blog / minimal upkeep
design & words Amir Schlezinger
From robotic lawn mowers, fake vertical green walls, dry gravel beds and automatic irrigation systems, to polyethylene substitutes, raised beds, monocultural plantings and self-cleaning gadgets, we all strive to curb spending time, effort and costs on our outdoor spaces, and engage in thoroughly low maintenance garden designs. The fine line between non-essential, strenuous and avoidable garden tasks weaves an intricate paradox – fuelled by unrelenting technological trends.
While undisturbed natural ecosystems are entirely self-regulating, remaining pristine in the absence of human intervention, our urban back gardens require ample TLC to thrive, although rapidly detaching from their fundamental organic process. Granted, garden maintenance routines vary markedly from one home owner to the next, as all of us justifiably seek time-saving, space-efficient and cost-effective upkeep solutions. Nevertheless, there's a time-critical balance to be restored in a serially artificialised world – that of excitingly thought-provoking architectural aesthetics, underpinned by sound ecological awareness, while sensitively sustained by low maintenance garden designs.
Evergreen, low maintenance, easy-to-grow planting schemes.
Chiefly, low maintenance garden designs are defined by the amount and type of plants in their layouts. An in-depth grasp of the quality and frequency of gardening, integration of uncomplicated frameworks and utilisation of easy-to-cultivate species sustain easy-care gardens with camera-ready ever-greenness to boot. A London garden requires far less upkeep than an average family home, entailing a tenth of the time needed to keep a house running smoothly per annum. Yet, left neglected, a garden easily loses relevance, as colossally exemplified in the ten years of restoration it took to regenerate the Lost Gardens of Heligan after seven decades of maintenance dormancy.
While we all typically cherry-pick the lowest maintenance possible plants, gathered from every corner of the world, their juxtapositions should reflect site conditions both thematically and environmentally. Minimalistic by default and trouble-free by design, our considerably low maintenance landscaping reflects earnestly mapped out lifestyles and their upkeep-savvy worshippers. As low maintenance ideas fuel a runaway urban mythology constantly necessitating demystification, we must strive to embrace our ecology, and reinstate some nature loving care into oversimplified, and distinctly unecological, ways of life.
Year-round, socially-friendly, low maintenance urban gardens.
Which factor drives the preponderance of low maintenance gardens the most? The tenfold explanation stretches into every conceivable sphere: time constraints, work commitments, space limitations, visual aesthetics, gardening inhibitions, short-term habitation, technological reliance, economic pragmatism, mass urbanisation and pervasive on-tap immediacy. In London, a dizzyingly fast-paced everyday life entails up-to-the-minute garden style, where ambitious personal preferences drive innovative garden designs which retain low maintenance merits.
Yet, undesirable arduousness can lead to bleak austerity in a few careless, uninspired, designless moves, when classic low maintenance principles assume mainstream mediocrity faster than any other trend. Variance of use, frequency of usage and environmental conditions all affect a garden's maintenance levels. Pinpoint purposing, appropriate materials, suitable plants and effective auxiliary amenities retain low maintenance, low-key ambiences within distinctive garden designs.
Low maintenance hard landscaping frameworks.
From promising trendy buzzwords to accommodative low-maintenance enterprises, hard landscaping frameworks prevail up to eighty percent of urban London gardens by and large – unfavourably culminating as ecological graveyards. Still, every now and again, through subliminal subjectivity, amid a tedium of municipal sameness, a maverick garden owner and a free-spirited garden designer form an esprit de corps to create a not-so-unyielding hardscape, dodging the myriad pitfalls of unsustainability, landscaping monotony and mere high maintenance.
Ecological unawareness, pointless horticultural trends, on-demand expeditiousness, viral urban myths and ridiculous automation, firmly bundled in an inborn indifference to the natural world, all breed our overly sanitised lifestyles. Maintainability isn't merely a quantifiable factor of easy-care, trouble-free and low-cost attributes, but rather a valuable avenue for sustainability attained through permanence. Low maintenance garden design projects encompass a logical universality of appropriate plant selections, enduring materials and construction techniques, broadened via multiple utilisations which ably decrease maintenance yet elevate environmental relevancy.
Easy on the eye, entertainment-ready, low upkeep gardens.
When low maintenance homes, cars, clothes, hairstyles, pets and even friends inhabit a Shakespearean oysterage where everyone is a presumed go-getter with no time to lose, artificialisation completes its tenacious cycle with obligatory low maintenance gardens. Coaxed by a DIY culture of flat-packs, plasticky contraptions and same-day deliveries, we're all enticed into a low-maintenance Shangri-la, when well-being is retrograded by an epidemic lack of variousness. As we endeavour to moderate superfluous activities to minimise FOMO side effects and maximise a low maintenance competency, garden trends oscillate frantically indeed, though with some occasional, adaptable takeaways and outbreaks of widely scattered droplets of usefulness.
While synthetic grass resolves drainage impracticalities in countless rooftops, basement flats and outdoor leisure facilities, gaining further sales' momentum as climate change scorches more natural lawns, the rising popularity of artificial plants, hedges and living walls manifests a paradigm shift which goes against the very ecological grain via not-so-realistic, unorganic, ersatz depictions. Simplified low maintenance garden designs conveniently promote outdoor maximality, and when bolstered by selective off-the-shelf trendiness yet upheld by enviro-friendly practices, the future seems just a little more manageable...
Multi-seasonal, alfresco readied, seating-oriented, low maintenance gardens for effortless get-togethers.
Low maintenance garden design boosts agreeableness beside and beyond the outdoor dining table, when contemporary seating areas veer into not-so-austere atmosphere with all the familiar gear, as we persevere for good weather to reappear in our fickle, British triad of hemispheres... Modernism indeed revolutionised gardens from strictly ornamental places to rivetingly connected spaces, while empowering landscape design as a bona-fide architecture-related profession. From intensive round-the-clock horticultural attention to greatly shortened spells of upkeep, this trend turned central lifestyle has nevertheless universally commoditised Mother Nature in less than a century.
As we elevate plant borders, eliminate time-consuming floras, scrap lawns, get shot of pots, and dump impractical surfaces, indulgently free from gardening impedimenta altogether, outdoor maintenance is refinedly tuned – reduced to a desirable, amenable level in enduring effortlessness among inspiriting dining areas – savoured with plenty of time to spare. As we huddle around yet another fabulous alfresco tuck-in, delegating any remaining upkeep chores to an able gardener, perhaps don't leave it too late to remain: in Europe, in the loop, in your mojo, and most importantly – in an ecological frame of mind!
– coda –
Imagine, if you will, the ultimate low-maintenance outdoor space: wall-to-wall synthetic grass, composite decking, cladding and storage, porcelain tiles, artificial green walls, hedging and plants, plastic pots, acrylic worktops and polyester utensils – in other words, a futuristic dreamscape gone horrifyingly wrong, devoid of life, sterile and worse still, comprehensively unrecyclable. For work-oriented, gardening-shy and cost-conscious London garden owners, the ethical limits of a low maintenance approach are set as high as one's comfort zone can be stretched. For well-informed, eco-friendly and forward-looking garden design professionals, this lifestyle premise is manifested through a balance of integrity and integrality, when practical experimentation, firsthand research and clients' feedback accomplish true liveability and optimality, in ‘Close Encounters of the Low Maintenance Kind’...