Author and gardener Dan Cooper was up-front with members and guests at this week's meeting of the Innisfil Garden Club.
“A low-maintenance garden doesn’t exist,” he said, unless you hire a small army of gardeners “or use plastic plants.”
Every garden takes work.
That said, Cooper provided his best tips for reducing the workload, and ensuring there will be more time to smell the roses.
His number one tip?
Choose “easy-care, low-maintenance plants.” Plants that don’t require pruning, or dividing every three or four years. Plants that are resistant to drought, and heat, and that don’t require fertilizer. Plants that aren’t prone to mildew, fungal attack and insect pests.
Sure, Cooper said, you can pick the slugs off the leaves, wash foliage with soapy water, or spray with a mix of “one-part whole milk and ten-parts water” – but why? “It’s messy, it looks like heck on the leaves, and I’d rather be swinging in the hammock,” he said.
Instead, look for new slug-resistant varieties of plants like Hosta elegans, with its thick textured leaves, and Brunnera (Bugloss) that naturally keep pests away without any intervention on the part of the gardener.
Instead of planting Irises, which need dividing, why not plant Rhododendron, which provides the same pop of colour, and doesn’t?
Rather than shrubs that need to be pruned, why not look for something like Fothergilli gardenii, the dwarf bottlebrush? It has a natural ball shape, about a metre around, “and you don’t have to do any pruning.”
And instead of spending hours dead-heading (removing the finished blooms) off a Shasta daisy to keep it flowering, why not plant Russian sage, which flowers all summer without dead-heading and is a bee-magnet, or purple coneflower, and “leave the seed heads on for the birds, and for winter interest?”
Cooper recommended looking for plants that have longer blooming periods, or interesting foliage. “Flowers are fleeting, foliage is forever,” he stressed, noting that will naturalize without being invasive.
Start with good soil, and you won’t have to fertilize, he said. Water deeply only once a week, and the plants will send down deeper roots, making them more drought resistant.
And never, “never water at night. You’re just inviting fungus and mildew and slugs,” he said.
Finally, don’t strive for perfection.
“It’s actually OK to have a few weeds. Don’t stress yourself trying to find perfection in the garden. That’s not how you get to the hammock,” Cooper advised, sharing the “15 pace rule. Step back 15 paces from your garden. If you can’t see the weed, you ignore it.”
Putting down a good layer of mulch “is critical for a low-maintenance garden,” he said.
Mulch cools the roots, conserves water, and makes it easier to weed. Five to 8 centimetres of cedar mulch “cuts water needs by 70 percent. That’s a huge saving in money, in water, and in time.”
Cooper is the co-author of Gardening from a Hammock, written with Ellen Novad. “Can you garden from a hammock? No, of course not, but it makes a great title for a book,” he said.
Planting a low-maintenance garden will give you more time to enjoy the season.
Coming up at the Innisfil Garden Club: On May 25, the Club holds its annual Plant, Tailgate and Bake Sale and fundraising barbecue at the South Innisfil Arboretum, Shoreacres Drive and 20 Sideroad in Gilford. From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. drop by for a selection of plants for the garden, home-baking, interesting vendors, and lunch!
The next meeting of the Garden Club is Monday, June 10 at the Churchill Community Centre, 7:30 p.m. Guest speaker Julia Dimakos, The Gardening Girl blogger, will talk about “After the Harvest – What’s Next?” All welcome. The Innisfil Garden Club celebrates its 40th Anniversary in June.