Tag Archives: low maintenance plants

Rock and Gravel Garden Feature

Sloping seaside gardens provide the opportunity to include a rock and gravel garden feature.   This cottage garden by the sea in Ventry, Kerry, Ireland, includes species plants which are close cousins to those that occur naturally.   The rocks are mainly local sandstone with a few with white quartz.

Slope for Rock and Gravel Garden

The previous garden had an irregular sloping lawn. The garden was re-landscaped to have a gently sloping lawn and a steeper but even slope for the rock and gravel garden feature.   We took care to arrange the rocks in a natural way and use them to retain pea shingle.   Moisture retention is crucial with drying salt winds and sandy soil . The pea shingle is therefore laid over geotextile to provide a mulch and weed barrier for low maintenance.

Rock and Gravel Garden

Local rocks arranged with pea shingle and marine plants

Plants for Seaside Rock and Gravel Garden

We chose Eryngium planum (tall blue sea-holly), silene schafta ( pink sea campion), armeria maritima ( sea thrift), different thymes, lavender and stipa tenuissima as the main plants.   It gives a lively and natural feel to the rock and gravel feature. They are all salt tolerant and low maintenance.

Lavender, grasses and sea holly

Lavender sets off the rock garden below.

Colourful Planting-Front Garden

Using a colourful planting design makes for a welcoming front garden that gives pleasure every time someone walks to the front door! Here in Hampstead Garden Suburb we abandoned the less attractive main area of lawn and what a difference it’s made!

Hampstead Garden Suburb Front Garden

The garden looks much better with less lawn

Colourful planting links the two sides of the front garden

Uninteresting front lawn

The uninteresting front lawn – as was.

The new planted bed is surrounded by a narrow gravel path. This sets off the colourful planting and makes access for maintenance very easy.   The lawn to the other side of the path has been retained and has a small planting bed to echo the larger one.




Surprisingly, there is less maintenance in looking after the plants than a lawn which needs cutting every week as well as feeding and weeding to look good.  The plants just need the spent flower heads removed to prolong the colourful planting. Weeds are suppressed as the planting takes over.



Evergreens for year round presence

Ferns, hebe rakaiensis, Lavandula Dutch Group   (silvery foliage, long very fragrant flowers) and Heuchera ‘Tapestry’  (marbled leaves, pale pink foamy flowers)  provide year round interest in the front garden.

Hebe and lavender with colourful planting

Hebe and lavender provide evergreen structure.






Lilacs, purples and pinks

Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ ( silver leaf and tall lilac spires) ,  Veronicastrum  sibiricum (tall with fingers of lilac spires), Rosa bonica (soft pink clusters all summer), Verbena bonariensis (tiny purple flowers on airy stems) provide softness at different heights.  And its great for honey bees!

Veronicastrum sibericum attracting the bees,

Tall veronicastrum buzzing with bees









Magenta Penstemmon

Penstemmon ‘Garnet’ has beautiful magenta foxglove-like flowers.  The blooms appear over several months so give colourful planting over a long period.

Magenta penstemmons and white hydrangea

Garnet penstemmons give vibrant colour









White Hydrangeas

The mops of white hydrangeas are elegant and stunning in their own right.  White Geranium sanguineum and Gaura lindheimeri add further whiteness to provide contrast in the planting design.

New colourful planting

Why keep a lawn in the front garden when you could have this colourful planting instead?

Winter Flowers

Winter flowers are often spectacular, unusual or scented to lure the few pollinating insects that are around.  I like to see them near my house or along a path where they give a great boost on a winter’s day.  Look out for lovely winter flowers in parks and give them a sniff, you’ll be surprised how gorgeous some of them smell.  Here are a few winter charmers you may enjoy and the good news is they are all low maintenance.

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

Yellow scented racemes of  Mahonia x media 'Charity'

Yellow, scented racemes of Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

Delightful crowns of scented yellow flowers appear in late autumn and persist through winter.  The flowers are tiny on long racemes at the top of the architectural evergreen spiny foliage.  I have seen bees visiting mine.  It likes a shady spot.




Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’

Posies of white flowers emerging from pink buds of Viburnum tinus 'Eve Price'

White flowers sprays emerging from pink buds of Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’

White posies of sweetly scented flowers emerge from pink buds to decorate this dark-leaved evergreen shrub over a long period in winter.  Blue-black berries follow-on.  It makes a large shrub in sun or part shade and can be pruned to make a hedge or clipped ball.




Camellia x williamsii  ‘Golden Spangles’

Deep pink single flowers on Camellia x williamsii 'Golden Spangles'

Deep pink single flowers on variegated Camellia x williamsii ‘Golden Spangles’

This is a lovely upright shrub with golden markings in the centre of glossy deep green leaves.  The buds form early and the rich pink single flowers can last from late January to early April.  Unlike some camellias, it is not ‘blousy’ and its variegated foliage is interesting all year.  Put in a shady place with slightly acid soil but not east facing as frost and morning sun can damage the blooms.



Rhododendron ‘ Christmas Cheer’

Heads of soft pink flowers on Christmas Rhododendron

Heads of soft pink flowers on Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’

These gorgeous soft pink heads of flowers are just what we need soon after Christmas.  Its such an easy compact plant for slightly acid soil and dappled shade. It works well with Camellias and Acers.





Cyclamen coum

Delightful pink flowers of Cyclamen coum

Silver marked leaves and pink flowers of Cyclamen coum

Dear little pink or white flowers arise in profusion from tubers from late winter.  The leaves are dark green and rounded and often marked with a silvery pattern.  Plant them in dry shady borders  or under trees.

Grasses: Light and Motion

Seed Heads of Blue Oat Grass

Grasses backlit with the morning sun and swaying gently in the breeze beautifully link herbaceous plants. As the quality of light changes from warm yellow to the white light of midday to the glow of early evening, flowers and seed heads are illuminated in interesting ways and provide an ever-changing live painting in our gardens.

The motion of the grasses is gentle and relaxing and draws us into the ‘painting’ to examine a lovely flower.

Favourite Grasses

Helictotrichon sempervirens

Helictotrichon sempervirens

Morning light on Blue Oat Grass

There are so many grasses to choose from.  Some of my favourites are Blue Oat Grass ( Helictotrichon sempervirens) – evergreen with blue blades and tall racemes of flowers and blonde seedheads, Silver Grass – ( Miscanthus sinensis) – fountains with panicle type florets, Tufted Hair Grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) bright green young grass with airy golden panicles and the tall, erect Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora).   


Spires of lavender, purple wallflowers, Russian sage are great companions.  Claret red Knautia macedonica and Cirsium rivulare work very well as do the flat heads of brightly coloured  varieties of Achillea.

A striking red coneflower, Echinacea purpurea ‘ Hot Summer’ shown below combines beautifully with the grasses.

Echinacea purpurea and grasses

Red Coneflower with Silver Grass and Blue Oat Grass

Contemporary grass planting as well as being very attractive has a long season with minimal maintenance.  Leave the seed heads through the winter and then comb the dead grass from evergreens or cutback perennial grasses in February for the new season’s growth. 




 Miscanthus sinensis ‘Emmanuel Lepage’

Silver Grass - Miscanthus sinensis 'Emmanuel Lepage'

Fountain of Silver Grass – Miscanthus sinensis ‘Emmanuel Lepage’


Miscanthus sinensis 'Emmanuel Lepage'

New red flower panicles emerging from Silver Grass

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Emmanuel Lepage’ is rather lovely and shown here developing its fountain shape in early July with its first red floret emerging.




The array of shapes and the colour changes of the grasses through the season provide dramatic effects and wonderful combinations with flowering perennials. 

Planting Inspiration

Geranium, Amsonia and Feather Reed Grass

Beautiful planting with grasses in Piet Oudolf’s garden

Deschampsia cespitosa

New growth of Deschampsia cespitosa in Piet Oudolf’s garden

Several famous designers and planters use grasses inventively and provide inspiration for our gardens.  Piet Oudolf has had a long association with contemporary naturalistic planting and has developed striking combinations.



My pictures here shows Geranium, Amsonia and Feather Reed Grass with other perennials in his garden in late spring and new bright green growth of Tufted Hair Grass.  Later in the year the colours will be golden and the seedheads will remain for winter.

The beauty of ferns

Plants for shade and damp

These ferns make excellent low maintenance plants.

Matteuccia struthiopteris

Emerging Ostrich FernsThe beauty of ferns such as these deciduous ferns Matteuccia struthiopteris is evident from late April, when they emerge to unfurl their bright green fronds. By June they look magnificent. Struthiopteris means ‘like an ostrich wing’ and the common name is the Ostrich or the Shuttlecock fern. They like shade and damp and here blue Iris siberica is a wonderful companion.

They spread to make an attractive colony but can be easily kept in check by removing surplus crowns. Both plants have a strong architectural presence and work well in this shady North London garden.

Bright green ostrich ferns

Red Geums provide a cheerful  contrast and the early yellow  day lilies can be see alongside the ferns.  All these plants enjoy our wet weather but appreciate the sun from time to time.

This border is very low maintenance.  The ferns die back in autumn and can be left brown over winter and tidied up as the new fronds appear. Seedheads on the Iris siberica can be left also.

The green strappy leaves of the day lillies, as well as having a good presence, die away and their stems can be left or cut back.