Low-maintenance planting schemes need to be quick and easy to look after.
The key to success is to avoid growing plants that need regular watering, feeding, staking, clipping and deadheading. Instead, select plants that look after themselves and only need attention once a year, if at all. Use a combination of shrubs, including evergreens such as hebes, osmanthus, sarcococca and viburnums, perhaps with some grasses, then add perennials and ground cover plants to fill any gaps and keep weeds at bay.
There are also design tricks you can use to reduce the workload – for example, avoid making small fiddly shapes and tricky mowing edges, and use landscape fabric in areas prone to weeds. With the five plants we’ve chosen here, use simple repetition to create a low-fuss, high-impact border.
More on low-maintenance gardening:
- Tips for a low-maintenance veg plot
- Pot plants that will tolerate neglect
- Low-maintenance summer containers
Discover our five recommended plants for a low-maintenance border, below.
Snowy mespilus has a long season of interest. In early spring, its white starry flowers smother the branches before the coppery foliage appears. In summer, the leaves turn mid-green before a fiery autumnal display of reds, purples and oranges. Its red fruits, which mature to a metallic blue-black, are an important winter food for birds. It works particularly well in small gardens.
Height x spread: 4m x 3m.
Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’
This was RHS Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year in 2013, and for good reason. It has slender, almost feathery, evergreen foliage. It’s an extremely useful shrub for mass planting in either full sun or dappled shade beneath deciduous trees. From mid- to late summer, and often right into autumn, it carries cheerful spires of lemon-yellow flowers, followed by berries for the birds.
H x S: 1m x 1m.
This hardy geranium is one of the easiest herbaceous perennials to grow and packs a real punch in summer. The idea is that it fills gaps and sprawls a little across the shrubs and between the grasses, filling the border with colour from around June to August. It has bright magenta flowers with dark centres and classic, deeply cut, mid-green cranesbill leaves, which turn a lovely shade of purple-red in autumn.
H x S: 50cm x 1m.
This tight-knit shrub forms neat, rounded mounds of sage-green foliage. It looks as if it’s been clipped by hand into a loose form of topiary, yet it actually requires very little attention. Hebe ‘Sutherlandii’ can be mixed with all styles of planting, in bands as an informal hedge, or to hold the corner of a planting area. In summer it carries short white flowers that bees adore.
H x S: 40cm x 70cm.
Commonly known as pheasant’s tail grass, this evergreen has a lovely arching habit and is versatile, thriving in sun as well as light shade. It has green and oaty tones in summer and turns a coppery ginger in autumn, then holds its form and colour through the winter. It will freely self-seed around in any gaps.
H x S: 1m x 1m.
Border care plan
Buying and planting
- Plant up this border in spring. Prepare the soil well, incorporating plenty of organic matter to reduce future watering and weeding
- Try to get a good deal on the amelanchier if you’re buying it after it has finished flowering
- Space the plants carefully – they will grow at varying rates, but will knit together to cover bare ground over the next couple of years
Simple to maintain
- In winter, prune the amelanchier if necessary by taking out any crossing, damaged, dead or diseased branches to maintain an open shape
- Cut the hardy geranium to the ground in late winter
- In early spring, comb through the clumps of anemanthele with your fingers (wear gloves) or with a wire rake to remove the old leaves
- Every few years, lightly prune the mahonias and hebes after flowering
- These plants can go without feeding, but a general sprinkling or blood, fish and bone meal in spring will encourage strong growth
- Plant small spring bulbs such as snowdrops, grape hyacinths and winter aconites where the hardy geraniums die down
- Add summer bulbs such as Allium nigrum and Allium sphaerocephalon among the grasses so they poke through them when in flower
Creating more plants for free
- The anemanthele will happily self-seed and new young plants can be dotted into any gaps
- Divide the hardy geranium in autumn or spring