Friday, August 19, 2011

Reducing maintenance (and back ache) in the garden

Many shrubs offer just as much color as flowers - but with less work

Do you have young children at home? Are you a busy professional? Have you realized that you’re not as young as you used to be? Then this post is for you.

Life gets busy and we get older – two indisputable facts. For those of us who want to have a nice garden both these facts can cause extreme frustration perhaps even more so when we actually love to work in the garden.

My Mum, now 82, refers to herself not as old but as a ‘recycled teenager’! She has always had a beautiful garden but is finding the weeding, digging and planting much harder than it used to be. I may not have reached that age but I can agree that I take far more Ibuprofen now after moving rocks than I did 20 years ago. Determined not to give up, but to find a way to continue to enjoy gardening I was pleased to discover the book ‘Gardening for a Lifetime’ by Sydney Eddison.

Now on her own, with her health and strength not what it was, Sydney needed to re-think her garden design and maintenance. Her ideas and gleanings are some we can all learn from, no matter where we are in life or what our circumstances may be. Here are a few of the ways she is simplifying her gardening.

An English garden can be a lot of work,
or plant choices can be modified to
use easier perennials and more shrubs.
Reduce perennials and replace with colorful shrubs. Sydney had extensive perennial borders in true English fashion, but had to admit that they took up far too much of her time with dead-heading, dividing and cutting down in fall. She took a ruthless approach and removed a great many, replacing them with shrubs such as variegated dogwoods which gave colorful foliage and winter interest. 

If the lawn looks green, call it good. A golf course may look attractive but the time, money and chemicals needed to achieve and then maintain it just aren’t worth it. Stop being such a perfectionist! Maybe you don't need a lawn at all? 

Get help when you need it. Establish a budget; decide how many hours help you can afford per week then find the right person to do the heavy duty jobs. Leave yourself the creative, fun things but let someone else climb the ladders to prune the roses (or better still replace the roses with something that doesn’t need tying in, deadheading, pruning and spraying).
Roses are beautiful - but are you willing 
(or able) to coddle them?

Make lists. A Master list of what you would like to accomplish during the next year will help keep you focused. A more immediate ‘to do’ list will enable you to do quick simple tasks when you have a few minutes available, and then get the satisfaction of checking that off the list. (I have been known to write something on my list just so I can cross it off!) These lists will also help you communicate effectively with garden help and make the most of their time.  

Pick your battles – managing mature plants. Plants grow. They also do not read the labels which say ‘mature height 10’. Mature by whose standards? After how many years? When something gets too big for its allotted space and begins to become a maintenance nightmare it’s probably time to cut it down or take it out. Larger varieties of groundcover junipers are a case in point. When they start to swallow  small passing children – get rid of them. (The junipers, not the children).

    I am in the fortunate position of designing our garden from scratch. The few existing trees and shrubs for the most part will be fine although a few Leyland cypress will be a challenge. I am therefore taking to heart Sydney’s advice and indeed have already come to many of the same conclusions. I have ripped out mountains of daylilies to be replaced with colorful grasses and low conifers. 
    'Rozanne' geranium makes the list, thanks to
    its long bloom time and non-promiscuous
    behavior!

    Phlox and self seeding varieties of hardy geraniums weren’t worth battling with so will give way to better behaved geraniums such as ‘Rozanne’ and variegated weigela. The moles make sure we never consider ‘lawn’ a possibility – we think more in terms of varying degrees of pasture and meadow. And I’m trying hard to choose the ‘right plant for the right place’; deer and rabbit resistant, drought tolerant (our well water is a precious commodity) and appropriate size.

    When I reach recycled teenager status I’ll let you know how I’ve got on. For now I’m determined to plan wisely and enjoy my garden; being its Master, not its slave.

    1 comment:

    1. This is good news to me! I am getting older and weeding and things have gotten to bother me more than usual. I love the idea of replacing things with small shrubs or greenery.
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