Easy care Gardening!

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Gerry Daly’s tips on how to make your garden better — and easier to care for.
The first thing to understand is that gardening is not a battle, not a war on weeds, pests and diseases. Think of gardening as a collaboration between humans, plants and all the living creatures that use the garden. The wild birds, small mammals, insects and even slugs and snails all have a role to play. Slugs play a part in breaking down organic material. The trick, and the challenge for the gardener, is to understand the various roles and the gardener’s own role.

The gardener’s role is not to dominate nature, not to control and dictate everything that happens. Nature is going to win in the end anyway, so we might as well go along with nature and not fight against it. Every time we try to make a plant do something that it does not want to do naturally, it creates effort for us. Pruning, tying, staking, trimming, mowing, clipping and edging are all things that we impose on plants. That is not to say that such effort is not necessary, some of it probably is but it is safe to say too that some of it is not, and that is where we create unnecessary effort for ourselves.

A key point is to choose the right plant for the right place. Most plants have adapted for a particular set of conditions — the amount of sunshine, moisture, nutrients and space. If they are given more or less than their needs, plants tend to grow poorly and may suffer from pests and diseases. If a plant is planted in the right space, it will usually need little effort over the years.

Plants are not helpless — in fact, they are very competitive for the space in which they grow and the resources that are available to them. They are literally rooted in the ground and must survive or perish. Given a chance and a good start, most plants can compete very well with weeds. If we allow the natural competitive instincts of plants to be expressed we will find there is much less weeding to be done. Try to have good plants fill the ground space — then there will be little opportunity for weeds.

Easy care tips

Lawn management
Reduce the lawn area by extending surrounding borders and by removing unnecessary obstacles such as small beds and specimen shrubs. Set up a slightly sunken mowing strip or bricks or paving along the edge of borders to reduce the trimming of the lawn edges. Grow the lawn as a wild flower area, giving no fertilizer or weedkiller, and mowing much less often. Use a mulch mower and a mower well capable of doing the job, which makes it much faster. Replace part of the lawn with paving or gravel.

Trees and shrubs
Of any garden plant, trees need the least effort, followed by garden shrubs. Trees and shrubs are able to outgrow other plants. Trees trap most of the sunlight and rain before it reaches the ground, so they are able to compete with any other plant type. In a large garden, the more trees that are planted to make garden woodland, the less effort there is, while the garden looks better. Shrubs can be used in the same role in smaller gardens to fill space and make maintenance easier.

Easy perennial flowers
There are many different kinds of perennial flowers. Some are very easy to look after, such as red-hot poker, geranium, pampas grass, bergenia and phlox, and need almost no effort, while some kinds need more regular attention, such as staking, dividing and slug protection. Some plants, such as lupins, Peruvian lily and delphiniums, tend to create more effort to keep them right. By choosing the easy-care kinds and removing the more intensively worked ones, a flower border can be made easier to care for.

Flower beds and borders
Traditional formal flower beds are still popular but are now less seen, simply because they create a lot of extra effort. Flower beds with spring bedding followed by summer bedding have to be planted up twice a year and it is much easier to plant up these areas as mixed borders with shrubs, perhaps a tree, and some easy-care perennials. A mixed border is the closest arrangement to natural habitat and when there are two layers of foliage, such as a tree or tall shrub under-planted, the amount of light and moisture reaching weeds is greatly reduced.

Fruit and vegetables
While all kinds of fruit and vegetables require effort to grow, this can be reduced. Devote only a small space, even just one square metre, to vegetables, fruit or herbs. Do not be tempted to sow seed more than the household needs. Some kinds of fruit are relatively easy to grow, especially strawberries, raspberries and apples. Easy vegetables include French beans, lettuce, rocket, radish, white turnips, courgettes, beetroot, peas and broad beans. Herbs can be grown easily in a small area close to the house. Raised beds generally need more watering.

Hedges
A hedge needs to be clipped at least once a year, perhaps more, and the work involved can be very considerable, especially if it is a fast-growing hedge than needs frequent clipping, or if a hedge has grown too all and too wide to reach comfortably when clipping. It might be possible to reduce the height of the hedge to save a lot of time and effort. Some hedges are not necessary, such as those planted along boundary walls. A wall is a perfectly good boundary as is a hedge but the two side by side might be a waste of effort.

Pots and containers
By all means, have some flowers in pots and hanging baskets, but be aware of their watering needs. Plant up a smaller number of well-placed, large pots as these are less likely to dry out. Line porous pots with polythene to prevent transpiration. Small irrigation kits are available and these can take all the effort out of watering baskets. Do not over-water at the outset as plants become dependent on the water supplied and are more likely to wilt later on.

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