Redefining “Low-Maintenance” Landscapes

by Genevieve on April 15, 2014

High-maintenance, unless you love butterflies!

In my landscape design practice, it is rare to find a client who does not ask for a low-maintenance garden. However, the way people define low-maintenance varies so wildly that the term has almost lost its meaning. While the generally accepted definition of a low maintenance plant would be something that you do not need to maintain more than once per year, you could still put together a planting plan based entirely on plants that fit this definition of low maintenance, and have it be a yard where you have to be outside fussing with something almost constantly. (I’ve written more about that here.)

In addition, even plants which fall under that definition vary in how much time and trouble they take. Large grasses like Miscanthus are commonly thought of as low-maintenance, yet each one needs to be trimmed almost to the ground each winter, which involves tying it up, using electric or handheld hedgers to cut it back, filling a quarter of a pickup truck with the detritus from just one grass, then raking up all the little bits that inevitably scatter into the surrounding mulch. Is that low-maintenance? If time is how we’re defining the term, I’d prefer planting a perfectly-sized shrub in that spot, since most shrubs would need only 5-15 minutes of gentle shaping once per year and can be ignored for some time once an appropriate form is established.

Yet maybe time isn’t the only factor in how we feel about maintenance, because the definition of low-maintenance seems to differ from person to person. Recently, on a private forum for garden professionals, we had a discussion about low-maintenance landscaping where some of these differences popped up.

Here are some of the definitions of low-maintenance these professionals personally espoused:

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Review of The 20-30 Something Garden Guide by Dee Nash

by Genevieve on February 16, 2014

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Gardening marketers are always getting their pants in a bunch over whether enough new people are picking up the torch and continuing gardening, and initiatives aimed at getting young people to garden abound. Of course, from my own experience I can say that gardening as a hobby evolves over time. As we age, we shouldn’t be too eager to foist our own idea of a good time on people who are simply in a different time of their lives. If you don’t own your own home, have disposable income, or have much spare time during the day while the sun is still shining, then the type of gardening you do will naturally look a little different during this phase of life – and the advice you’ll be interested in will be different as well.

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Stop! Don’t Prune That Grass (How to Prune Ornamental Grasses Right)

January 28, 2014 4 comments
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(Article originally appeared in Fine Gardening Magazine) Most of us know what to do with our big grasses that go dormant each winter: Grab a bungee cord, tie the grass up, and use an electric hedge trimmer to buzz the column of foliage to the ground. But what about those tricky grasses that are evergreen […]

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Gardening Trend Predictions for 2014

December 28, 2013 21 comments
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There are useful color trends, like this one above, and less “sticky” trends, like this year’s Radiant Orchid. Even a timeless activity like gardening is subject to the ebbs and flows of trends. Though I’m constantly reminded that there’s nothing really new in the world, a cleverly written book, new product, or a general societal […]

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Local Christmas Gifts for Humboldt County Gardeners

December 19, 2013 0 comments
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Hellebore photo courtesy of Skagit Gardens What’s that, my fellow Humboldtians? Time’s gotten away from you yet again, with no gifts purchased and only a short time until Christmas? Never fear, I’ve got you covered. I called up a variety of local shops to find out which gift they’d most recommend for the gardener on […]

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What I’ve Been Doing (When I Haven’t Been Here)

August 19, 2013 18 comments
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It’s been a busy summer with a lot of new adventures, and while I haven’t been blogging as much as I would like, if you’ve kept a sharp eye out you’ve probably seen me in some other publications. If you’ve been missing your North Coast Gardening fix, here are a few of my favorite articles […]

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Edible Landscaping for Industrial Settings: Tips and Best Plants

June 27, 2013 7 comments
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Last week, I talked about some of the benefits and drawbacks of edible landscaping in “public” spheres such as commercial/ business landscaping or in a multifamily residence such as an apartment complex. This week, I want to talk more about how to actually succeed with this. Though there are a number of settings in which […]

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Edible Landscaping for Industrial Settings: Benefits and Drawbacks

June 20, 2013 10 comments
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Does edible landscaping belong in the public sphere, which is to say in the landscapes owned by cities, businesses, and in multifamily housing like apartment buildings? It sounds like a great idea, and if asked, I think most people would give an unqualified and enthusiastic “yes”! However, there are a lot of considerations with edible […]

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Review of Kiss My Aster by Amanda Thomsen

June 13, 2013 27 comments
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Every so often, a book comes along which challenges the limits of the media and shows how much is still possible with old-fashioned paper and ink. Amanda Thomsen’s new book Kiss My Aster: A Graphic Guide to Creating a Fantastic Yard Totally Tailored to You, is just such a book.

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Cat Stuck in a Tree? Call These Tree-Climbing Heroes

June 6, 2013 9 comments
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Cat stuck in a tree? We all have a friendly mental picture in our minds of a firefighter rescuing a stranded cat from the topmost branches of a tree, but the reality is that most fire departments won’t even attempt to rescue a cat due to liability issues, and the concern that a call involving […]

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