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Less Effort Gardening

(Article by Alison Marsden of Gardening by Design -
Advice, coaching, design & teaching in West Kent & East Sussex)

A little know-how and planning can give you much more garden for much less effort; and the best part?  No-one will ever know you have a ‘less effort garden’ as it will look just as beautiful all year round as one that takes twice as long to maintain.  In fact because the effort is less, you are much more likely to succeed.  And we are not just talking about the time that a busy family can save, but also on physical effort for gardeners who are not a sprightly as they once were. By the way, I never use the term ‘low maintenance’ garden as this conjures up acres of wavy-pruned evergreen shrubs around retail outlet car parks.  You can do so much better than that!


You only need basic tools to start gardening but without them you will spend more time and effort.

  • Secateurs
  • Bigger loppers for pruning
  • Trowel & hand fork
  • Garden spade & fork for digging & planting
  • OR border spade & fork (a bit narrower and therefore lighter)

Use the largest tool suitable for the job – dig planting holes with a spade not a trowel.  If you have a huge lawn then you need a large mower.


With weeds prevention is much better than cure.  It avoids time-consuming hand weeding and the use of chemicals.

  • Cover bare soil to exclude light and prevent weed growth by Mulching
    • Landscape fabric (lets air & water through) can be disguised with gravel or chippings
    • Chipped bark or garden shreddings with or without landscape fabric
    • Well rotted garden compost or other organic matter, that also improves soil structure and nutrient content
  • Avoid bare soil by close permanent planting so there is no room for weeds!

Make it easy to identify & remove weeds. Sow vegetable seeds in straight rows or use patterns in ornamental beds so it is clear which seedlings are weeds.  Hoeing is quicker than pulling by hand.


Improve the soil condition & add organic matter to increase the water holding capacity of the soil and reduce water lost in free draining soil.

Mulch to reduce water lost through evaporation.

Avoid using a large number of containers – they dry out quickly in warm weather and are less suitable for automatic watering

Use plants that suit your conditions and do not need regular irrigation

Install porous pipe if you do need to irrigate especially in the veg garden; it’s more efficient than a sprinkler.

Plant maintenance

Use permanent planting rather than seasonal bedding in most of the garden.  Buy in a few bedding plants instead of growing from seeds or cuttings.

Plant close together and use shorter cultivars to reduce the need for staking

Choose slower growing hedging shrubs and ones that can be clipped with an electric or petrol hedge trimmer (large leaved shrubs like laurel are better cut by hand)

Avoid high maintenance plants & features: topiary, ponds & water features.

Plant flowering shrubs – you can have flowers all year round for the effort of an annual prune/tidy up.

Embrace informality (not chaos or neglect).  Allow plants to self seed and shrubs to spread a bit more.  Let areas of lawn grow longer, even turn lawn into meadow and mow it just once a year in summer.

Install lawn edging strip to prevent grass spreading into beds and the need to cut it back when you mow.

Happy Gardening


Article very kindly provided by Alison Marsden of Gardening by Design - providing gardeners in West Kent & East Sussex with coaching, advice and design ideas since 2004




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