I’d venture to say the vast majority of Americans want their home landscape to be “low-maintenance.” Indeed, as low as possible! When I was garden -coaching, at least 95 percent of my clients asked for that.
Which is why I’ve never understood the popularity of perennials, which in my experience are vastly more work than my favorite plant groups for home gardens – shrubs and small trees. Do the perennials have lobbyists and the woodies don’t? Seriously, it’s a mystery to me.
I offer just two examples of such gardens I created and knew to be low-maintenance. Above and below is the landscape along the front of my co-op’s admin building. It’s been transformed from nothing but overgrown Junipers, daffodils and weeds to what you see here:
- Old junipers that now look like bonsai. We removed just the ones too close to the sidewalk and pruned away the dead insides of the rest. (Over the advice of commenters here on the Rant, (at “Can these Junipers be Saved?“) who recommended a clean sweep of them. Now pruned-up, with the trunks visible, the result is so pretty people actually comment on them.
- Two ‘Golden Mop’ Threadleaf False Cypress in front of the Junipers
- Several Ninebark shrubs with reddish-brown leaves and pinkish blooms in spring.
- Several ‘Ogon’ Spireas with chartreuse leaves brighten the border nine months of the year.
- And one very shrub-like perennial – Nepeta.
All these shrubs and the shrub-like perennial are easy-care because they cover a lot of ground, don’t spread, and need that one trim. No deadheading. Most are fast-growing, too.
These plants alone would be a vast improvement over what passes for borders around too many suburban homes, right? It just takes choosing a few good shrubs and the patience to wait the 3-5 years until they fill out nicely like these have.
Except for the pink Ninebark flowers, this stunning color combination lasts most of the season.
Now admittedly I didn’t stop with shrubs and Nepeta alone. These beds contain dozens of Black-eyed Susans, white Echinaceas and Butterfly Weed, as well as groundcover Sedums. The Susans are the most trouble because they spread like thugs but they hey! They were free, they’re cheerful and also Maryland’s State Flower.
My goal for this garden (which I officially adopted under the co-op’s adopt-a-common-area program) was to make it not just pretty but easy enough that staff could take care of it if I couldn’t – maybe I’ll get too old. hope I’ll have time to leave extensive notes!
The other example is the garden that I developed over 26 years in Takoma Park, Md. I’m forever grateful that when I moved there in 1985 I had the good sense to hire a nursery-based design and install team to clear brush and plant dozens of shrubs I’d never heard of around the perimeter of the back yard. Truly I could name the azaleas but nothing else.
I was particularly leery of the six or so Viburnums chosen for this site by the designer – they looked pathetic in their pots at the nursery. I remember asking her about them: “Are you sure?” And she promised I’d eventually love them – so prescient!
In this view there are also several Pieris japonica and a Deodor cedar.
In this view of the side border you can see the informal hedge of Cherry Laurels that were installed for me way back then, plus a dogwood and a Hydrangea ‘Tardiva.’ The perennials and bulbs in front of all those boring mostly evergreens add color, interest, and lots more maintenance.
Now from the Wayback Machine comes a photo of the rear of the house with, unfortunately, yours truly posing cheekily in front of it. Taken my first year there, it shows that I’d done nothing yet but build a tiny deck off the house. I’m sure you’ll agree that that cinder block retaining wall and the thorny barberries above it all had to go.
So the retaining wall got removed, the deck got much bigger, and again mostly shrubs filled the border, along with a collection of Astilbe. The shrubs at the back are a shorter variety of Cherry Laurels, with Hydrangeas and Spireas in front of them.
The high-maintenance item here and in this entire garden, back and front, is that damn Kiwi vine you see on the deck. I complained to anyone who would listen that it would eat my house if I didn’t keep hacking it back. Sadly, that hacking back also prevented the production of berries, so I complained about that, too.
Hey, I just noticed something else in this photo – the garden still had a lawn (though not for long) but it was largely covered in clover. Looks fine, right? I just had to remember not to venture onto it barefoot, lest my neighbors hear obscenity-laced screams from my direction.