Low Maintenance Landscape Design
Low Maintenance Landscape Design
In this post I will look at several real gardens where the owners have chosen designs that create an unnecessary amount of work. Small changes in the design will produce a garden that looks just as nice, but is a lot easier to maintain. These time saving design ideas are easy to implement in your garden.
Form Follows Function
The expression ‘form follows function’ is used in all types of design work and gardening is no exception. Form, refers to the look and feel of a design. Is it formal or informal? Is it cluttered with interesting things or is it modern with a few simple lines. The word function refers to how the space is used.
As a simple example consider that most homes are built in a rectangular shape. Was this shape selected mostly because of the form – rectangles look good, or was it selected because of function? It is probably function since a rectangle provides the most useful space inside the home. Imagine placing your furniture inside a round room.
The term ‘form follows function’ indicates that in most cases it is best to solve the functional problems first, and then select a form that fits. Doing it the other way around leads to weird unusable spaces.
In a garden setting it is common to ignore this design principal. For most people a garden is an enjoyable place to spend some time. There is limited functionality to consider. So form become more important than function and that may be OK. The problem with this approach is that a focus on only form can result in increased maintenance work and nobody really wants that. If we consider maintenance as part of the function element in design, then function becomes more important in landscape design.
Narrow Strip of Grass
Have a look at the above picture. There is a narrow walkway leading around the side of the house to the backyard. Beside the walkway is a narrow strip of grass. The property boundary is halfway between the homes.
- The strip of grass is so narrow that it is hardly worth cutting.
- The grass is on a slope where it forms the swale between the two properties making it even more difficult to cut.
- The walkway is very narrow and is out of scale with the back gate – the walkway is too narrow when compared to the width of the gate.
Swales are important and should not be removed. They are placed there to keep water from running into the basement of homes and in most cities it is illegal to remove them. But they can be modified.
The walkway could be extended to the left so that it reaches the property line. To keep it horizontal and provide support under the walkway, a line of stones or bricks can be added at the edge of the swale. This would widen the walkway and eliminate the small grass strip.
It is always a good idea to get rid of small strips of grass. They add extra work and rarely add anything of value to the design.
- The frost lifted the plastic edging and now it sticks up like a sore thumb.
- The bed is far too narrow for the plants.
The plastic edging sold to consumers does not work very well even if it is installed correctly, which rarely happens. This type of edging is more trouble than it is worth and it looks cheap, adding nothing to a good garden design.
If you are going to use it, buy commercial grade plastic which is much heavier and then install it correctly. Pins must be inserted horizontally under the grass every couple of feet. This prevents frost from moving it up in winter. The pins should be 8″ long and thick enough so they do not bend easily. Commercial products usually include the pins and holes for inserting them. See How To Install Landscape Edging for more details.
This bed is near the front steps and is about a foot wide – that is far too narrow. The plants will outgrow the space quickly and small beds just don’t look very good. If you don’t want a wide bed here, just have grass growing right up to the walkway. It would be less maintenance work and look much better. Real beds in this location should be at least 4 feet deep and 6 would be better.
- Two trees and a couple of perennials are planted in the grass instead of in the flower bed.
- The flower bed near the steps is too narrow.
From a purely esthetic point of view the trees look as if they are planted in the wrong place – the gardener missed the flower bed. From a function point of view the owner has created a difficult mowing area. How do you mow around the trees and perennials?
Planting perennials in lawn grass is never a good idea, especially for ornamental grasses like the one shown above. Lawn grass will co-mingle with the perennial grass and in no time at all you have a mess that needs to be replaced. Weeding lawn grass from inside perennials is a difficult job so they should be kept separate.
The narrow bed near the steps is an issue with both form and function. Narrow beds rarely look good, but more importantly, they are very difficult to plant. The best planting option is low ground covers. It is Almost impossible to get any height in narrow beds.