Can a garden truly be a garden and still be low maintenance? Depends upon your notion of what gardening is says award-winning gardener Kate Gould.

Ham & High: Buxus is a low-maintenance garden stapleBuxus is a low-maintenance garden staple (Image: Archant)

I have a garden at my office which is both planted in the ground and in large stand alone containers. There are trees and shrubs, topiary and bamboo and in order to cut down my time when at work – I am at my busiest during the summer months – I have a very simple off the tap irrigation system to reduce day to day care. The garden is lush and green but, I have to confess, I do very little to it save for a burst of cutting, feeding and mulching in the spring and autumn, which takes only a few hours.

My major timekeeper is sweeping which cannot really be called gardening but in order for the garden to look nice it has to be tidy, so I sweep the garden on average twice a week from spring to autumn. If I didn’t have bamboo which seems to belligerently drop its leaves all year round, particularly in the summer and in copious quantities, I suspect I could get away with idly pushing a brush round once a week or even once every 10 days which is pretty low key on the upkeep front.

The key to low maintenance is choosing your plants wisely. Hard landscaping outside will always need to be swept and cleaned to look good, but you can help yourself along with a wise plant choice.

Evergreens are ideal because they have a limited leaf drop (with the exception of Bamboo). Topiary in the form of Buxus or Taxus is not in the least bit difficult to care for and just because it is shaped doesn’t mean that you will be a slave to your shears. Once, or at worst two trims, a year is all that is required, which considering this might take only a few hours means that you still have at least 363 full days of the year when you are not doing this. If even this is too much then it is possible to purchase some amazing artificial Buxus which needs no care save maybe a quick hose down once a year. These are especially good for balconies and roof terraces where watering might be difficult and perhaps they cannot be viewed quite so close up.

Containers with glazed surfaces seem to pick up less dirt and look smarter when left for longer than those with matt finishes or alternatively opt for planters with a shabby chic appeal that look better when not quite so pristine.

If you like a lot of colour in the garden then this does take care but pots with bulbs for a spring show add impact at not a lot of expense and short of watering late in the spring as the weather warms up, they need little human intervention at all.

It is always wise to protect the pots, especially those with tulips, with chicken wire as squirrels haven’t read the manual on low maintenance gardening and can make a terrible mess to be cleaned up as they dig for freshly planted bulbs.

As with most gardening a less is more approach can be applied to a low maintenance scheme. Do something big and bold well and care for that rather than trying to spread yourself too thin.

Lawns take time to keep manicured so don’t be too hard on yourself if there are a few daisies that outwit you.

Gravel is an absolute monster to keep clean so keep the planting in and around it relaxed but plant it with species that don’t self seed as it is a perfect germination bed for verbena, grasses and many of the Allium family. Free plants are always nice but not in their thousands – verbena in particular are very generous indeed.

In essence all gardens need care both in terms of their hard landscaping elements as well as their plants. Finding a balance to suit you is the key.

It is really not the end of the world if there are a few leaves on the floor and the dahlia need dead heading – gardening should be a pleasure not a chore so strike when the mood takes you and you will find the experience far more enjoyable.

Kate Gould is an award winning garden designer with more than a decade’s hands-on experience transforming gardens of all sizes and a regular exhibitor at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show where she has been awarded three gold medals.