanne Chapman’s comment below too- since that shot was from my own garden and not in a clients – she said it PERFECTLY!!! LOL

  8. The “taking up valuable real estate I pay on…” is a great take! I also appreciate the range of maintenance intensity you’ve presented; I’m getting some ideas for that. Seems clients are like how I see some parents talk to kids, “if you want that, these will be the results…are you sure?” I’m seeing maintenance extends to people more than ever.

    • David, you hit the nail on the head for what a “Garden Coach’ has to do sometimes, be the voice of the parent figure in the garden. I have to ask the tough questions and sometimes deliver the tough answers too. But, if I keep re-enforcing my goal of saving the client LABOR, time and money, they come to terms with my tough love pretty quickly. 🙂

  9. One of the most important things about maitenance IMO is to understand that gardens and landscapes are in a constant state of change. Plants grow, thrive and die. Weeds seem to only do the first two.

  10. Christina, Great points, humorously presented. Susan brings up a good point that there seems to be a disconnect for some clients that their beautifully designed garden is meant to change over time, it’s not going to look like it did on installation day. I’m always amazed when people don’t seem to understand that you plants aren’t ‘perfect’, no matter how hard you try to force them to be.

  11. You’ve made me look at my gardens in a whole new light with that comment about taking up space on which I’m paying taxes!! Great article!

  12. Pingback: Comment on Garden Maintenance by Laurin Lindsey | Gardener In

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