Gardening expert shares best plants for a low maintenance garden – and the ones to ‘avoid’

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Managing Director of Hopes Grove Nurseries, Morris Hankinson has shared his advice on the best plants for low maintenance gardens. Hopes Grove Nurseries was established 27 years ago and grows approximately one million hedge plants – their speciality – in 50 acres of land in Tenterden, Kent. The nursery also delivers fresh plants to thousands of customers across the UK, and over the last year they’ve seen record numbers of people buying from them.

Morris said the “first thing” any British gardener needs to do is work out how much time they can dedicate to their garden.

He continued: “Once you’ve worked out whether you’ve got 20 minutes a week or an hour a week, then you can work backwards and that will influence how you design your garden and how you lay it out.

“Take some time to think through and research a little bit and try and keep the plants and the species that you’re choosing to be ones that don’t have any specific needs as far as care, pruning and things like that are concerned.”

However, Morris said gardeners should also try and keep clear of certain plants if you are planning to have a low maintenance garden.

Steer clear of certain plants

Even if they seem like a good choice now, certain plants, like wisteria, could pose more of a problem further on down the line.

Morris explained: “To tip it the other way, an example of a plant that wouldn’t fit low maintenance gardening is a wisteria where you’ve got to prune it after it’s flowered and grown back to six buds.

“It needs to be in a particular situation in the sun after you’ve pruned it.

“Then in the autumn you’ve got to go from six buds to three buds to get the best flowering.

“It’s really not fitting the purpose so although they’re very popular, I would say don’t plant a wisteria and there’s many other plants like that which need specific care. Avoid them like the plague.”

Instead, Morris recommended choosing a clematis species that flowers at a similar time and only requires a “pony tail chop”.

The gardening expert said it’s a “far easier choice” is still nice to look at.

“There’s lots of alternatives to most types of plants,” he added.

Choose evergreens

If you want a neat yet low maintenance garden all year round, then you will want to choose plenty of evergreen plants.

Evergreens, which remain green throughout the year, tend to have neat, tidy foliage and don’t need particular care and attention.

Morris also said if you choose evergreens, you won’t have gaps in your beds at certain times of year.

He added: “You’re not going to be worrying about needing to plant more.

“They kind of do it for you.”

Choose the right size

Another tip from Morris is to choose plants that are the right size for your plot.

“That way you’re not chopping them back all the time and making work for yourself,” he said.

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Hedges

Planting hedges is a great way to add privacy and foliage to your low maintenance garden without having to give lots of care and attention to your new plants.

Morris said: “If you’ve got hedges or are planting hedges, choose one of a modest size, keep it a modest size and choose a species that has an easy-to-deal-with rate of growth.

“Then you will only need to trim it once a year.”

The gardening expert recommended yew or fuchsia over a species like privet.

Plant smaller

Morris said when you’re planting, plant smaller plants rather than bigger ones.

Gardeners can find themselves planting semi-mature plants which may look good but need more watering.

He explained: “You can have real gratification with planting semi-mature things and think ‘that’s the garden done’.

“But they need so much more watering and so much more care, and more staking to stop the wind from blowing them over.

“If you start with smaller ones – typical garden centre size – in two or three litre pots. It’s much quicker to establish and they need less watering going forward.”

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Plant shrubs, trees, perennials and conifers

The gardening expert also recommended not planting “tender-bedding” plants.

Plant that have a “short shelf life” will need taking out and something else putting in their place later on.

Morris added: “Always go with long-lived things. They will give you more bang for your buck in the garden.”

Don’t plant in containers or hanging baskets

“Avoid container gardening like the plague,” he continued.

“They need more watering – everyday when it’s hot.

“Put them in the ground and don’t have hanging baskets.

“Put your evergreen or your late flowering clematis up the wall instead.”

Plant recommendations for low maintenance gardening from Morris Hankinson:

Hedging plants

Choisya (Mexican Orange Blossom)

Morris said: “Great evergreen shrub or hedging – tidy evergreen foliage and attractive flowers, true low maintenance and lends itself to many different gardening styles.”

Evergreen Euonymus

Morris said: “Always look tidy and many have colourful foliage too. Suited as hedges, shrubs and even as ground cover plants and they like sun or shade.”

Griselinia littoralis (Mew Zealand Privet)

Morris said: “Lovely apple green foliage that catches the light and looks immaculate all year. Needs only one trim a year.”

Hardy Fuchsia

Morris said: “Once these hardy types get their feet down they truly can thrive on neglect….and still look beautiful with a long flowering season!”

Pittosporum

Morris said: “Evergreen foliage that your flower-arranging aunt will love you for.

“Little maintenance needed but looks great all year. Shrubs, hedging or even ground cover if you plant Tom Thumb or Golf Ball.”

Rugosa Roses

Morris said: “Fragrant flowers pretty much all summer. Very easy, very little maintenance needed.”

Symphoricarpos (Snowberry)

Morris said: “Will do well on the most inhospitable banks and shady areas.

“Has summer flowers loved by all kinds of pollinating insects, richly coloured berries, and needs pretty much zero maintenance.”

Thuja

Morris said: “Grows very much like Leylandii giving the same evergreen privacy but only needs one trim a year to keep it in shape.

“If you do let it get a bit out of hand, the plants can be cut into the old wood and will still regenerate.”

English Yew

Morris said: “The king of hedges is also quite slow-growing so you can have a classic English garden look with just one trim a year.

“Put it with Alchemilla, Anemone, Geranium, Acanthus etc below and get a low maintenance version of the romantic English garden.”

Garden plants/shrubs/ground cover

Alchemilla (Ladys Mantle)

Morris said: “One of the ultimate ground-covering, low maintenance plants which will survive perfectly happily without any effort.

“It self seeds itself without becoming invasive and is better if cut back which can be done with any machine from lawnmower to deadheading shears!”

Heuchera

Morris said: “More or less evergreen and available in a wide range of leaf colours from lime yellow through to almost black.

“Attractive flowers, look great all year, very little work required.”

Vinca (Periwinkle)

Morris said: “Evergreen carpeting plants that grow pretty much anywhere, large numbers of pretty flowers in spring and often intermittently through the season.

“Drought tolerant, if they need tidying up can be done in early summer with shears, a hedge trimmer, a strimmer or mower!”

Anemone

Morris said: “Very easy and very tough/drought resistant.

“Flowering later in the season when the garden can look a little short on colour, good for a little height in your ground-covering plants.”

Geranium ‘Rozanne’

Morris said: “New and much-improved award-winning, flowering all season with succession of cranesbill flowers.

“Always looks tidy, always in flower, low ground-covering growth. This grows in sun or a little shade – dead easy!”

Arbutus (Strawberry Tree)

Morris said: “Choose the smaller growing ‘Compacta’ variety for an easy evergreen shrub (or hedge).

“Attractive autumn flowers followed by strawberry red fruits that take a year to develop – so flowers and fruits at the same time!”

Indigofera Heterantha

Morris said: “Exotic and beautiful yet very easy and accommodating – just plant it somewhere sunny and well drained.

“In return, you have beautifully intricate foliage and a very long succession of flowers pretty much all summer.”

Lonicera Fragrantissima (Winter Honeysuckle)

Morris said: “Dead easy to grow, sun or shade, a long series of fragrant flowers all winter – nothing not to like with this little known gem!”

Prunus Incisa ‘Kojo-No-Mai’

Morris said: “Gorgeous little dwarf shrubby flowering cherry that lights up the garden each spring – a shrub that I truly can’t think of anything it would need!”

Euonymus Alatus

Morris said: “Stunning autumn colour from a shrub that is very easy to grow, once this one is established there is quite frankly nothing I can think of that it would need either!”

Mahonia Nitens Cabaret (Oregon Grape)

Morris said: “We love this new variety with an exciting flower colour.

“Evergreen and modest growth, drought and shade tolerant.”

Acanthus

Morris said: “Tough and very easy, puts up with a wide-range of sites from sun to partial shade.

“Nice architectural foliage, gorgeous flower spikes, evergreen in warmer winters, prolific so you don’t need many plants to cover an area.”

Ceratostigma Plumbaginoides

Morris said: “A great sun-loving ground-coverer that flowers late season when the garden needs a lift.

“Gorgeous blue flowers, red autumn leaf tints – exotic-looking but pretty much looks after itself!”

Cotoneaster

Morris said: “These are proper stalwarts of the ground cover world.

“They grow anywhere from full sun to full shade and are drought tolerant.

“Choose an evergreen low grower like Cotoneaster Dammmeri and you will get masses of tiny white flowers, colourful red berries with zero maintenance.”

Liriope

Morris said: “Great in difficult/dry shade, evergreen ground cover, late season flowering, immaculate foliage most of the year……and they are beautiful!”

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