Unless you have hours of spare time for gardening at the weekend (and let’s face it, who does?) you’ll need some tips for quick-win, instant-impact plants that go easy on the maintenance. We show you how.
Go for instant effect
If you want quick results, go for plants that grow fast but won’t swamp your garden. The potato vine (Solanum jasminoides) and passion flower (Passiflora incarnate) are climbers that put on plenty of growth in a season, and they keep some of their leaves over winter too. Or invest in a few large, distinctive plants such as New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax) and New Zealand cabbage palm (Cordyline australis) which create stunning focal points. Container-grown ornamental grasses or bamboos provide an instant, informal screen.
It’s simple: choose plants that don’t need pruning. Slow-growing shrubs with a naturally good shape like the conical pittosporum (Pittosporum tenuifolium) need minimal snipping. Mahonias, conifers, palms and ferns have distinctive, architectural shapes and should look after themselves in the right spot. If you love clematis but are put off by complicated pruning, choose the early-flowering ‘Group 1’ varieties which require no pruning at all.
They look great, but they’re needy little things requiring staking, deadheading and dividing. Bear’s breech (Acanthus mollis), rudbeckias, sedums and hollyhocks are good, lower-maintenance options. Incorporate plenty of flowering shrubs such as Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternate) and osmanthus, both evergreen with beautiful, sweet-smelling white flowers in spring. Feather grasses such as Stipa and ornamental grasses like Calamagrostis will give your border structure and movement. And if you can spare an afternoon in autumn planting bulbs, you’ll be rewarded with lots of effort-free colour in early spring.
It can be extremely time-consuming so opt for Mediterranean-style plants that are used to hot, dry conditions. Hollyhocks, Bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis), lavender, rosemary and verbena (Verbena bonariensis) are all good choices. Pots can be extremely high-maintenance, so fill them with nicotiana, osteospermum, geraniums, petunias and nasturtiums which withstand a little neglect and bloom prolifically too.
Deadheading is important to prolong flowering, but a recent Gardening Which? trial showed that Begonia Non-stop Rose Petticoat, Dahlia Diablo Mixed (Dahlia hortensis Diablo) and Verbena Quartz (Verbena x hybrida Quartz) flowered just as well without being deadheaded. And don’t feel you have to cut back perennials over the winter as the seedheads on agapanthus, poppies, sedums and many grasses will give interest to your garden over winter.
Look after your soil: it’s your secret weapon in minimising gardening chores. Digging in plenty of organic matter such as well-rotted manure, homemade compost or leaf mould will increase its fertility, aeration and water-retaining ability. Finally, avoid weeding by applying a mulch of bark chippings or gravel so that weeds can’t get a foothold.
Top-ten plants for the impatient gardener:
- Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternate)
- Potato vine (Solanum jasminoides)
- Feather grass (Stipa tenuissima)
- Verbena (Verbena bonariensis)
- Bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis)
- New Zealand cabbage palm (Cordyline australis)
- Lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia)
- Geranium (Pelargonium)
- Mahonia (Mahonia japonica)
- The pittosporum family