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What I’ve Learned Series - Top Tip - Troublesome Plants & Maintenance

Over my many years in Garden Design and Horticulture, I have heard at least equally as many times, 'What I want is low maintenance!' An ambiguous term to say the least. One person's high maintenance is another's low maintenance. Subjective to the individual and judged based on free-time, desire to garden, other factors affecting your life and your physical capabilities.

Ignoring your physical ability to undertake work, which is a much more complicated area, most people who have obsessed over 'low maintenance', have simply not wanted to undertake any gardening. Well, here's the rub; all plants and most materials in a garden will require some maintenance each year. It might be a few minutes, an hour or two, or efforts every week, but something will be required for every real/living plant to keep it tidy, manageable well-sized and well-mannered, or to stop it spreading through seed or runners.

Fallopia baldschuanica (Russian Vine) LN
Fallopia baldschuanica (Russian Vine) LN

Recently, I saw this lovely plant of Fallopis baldschuanica (Russian Vine) (above) in a small courtyard garden in Broughty Ferry, Fife. Flowering beautifully and covering a substantial surface area both inside and out of the garden as this plant tends to do all too well. Another common name for this plant is the Mile-A-Minute Vine, which is more than suggestive of its growth rate and ultimate size. Many gardeners hate it as it is a pain to rid yourself of if inherited or once out of hand. With 2-4 hours of annual maintenance however, it can be cut back hard and cleared away. Any seedlings which have set, can be weeded and the plant can be managed very successfully, where the gardener and visiting insects can appreciate the abundant flower and rich, red autumn colour without the plant overtaking your life. Most of us, waste 2-4 hours a year on myriad arduous tasks that we get little reward from (queuing, to consider a very British habit for example). I am confident that the same time spent maintaining a plant for which you will be rewarded with flower, fruit, colour and interest is better spent.

A finely mown lawn and well tended border LN.
A finely mown lawn and well tended border LN.

Interestingly, in my experience, most of the people who have been very keen to ensure that their gardens are as close to no maintenance as possible also have lawns to maintain. This is arguably the highest maintenance element of most gardens with large surface areas given over to something that will need some efforts every week during the growing season to maintain. (See the finely manicured lawns of Pittencrieff Park, Dunfermline, (above).

Even the smallest lawn will likely generate 1-2 hours of maintenance a month when averaged out over a year. Well planted borders may suppress weeds and fill space in interesting and ever-changing ways throughout the year for even less work than a weekly lawn mow. Food for thought.

For those of us, who obsess with maintenance, I say to you, relax. Pick your battles. Choose plants that you love and therefore don't lament those efforts required to maintain them each year. Ignore your anxieties over the work required, much of this can be done as and when. Most of it is only the work of a minute or two. You may wish to plan these activities on a calendar, or, if you are like me, wing it. The carefree approach should, at the very least, help you to relax over the work required. Remember that during an average lifetime, we are expected to spend around 92 days of our lives on the toilet (some calculations had it at over 200!) - our productivity at other times could be better spent than avoiding a little gardening.

Gardening will always be a chore for some, but the physical and psychological well-being that it can bring should not go unnoticed. Being outdoors, communing in any manner with nature should be a joy and many who previously avoided it, have successfully embraced it this year above all others while in lockdown.

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