When asked to design ‘low maintenance’ gardens we take the soft landscape elements of a garden into careful consideration. Although often perceived as more maintenance, planting choices and the way we use them can in fact contribute to a 'low maintenance' garden.

Planting Design

Of all the features in the garden that can have the most dramatic effect on maintenance requirements, plants are right up there at the top of the list.  Knowledge of a plants’ habit, height and spread and propagation characteristics is essential to creating a garden that is ‘low maintenance’.  Take planting density – if a plant is a prolific spreader, we don’t waste a clients’ money at the plant supply and planting stage by over-planting. Too many plants mean lifting and dividing or constantly cutting back trying to keep control in the years to come.

low maintenance Garden Design Essex
Correct planting density for eventual spread. Source: Turning Leaf Garden Designs


A plants’ natural habit is very important. If it wants to be vigorous, open, and lax in form, if the space isn’t there or some other shape is required, it will be hard work to keep it to the original design intent. Where simple bold shapes work best for design layouts, simple bold planting design also drives down maintenance – mass planting of a few well-chosen species makes a statement and is easy to manage. Planting one or two specimen plants amongst mass planting can then create exciting, eye-catching focal points.


Tree selection is important and nowhere more so than in the small garden.  Planting design will consider whether fleshy fruit is a characteristic of the plant as fruit-fall on hard surfaces is a big no-no, as are trees that ultimately will grow too large. For some of our smallest gardens a large shrub that can easily be maintained to a tree-like form is an excellent alternative and can often contribute a scented floral display that a small garden tree might lack. Every plant selected for a small garden has to work hard in its contribution to the overall space. See our article on Trees for Small Gardens for more useful information.

low maintenance Garden Design Essex
Amelanchier – the perfect choice for a small garden tree. Source: RHS


low maintenance Garden Design Essex
and the perfect tree for birds and autumn colour. Sources: Deepdale Trees and Mail Order Trees



Lawn maintenance is a regular requirement – no escaping it! But a lawn can be cut fortnightly instead of weekly if the edges are cut weekly and the clippings picked up. There are very few situations where we would suggest artificial grass (although the choice is now wide), as they contribute nothing to nature or the environment, but every once in a while artificial grass is a valid choice – just not very often!

Use of mulch/membrane

Until plants have spread and covered the ground, hand weeding (after mowing) will be the next most labour-intensive task. This can be alleviated by the use of mulch – normally bark chip or semi-composted bark chip spread to a depth of approximately 75mm following planting. Using a porous geotextile membrane over the soil prior to planting (crosses cut into the membrane and planting holes dug under it) is a technique that can be deployed in some areas although careful consideration needs to be given to the plant selection as it is not suitable where plants spread and multiply within the ground. 

Finally, if you would rather not do maintenance at all, let the experts at Turning Leaf take the strain! We can come every week, seasonally, or make a one-off annual or renovation visit to restore order and leave you with something easy to take forward over the coming year.

 - Written by Karolyn Mowll Director - BSc(Hons), MSGD, Cert Arb L4(ABC)

If you would like help realising the full potential of your garden we provide a full range of services: ‘Design, Build, Maintain’ so don’t hesitate to contact us! Alternatively for more professional advice on garden maintenance and design tips keep following our blog.

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