If you want more time to enjoy your garden, there’s plenty you can do to reduce the maintenance work.
Get your soil in good condition before planting, by digging in bulky organic matter such as compost, well-rotted manure or leaf mould. This improves soil fertility and moisture retention.
Mulch flower beds and borders, and vegetable and fruit areas too. This hugely reduces the time you need to spend watering, weeding and generally titivating your plants. Make sure the soil is moist before you apply the mulch, to help it retain moisture during dry conditions. Remove big or deep-rooted weeds such as dandelions before you mulch; once in place the mulch will help prevent smaller and annual weeds from appearing.
Containers make for a lot more work than flowerbeds, as plants in a container are totally dependent on you for food and water. Grow as much as you can in the soil and choose pots and planters that are as big as possible and incorporate controlled-release fertiliser and moisture-retaining granules at planting time.
Grow lots of bulbs; they are great labour-saving plants, as once planted they reappear every year with little need for care. In the current warmer climate even those plants like dahlias, gladioli and tulips – which traditionally were lifted and replanted each year – often seem able to withstand the winter without this effort.
Grow lots of relatively short herbaceous perennials i.e. plants that reappear every spring and die back late in the season, as they are more low-effort than annuals, which need planting and removing every year. Varieties that are relatively short and sturdy are less likely to flop and should not require support.
If plants do need staking or supporting, the quickest, easiest way to do this is to drive a few 45-60cm twiggy sticks, taken when you’ve had to cut back shrubs or trees, into the soil around the base of the plant. Twiggy sticks are unobtrusive and attractive enough to be left in place all year round, with no need for you to keep replacing them.
Shrubs are great plants, as once established they need little effort and often provide colour and interest for more than one season. If you want to minimise your input even further, go for shrubs such as Chaenomeles, rhododendrons and azaleas, deciduous cotoneasters and Magnolia stellate, which need little, if any, pruning.
Grow ground cover plants – either herbaceous perennials or low-growing shrubby plants. These don’t need a lot of maintenance and will soon cover bare soil, meaning less weeding will be needed. Dense groundcover reduces evaporation from the soil and so also makes for less watering time. Plants such as Cistus x hybridus, lavenders and rosemaries work well on a dry site. Other good choices include hypericum, Euonymus fortune and Cotoneaster dammeri.