Gardens for Non-Gardeners

The Non-Gardener’s Garden

There is, as has already been stated, no particular moral goodness in gardening. Good gardeners may be nicer (so other gardeners are given to think) than other people, but they are not necessarily better. Yet there is, whether we like it or not, something of a stigma attached to nettles round the door and a patch of mud instead of a lawn.

This is particularly easily attached in areas of close housing; comparison being proverbially odious.

non-gardener's garden plantsIt can presumably be assumed that the non-gardener, in fact, is a perfectly reasonable being who prefers to spend what spare time he has on other pursuits. He may sail, or play sport or lay about with the Sunday papers. He will probably also prefer to have a tidy, agreeable garden around his house (knowing, too, in his more practical moments, that this is not unrelated to its value should he decide finally to move). The concern, therefore, of this post, is with the reduction of personal effort. A conventional method is to employ what is euphemistically known as a jobbing gardener. Yet while not wishing to exploit anyone offering his services in this way, it should be accepted that the wages paid out are often to people, no doubt worthy enough, who know less about the subject than the non-gardener himself. Local help with grass mowing or wood chopping is fine, but unqualified strangers should be kept away from living plants.

It has already been suggested within this website, that the two questions ‘What have I got?’ and ‘What do I want?’ should be answered. The non-gardener often wants some of the things that quite keen gardeners want — a warm sunny terrace with the privacy and protection plants can give. But he also stipulates that little time is available for the cultivation side of things. However, he will accept that, if a garden is to exist at all, some effort, albeit small, is necessary. He should, therefore, try to decide which of the perennial chores are least acceptable or most time-consuming. Some non-gardeners are perfectly happy striding behind a lawn mower and thinking deep thoughts the while: others will consider it the most foolish occupation.

If the garden area is small there is little problem on that score. It will be wise to extend the terrace area, though not to the point that the garden ends up as a concrete wilderness. The more paving there is, the more important is the associated planting to soften and humanise the hard surface. Important, too, is to vary the hard surfacing so that its textures, picking up and throwing back light, relieve visual boredom which a single material can provoke. Such materials are discussed later — cobbles and sets where walking is not necessary, bricks to edge or frame areas of rolled gravel or paving, diversity of shapes in paving, variation in colour (but used with great care). Loose gravel in contained areas and shapes is of great value; texture is good, it is labour-saving yet permitting occasional plants to emerge from it. Gravel up to their necks prevents most weed development.


Labour-saving Gardening

Labour-saving planting for the non-gardener relates, paradoxically, to that of the enthusiastic plantsman. Whereas the latter is avid to use every inch of his soil, the former is equally keen to cover his and get it out of sight. In general, the effects may not be far different.

In the context of labour saving the right plant species are vital and this is, of course, where the essential disparity begins. Here plants are wanted which, ideally, quickly reach their allotted span and having done so stay that size and look good for years to come. Sadly this is not a frequent phenomenon; quick-growing trees are likely to keep at it — hence the inadvisability of willows and poplars and free growing Leyland cypress in small gardens — while quick-growing shrubs are often short lived. Nonetheless it is in the context of woody plants that most of the interest will come.

The effect to be aimed at is of areas of inanimate material for access or use giving way to areas of evergreen ground-hugging plants from which shrubs and trees emerge. Thus ivy in green or variegated forms — the latter help to lighten a dark understorey of leaves — makes marvellous ground cover. Height is given by groups of shrubs on a 60 per cent to 40 per cent evergreen to deciduous ratio. These can be chosen to give particular interest at times when the garden is likely to be most in use.

The reason why ground-cover plants are successful at keeping down weeds is obviously the thickness and speed of growth. It will be necessary therefore to cut back or thin these out should they start to clamber up into the shrubs. Lamiastrum, a lovely variegated dead-nettle, is particularly aggressive and will just flow over small shrubs making them look like children’s toys left under an eiderdown. Less strong ground cover will permit daffodils to be underplanted and give spring interest and Spanish bluebells can follow on.

As it is frequent cultivation of ground which is anathema, annual bedding plants are definitely to be avoided, unless it is a tub by the front door or on the terrace. Many herbaceous perennials, too, need lifting and dividing every two or three years. Some, however, can coexist with ground cover and shrubs very happily for years. Peonies are an excellent example. Their leaves are good from the time they unfold in early spring to September when they often colour up well. The flowers — singles, doubles or anemone centred — are just lovely.


Fruit and vegetables

These are best left out of the discussion except to commend those which get on with whatever they produce without the need for spraying, pruning and other horticultural fuss. A fine possibility is the mulberry – this is a splendid specimen tree for all but the smallest gardens because of its late leafing; fruit will not come for ten or more years but it is well worth waiting for: splendid for jam, sorbets, freezing or just eating — greedily and very ripe. Other good trouble-free trees for conserves are quince and ornamental crab apples such as ‘John Downie’ or ‘Dartmouth’.

The stone fruits, too, plums, gages, damsons or a peach in a warm back garden are worthwhile (avoid the front garden for anything which will attract boys and birds). They flower beautifully in spring and in some years will produce a good crop. If only a single tree is to be planted consult a list for self-fertile varieties.

The easiest vegetables are the long-lived perennials such as rhubarb or Jerusalem artichokes. Even an asparagus plot need not be much bother if worked with a herbicide regime.


Country Gardens

For non-gardeners, a country garden offers similar problems and more besides. Especially as so often it is a weekend retreat, meant for rest rather than two days of toil. Near to the house, where hard surfacing is both required and looks appropriate, the earlier part of this section is valid. Where there are areas of grass or orchard more thoughts are needed. Accepting that formal lawn maintenance is just not on, it is seldom that no heed can be taken of it at all. A reasonable modus vivendi is to aim at a cut once or twice a year with a motorised scythe for the main areas. Mid to late June is suitable for the first and this gives time for naturalised bulbs to go down for their summer rest and for the exquisite cow parsley to have flowered. If, however, further wild plants of interest exist, that cut may have to be delayed. The hay will need to be raked off. A second cut may be necessary in areas of high rainfall as late as October if a bulb-inhibiting tangle is not to develop by next spring.

Such areas can be of very great beauty. If it is desirable to bring them into the garden scene, because of nearness to the house, they should be framed in a band of formally mown grass. This need only be of one or two mower’s widths. Similarly, if views are obtained into the country a mown swathe 1.2 to 2m (5 to 6ft) in width should take the eye and potentially the walker into it. This makes clear the necessary movement of house, terrace, informal garden and country to develop with apparent naturalness. That which appears the most natural is often the product of the most careful artifice.


10. May 2011 by admin
Categories: Gardening Ideas, Non-Gardeners Garden, Types of Gardens | Tags: , | Comments Off on Gardens for Non-Gardeners


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