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LOW MAINTENANCE GARDENING Gardens are becoming smaller and everybody seems to be short of time these days, but that does not mean that you cannot have a garden. The garden needs to be designed to suit the individual. ‘Low maintenance’ is a popular term these days and can be interpreted to suit all situations. Basically we are talking about having as little work to do as possible.  The two most time consuming jobs are cutting back/pruning and weeding.  To achieve this needs planning and research, because the choice of plants is vital. You need to select plants that have neat growth habits and are not necessarily going to grow too quickly and so can easily be kept under control. This will include a large proportion of evergreen shrubs and conifers to provide good shapes and structures, as well as plenty of colours.  Herbaceous perennials need cutting down every season and splitting and dividing as they get larger.  This means you need to be very careful to pick species that need less dividing. The other very important aspect of low maintenance is groundcover.  To avoid having weeding to do you will need to cover the ground to prevent light reaching the soil which will encourage weeds to grow. The best way to do this is with groundcover plants.  Choose species which provide a thick low mat and preferably are evergreen. Not all groundcover plants are vigorous so you don’t need to worry about space.  If space is limited then many alpines make excellent groundcover.  To fill in spaces while you are waiting for plants to establish, use mulch, either bark, mineralised wheat straw (Strulch) or gravel.  You need to apply at the recommended depth because this should guarantee blocking out the light. Try to avoid using black membrane because although it does exactly what it is supposed to do, it is not good for soil quality and you can end up with stagnant, sterile soil which in turn is not good for plants. If this is all still too much there are of course always pots and containers which can be filled with a wide variety of plants not just bedding.  The secret with pots, is always use the biggest you have space for because your plants will grow better, last longer before they need repotting and obviously you will be able to grow bigger plants, including shrubs and climbers. So in essence we can all garden despite limits on time or physical ability. Make the most of your garden at this wonderful time of year. Phil Dunnett