By Jill Morgan
On the hunt for low maintenance landscaping ideas to spruce up your plot and free up your time? Well, we’ve called on a wealth of industry experts to share their labour-saving tips and the latest product knowledge.
With home and work boundaries blurring and lives getting back to busy, it’s important we continue spending more time enjoying our gardens rather than adding to our list of chores. I mean, we’d all rather be kicking back and catching up with friends than mowing the lawn or repainting the fence. The good news is that just a few simple changes to your backyard can help free up valuable extra leisure time.
From swapping short-lived bedding plants for the best low maintenance plants and perennials to replacing timber decking for easy going composite designs, you can create a super stylish outside space that’s a joy to spend time in.
Make gardening easy with low maintenance landscaping
With a little bit of know-how, you can swap time spent completing garden chores for time spent relaxing with friends outdoors. It's easier than you might think to add some low maintenance landscaping to your plot.
1. Mix and match easy-care paving
Recent innovations in manufacturing techniques means there are many more options when it comes to choosing low maintenance garden ideas for your space. Composite decking is one product area that has seen huge advances and now there are endless formats and finishes to choose from.
Made from a blend of wood fibers, high-density polyethelene and bonding agents, these durable and high performing boards can cope with all weathers and temperatures and require little more than the occasional hose and brush down. Composite decking often incorporates waste wood fibers, making it environmentally friendly too.
Designs in solid neutral shades and varying wood effects are by far the most popular, and thanks to the use of hidden fixings, rather than screws, they give a sleek edge to modern garden ideas. Consider whether you want a subtle or more pronounced wood grain effect for that authentic timber feel and be sure to check out the lifespan of the product. Products using the latest co-extrusion production techniques can last over 15 years and are indistinguishable from real timber.
2. Plant a slow growing hedge
You can’t beat hedges for creating a natural boundary – so much softer on the eye than a timber fence, a great backdrop and a fantastic resource for wildlife too. Many varieties, once their roots become established, can grow quickly and require constant trimming to keep them in shape. Fantastic if you want a serious plot divider but not so good in your average sized garden.
Keep cutting to a minimum – and keep the neighbors happy – by opting for low maintenance hedge plants such as holly or English yew. Choose from variegated holly varieties such as ‘Silver Queen’ or ‘Golden King’ or the classic dark green leaved Ilex aquifolium. For a healthy crop of red berries, you will need both male and female plants and mulch the surrounding soil well with bark chippings to retain moisture.
When it comes to choosing yew, you can’t beat Taxus baccata for forming a dark, dense formal hedge, perfect for showcasing favorite specimens or garden features, but there are alternatives too. Shorter variety ‘Summergold’ has golden edges to its slender leaves while ‘Icicle’ features similar markings that turn white in winter.
3. Lay durable porcelain paving
Smooth underfoot with textural interest, porcelain paving ideas are the perfect option for low maintenance landscaping. Requiring little attention, they are thick enough to withstand constant use, frost resistant and can easily be hosed down and swept clean.
Available in a wide range of different finishes – wood grain, marble, and stone effect are all hugely popular – their clean lines and edges make them ideal for practical yet stylish contemporary designs. Choose from brick, plank and large field tile formats and use them to maximize your outside space.
Planting pockets and raised planters are easy to incorporate and these concentrated areas of flowers and foliage will add to the bold effect.
4. Swap timber for faux-wood tiles
Love the appearance of wooden decking ideas but not the constant attention real wood needs? Well, good news, faux-wood plank tiles look just as smart and inviting but are so much easier to look after. 'Wood-effect porcelain tiles are a great option for outdoor spaces as they are durable, hardwearing and easy to clean,' says Callum Chester from Walls and Floors. 'Effortlessly replicating the look of real wood, these tiles are designed to be slip-resistant and are resistant to the growth of moss or mold. They are unaffected by changes in the temperature, meaning their color will not change or fade over time.'
Available in practically every wood finish, these vary from pale ash and pine to deep oak and rich cherry and walnut and need little more than a yearly hose and scrub down or a blast from your pressure washer.
Price points differ, often reflecting the durability. While printed tiles look fab and are very cost effective, the top layer can be scratched revealing the substrate material underneath. Vitrified products have a dye and minerals added to the initial clay mix to ensure the finish penetrates through the tile, making any deep gouges less noticeable.
5. Mow your own paths
Paths don’t have to be paved, or even hard underfoot, and often the most enchanting garden path ideas are those that appear to be completely spontaneous. After all, what could be more intriguing than a mown path through a wildflower meadow?
Quick and easy to do, you can make the route as twisty or direct as you like and you can simply change it when the mood takes you. Be kind to your lawn mower by creating your path while the grass is low and repeating fortnightly. Alternatively, you may want to strim long grass first, before mowing neatly. Just check the route is free of wildlife before you start.
This beautiful design was created by designer Rebecca Smith in her Surrey garden. 'We cut the wildflower area once a year, in late summer when the weather is dry, using a strimmer. The cut plants are then left in place for up to a week, if the weather is dry, to allow the ripened seed to drop out onto the ground, before raking up all the cut stalks and composting them.'
If you love the idea of creating something similar for your low maintenance landscaping, we've got plenty of tips in our guide on when to cut a wildflower meadow.
6. Stick to a few large shrubs
Reduce the upkeep and max out the impact by filling your garden with a handful of the best low maintenance shrubs. Look for mature specimens for instant effect and position them to create an inviting display that’s full of interest.
Evergreen varieties such as mahonia and choisya provide constant leafy structure. Team with other striking, more seasonal beauties such as stately tree ferns with their unfurling fronds or a multi stemmed Himalayan birch with its ghostly white bark.
'Maples are a fantastic addition for color as well as providing texture and contrasting form,' says Guy Watts, owner and MD of Architectural Plants. Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’ has beautiful pale green leaves in spring that develop red edging during summer before turning a vivid scarlet in fall. Alternatively, the foliage of Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ emerges as pale red, intensifies to a deep purple over summer before gradually fading again before they fall.
If you're learning how to grow acers, a great idea is to underplant them with bulbs and grasses for added impact.
7. Grow a tapestry of hassle-free grasses
If you love the look of full, abundant flowerbeds but can’t spare hours to tweak and nurture them, try using a mix of ornamental grasses as the basis of your low maintenance garden border ideas.
Coming in all shapes, colors and sizes, they are ideal for creating a stunning year-round display in just about every location and climate. Tall, airy plants such as deschampsia and miscanthus will form a handy living screen and introduce graceful height and movement, while low-growing, clump forming grasses such as carex and festuca are perfect for ground cover and textural interest.
Most ornamental grasses need little more than the occasional comb through to remove dead thatch or, if they are evergreen, a quick snip to tidy up. Deciduous varieties require a yearly cut back – usually around early spring – to ensure they look their best.
8. Lay wildflower turf for pollinators
Fancy a wild, grassy area that bursts into color every summer as part of your low maintenance landscaping solutions? Then try planting a flower meadow the easy way, with a mat of established young plants that are ready to root and thrive. Available from specialist growers, carefully selected varieties are sown and nurtured to create a dense turf with a strong, developed root system. These are then supplied cut and rolled to customers for a speedy installation.
Varying flower and grass combinations are on offer so you can choose from native and heritage blends featuring favorites such as cornflowers, ox-eye daisies and buttercups, shade loving and pollinator mixes.
If you want to create your own meadow design from scratch, our guide on how to plant a wildflower meadow has lots of useful tips on getting started.
9. Try large scale pots with textural planting
Reduce time spent maintaining your outside space by restricting planting to key areas. Super-sized garden planters are a great way to do this and can make a dramatic statement in even the tightest of spaces.
By opting for simple shapes in striking materials – such as these bold Corten steel cubes and rectangles – you can create a standout contrast with just a few fuss-free plants and highlight the other paving and boundary materials used.
For a truly contemporary look, think big when it comes to choosing plants for your container gardening ideas. Look for one large hero tree or shrub – ideally with a standout shape, bark or foliage. Use this as the main focal point and underplant with two or three groups of low growing plants, each offering a contrast of textured leaves, flowers or berries.
10. Mix and contrast aggregates for interest
Adding a layer of pebbles or gravel is not just a cost-effective solution for paths and driveways, it suppresses weeds and retains valuable moisture too. What’s more it can also look pretty attractive – adding scale and texture to your low maintenance landscaping. Known as xeriscaping, the trick is to vary the size of the pieces used, to create contrasting textures, all while sticking to a similar color and tone for a ‘natural’ look.
Use pebbles and rocks to form ‘dry’ rivers flowing along a dip and surround with gravel and planting for a landscape feature that needs little attention. Alternatively seek inspiration from Japanese gardens where gravel is meticulously raked into furrows and strategically punctuated with rocks and stones.
Landscape designer Tom Massey is a big fan of using aggregates in his work and says, 'Gravel is great as a decorative mulch. Or you could get creative and experimental using crushed concrete, sand or shingle as a planting medium that creates a very nutrient poor, harsh substrate. Certain plants like wildflowers or Mediterranean plants will thrive in this type of environment, while most weeds will struggle to establish. If you are happy to have a more wild look, this is also far lower maintenance than a clipped and formal scheme.'
11. Reinforce edges for a labour-saving finish
Why waste time painstakingly trimming around lawns and borders when you can add some super smart metal garden edging ideas. Not only are there plenty of products out there that look sharp, but they do a great job of reinforcing and separating soil and turf and help cut down on weeds and straying plants too.
Choose from rolls of corrugated galvanized steel, that can be simply rolled out, snipped to length and pushed into the soil, or more robust weatherproof steel plate edging that comes either with a Shark’s tooth edge, so it can be sunk into the ground or separate fixings that can be used at intervals.
Heights and finishes vary and can have a big effect on the finished result. Corten steel pieces are great for achieving an industrial look and really set off lush green foliage, while galvanized steel and black powder-coated designs lend a more traditional touch to your garden design ideas.
12. Showcase hardy alpines and ground cover
Often overlooked, the best low maintenance ground cover plants and alpines can create a stunning garden border that needs little looking after. These tough, creeping beauties are used to coping with fluctuating temperatures and weather conditions, and as well as many being evergreen, they also reward with masses of spectacular flowers. They do hate getting their feet wet though so good drainage and slightly alkaline soil is a must. Varieties to try include:
- Armeria or Sea Thrift Cushions of needle like leaves topped with bright pink pompoms.
- Lewisia cotyledon Rosettes of evergreen foliage with star-shaped flowers in tropical hues of orange, yellow and pink.
- Saxifrage Compact mounds of deeply lobed leaves add year-round texture and interest and produce dazzling pink or white flowers in late spring, early summer.
- Thyme With around 200 varieties to explore, these fragrant culinary beauties are ideal for planting en masse and creating a living carpet. Tiny white, pink or lavender flowers create a haze of color and are magnets for pollinators.
- Sempervivum, also known as houseleeks Tough rosettes of fleshly lobed leaves. In endless colors ranging from magenta to lime green they are great for adding contrast and texture to containers and garden gravel ideas.
13. Design an all-weather tiled rug
One of the easiest ways to bring indoor styling outside is with a patterned rug, but if you can't be bothered with the hassle of putting a rug away in bad weather, you can create the same effect all year round with patterned modern paving ideas. Perfect for adding detail and character to a patio, this simple idea will help you zone your outside space with minimal effort.
'Outdoor patterned rugs have become a lust-list item for gardens over the past year,' say the team at Verona. 'Graphic monochrome prints in particular have been popular, but while they look good they’re not always practical. Consider incorporating a rug effect design into your hard landscaping instead, by using a geometric porcelain tile with a contrasting solid color border to create the illusion of a rug. Not only does it look the part, but it offers a safer, easy-to-maintain solution to an on-trend look.'
Experiment with different layouts and think carefully about striking the right balance for the available space. Use them to create the ideal spot for showcasing your outdoor dining ideas or a laid-back lounge area.
14. Go for care-free Corten steel fence panels
Garden fences and hedges can be very demanding – constantly needing treating, trimming and sprucing up. Eliminate the need for continuous upkeep by opting for beautiful steel panels instead, such as Corten steel designs. Made from weathering steel, these panels – many with laser-cut patterns – gradually develop their own tactile rusty finish when left out in the elements, which also seals and protects the material from corrosion.
Many companies sell ready-made panels with repeated or sequenced motifs. These include flowers, branches, falling blossom and celestial themes all perfect for bringing an eye-catching and stylish touch to your plot’s boundaries.
How do I create maintenance-free landscaping?
Follow these quick tips for a hassle-free garden that's easy to maintain.
- Stick to a limited number of a few hardy shrubs
- Instead of having a lawn, consider alternatives to grass. Materials such as gravel, composite decking or quality artificial turf are all possible solutions.
- Cut down on clutter and aim for sturdy, all-weather furniture.
- Invest in technology – robot lawn mowers, solar lighting and automatic irrigation systems all help to reduce the amount of time you'll need to spend on gardening tasks.
- Go for perennial planting that thrives year-on-year rather than short lived annuals and bedding plants.
How do I create low maintenance planting?
Love the idea of a densely planted garden borders but worried about the upkeep? Well, it doesn’t have to be labour intensive. We spoke to leading garden designer Ruth Bridgeman for a few pointers that will pay dividends.
- Choose your plants carefully, avoiding those vigorous or prone to disease. An AGM (Award of Garden Merit) indicates plants that do what they’re supposed to.
- Use bark or similar (not weed membrane – it gets in the way if you change things later) to cover any bare earth while plants establish – this will keep moisture in and most weeds out.
- Edge any neighboring lawn with timber or metal garden edging. Lawn is invasive and it will save you time keeping it neat and will look super smart.
- Flowering evergreen shrubs are your friend, they cover the ground preventing weeds and provide seasonal interest with relatively little upkeep.
- If it’s a new border take time to properly clear it before planting, it will reward you eventually!
Jill puts her love of plants and all things garden related down to the hours spent pottering around with her Nan and Grandad when she was little. There was never a moment at their house when they weren’t weeding, pruning, planting or harvesting cucumbers or dahlias from the lean-to greenhouse. Her Grandad’s shed was a place of wonder, and she can still recall the musky smell. Today she is lucky enough to have a garden of her own in Surrey and spends much of her time writing about them too. A typical long-thin town garden it features favourite flowers along with the odd veg plant and the usual assortment of toys, bikes and… oh a couple of guinea pigs too.
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