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Ask someone to picture the absolutely quintessential cottage and they’ll almost certainly conjure up images of a charming rustic property in the midst of a beautiful garden that’s abuzz with wildlife and blooming flowers.
It’s only natural that cottages with a green space will always be more popular when it comes to letting out holiday homes. Of course, the flipside of this for owners is the additional worry of an overly demanding garden to deal with during guest changeover windows when time can already be rather tight.
The solution? Create a low-maintenance garden, so you’ve more time to step back, reap all the botanical benefits and concentrate on more important things!
Holiday cottages come in all sorts of shapes and sizes – so can their gardens. Don’t think that you need swathes of lawn and borders bursting with exotic blooms to have an attractive outdoor space. Even a small, flagged backyard can be transformed into an inviting oasis your guests will fall in love with.
Whether you’ve grass aplenty or space is tight, our tips for creating a stunning, low-maintenance garden are sure to help your bookings blossom.
A luscious and inviting lawn adds instant charm to a property and is a lovely area for your guests to enjoy warm, summer evenings. However, a properly cared for lawn is also one of the most time-consuming aspects of any garden because of the necessity to mow it so regularly.
A large or unevenly shaped lawn can take an age to trim, so it’s worth considering your options. Making it smaller, getting rid of difficult to reach, out of the way areas, and rounding off the edges can all help.
If you don’t have one already, laying down a flagged stone patio in a portion of your garden is a really worthwhile
investment. It means devoting less time to mowing and is a perfect for some alfresco dining in the sunshine. A patio is also ideal for creating a low-maintenance, high-impact space filled with potted plots (discussed more later on).
Decking is another option for downsizing your lawn, but do exercise caution here: although it can look very smart, the wood will need treating annually in order to stay in good condition, which can prove to be a very time-consuming obligation.
With regards to the grass-covered portion of your garden, the addition of a decorative mowing strip consisting of bricks or timber around the perimeter can be a life-saver. It’ll stop you having to worry about fiddling with your perimeter and missing spots of grass, and will instead allow you to mow up to the edges whilst giving your garden a neat, tidy look.
To keep your grass in top condition, think about raising the cutting height on your lawnmower so that grass is no shorter than an inch or so. True, this can mean shorter periods of time between mowing, but it can help prevent your lawn getting mossy and succumbing to drought problems, so there’s more long-term gain to be had overall.
In shadier sections, wood chippings can be a great lawn replacement since grass can sometimes struggle here; not to mention chippings can keep weeds down, and they smell really fresh and pleasant too.
Many cottages are surrounded by especially large gardens. Even if you have plenty of time to spare, mowing these can be daunting.
Instead, why not take the advice of the Royal Horticultural Society and let nature take the reins a little, by allowing some of your more demanding expanses of lawn to become an enchanting wildflower meadow?
Once you’ve done a little preparation, they will positively thrive being left to their own devices for most of the year.
To get started, it’s a good idea to remove three or more inches of topsoil, as meadows don’t do very well in the rich soil usually found in many gardens. Following this, get rid of any weeds and turn the earth so it’s nice and fine for sowing.
Afterwards, oversow the area with a wildflower seed mix for dreamy dashes of colour. Just make sure the mix contains perennial wildflowers rather than annuals, so that your wildflowers make more than a one-off appearance! Once this is done, gently walk across the ground, so that the seeds are making definite contact with the soil.
Now your meadow is ready to be left to do its own thing!
Don’t forget, that a meadow garden doesn’t have to be chocked full of flowers. The best meadows are made up mostly of grasses that are interspersed with wildflowers. Over time, other beautiful wildflowers will start to emerge of their own accord as new seeds are carried in by the wind.
There’s no need to worry about pricklier plants, such as thistles, taking root here and there; although these can be undesirable in a fastidiously manicured garden, they can very much add to the charm of a wildflower meadow. If you really aren’t keen on these potentially taking root, however, the occasional check for weeds is a good idea.
That’s not to say you need to leave it to become a total wilderness; a few well-placed, winding paths cut through the grass takes little effort to create, but can create a truly inviting environment that wildlife will love in which to surround yourself with nature.
To keep your meadow looking fresh and stop trees and heavy shrubs encroaching, it’s advisable to mow it completely once per year in the autumn. However, one day’s toil for 364 days of respite and natural beauty is rather a fair trade-off.
Depending on the size of your garden, the ultimate low-maintenance choice for those that really don’t have the time, patience or inclination to maintain a lawn is fake grass.
Though some might recoil at the idea, the quality of artificial grass has really come on in leaps and bounds over the last few years, with all sorts of natural colours and styles available. At first glance, it’s normally hard to even tell it apart from its living counterpart and the only upkeep you’ll need to give it is an occasional brush and a spray clean with a hose.
Astroturf can last from anywhere between eight and twenty. Many varieties are fade-resistant, so the colour won’t diminish at all and they will remain as plush and welcoming as the day they was laid down.
Garden centres are full of dazzling plants, but it’s wise not to just rush in and fill your trolley with all manner of enticing buds and blooms without finding out more each of them first.
In order for a lot of plants to do well, they need lots of attention like deadheading, pruning, feeding and training, as well as very specific soil conditions. So, when you’re picking plants for your low-maintenance garden, always consider their needs. Not that you shouldn’t go for ones that look lovely; just that it’s best to opt for those that are also hardy and able to handle a little less care.
It can be really satisfying to grow your own plants from seeds, but it’s also a job that requires lots of dedication and nurturing. Save yourself bundles of effort by heading to garden nurseries and taking advantage of the large range of mature sizes that are available.
Annual plants are bright and colourful, but they are also demanding. As their name implies, each year you have to sow their seeds, nurture them, fertilise them, water them and, when the year is over and they’ve died away, you’ll have to start all over again.
Perennials, on the other hand, live on year after year, needing comparatively much less upkeep since their roots establish themselves much deeper than those of annuals. They also spread quickly, filling up space fast.
For low-maintenance gardening, perennials are your best friend.
Once they’re established, specifically drought-tolerant plants don’t need to be watered very much and they won’t at as high a risk when the weather is hot, so they’re a sensible decision for low-maintenance. Don’t forget though that they will still need to be lightly watered occasionally – just not as often!
A lot of labels will also describe a plant as ‘self-cleaning.’ This simply means that their blooms will drop naturally, so you won’t have to spend as much time deadheading your garden. Keep an eye out for these helpful heroes of the horticultural world!
Whether your garden is large or small, the introduction of terracotta pots, windowsill containers or wooden planters full of pretty and low-maintenance plants is a simple, effective way of adding fantastic, easy-to-manage plant life to any space and giving it a rustic, cottage feel. They allow you to add an eye-catching splash of colour, and you’re also free to move them around whenever you feel like it.
Geraniums are great for potting. They’re incredibly colourful, but don’t be fooled: these pretty plants are also tough. Although these are mostly annuals, they don’t mind drying out between waterings, and can handle the heat of the summer sun, so are worth the yearly effort, if you can manage it. If you’re able to dedicate some time to deadheading when the flowers begins to wither, they should bloom away all summer long.
Lavender is an excellent choice. Not only does it look beautiful, attract butterflies and fill the air with a heavenly perfume, it’s also quite hardy, needs little watering (except on hot summer days), and comes in frost-resistant varieties. The only thing that lavender does require is pruning, either annually or over the season depending on the variety, to avoid it growing out and becoming too woody at the base.
Other aromatic herbs, like thyme, rosemary and sage, need little work and smell absolutely wonderful in a small garden. Oregano is yet another low-maintenance staple ideal for potting. It’s fresh, peppery scent is lovely and gives the added benefit of repelling flies and mosquitoes.
For information and advice on creating your own miniature herb garden in containers from Royal Horticultural Society, click here.
Plant borders give a garden plenty of colour and visual appeal and just because you want a low-maintenance outdoor space doesn’t necessarily mean you have to avoid having one. Rather, you just have to pick the right sort of plants that’ll do more leg work for you and not need constant upkeep.
Where possible, fill your garden border with slow-growing, evergreen shrubs that keep an orderly structure and look great whatever the season. Richly coloured leaves and bark, fresh scents and even berries are all the joys you can expect from these easy-going plants.
Shrubs come in all sorts of forms and not all of them have flowers. Don’t forget that a garden can look absolutely wonderful with only shades of green in it.
Ornamental grasses can also work hard for low-maintenance gardeners. They’re full of delightful movement and can offer up flowers and seed heads over the year, all with very little care. Giving them chance for new growth by chopping back any deciduous grasses in March-April is all the work that’s really required.
Potentillas, with their beautiful flowers and no-fuss nature, and are a winning pick for low-maintenance gardeners. This long-lasting, hardy little shrub is perfect, if your garden soil is slightly poor and quite dry, since it will thrive in this kind of environment. Unless there are drought conditions, they don’t much appreciate being watered and are more than happy to put up with polite neglect. All they need is one simple prune during any time of the year to keep them the size that you want. Their flowers bloom best in full sun, but they’ll also do well in partial shade too.
Snowdrops are a pretty and low-maintenance plant that will bring your garden to life early on in the year. Buy and plant them in partially-shaded, slightly moist soil just after they’ve flowered in spring when the leaves are still green. They don’t need deadheading and can be left to die back by themselves, spreading of their own accord. When the following spring begins to stir, these delicate little beauties will shoot forth with their renowned bright white flowers as a sign that winter is over. You needn’t water them very much whilst they’re flowering, and just need a little more regular watering afterwards.
The fan-like, curling leaves of ferns evoke peaceful wood glades and make a pleasing addition to any garden. Happily, they’re great for shadier gardens and also come in evergreen and groundcover varieties. Plant this laidback wonder in early spring when there’s plenty of rain and trim back older fronds in late winter for new ones to emerge.
What’s important is to always give a plant a home to which it is suited, so that it will thrive. Shade-loving ferns will wither in the sun-filled border and perennials that love full light will struggle in the shade – positioning your plants in the right spot will keep them happy and save you stressing out further down the line.
TOP TIP: Beware of ivy. True, it covers space easily and has a real romantic charm to it, but it is most definitely not the plant for low-maintenance gardeners. Why? Because it is astoundingly insidious. If you aren’t careful, its innocent-looking vines can quickly creep their way up walls and between the slats of fences and, once they have a grip on a surface and mature, they will stick like concrete. It can do some serious structural damage and prove well-nigh impossible to remove without taking half of whatever it’s clinging to with it.
Don’t panic about having to edge your borders keep the grass from encroaching them and looking messy. As suggested by The Royal Horticultural Society, landscape edging provides a durable and often hidden method of retaining a freshly edged look without the backbreaking labour.
An invaluable tool for low-maintenance gardening is an automatic watering system. A timed system like this means you needn’t stress about manually watering your garden, plus it ensures that plants aren’t getting under- or over-watered, whilst actually regulating and conserving how much water you use in total. What more could you possibly ask for?
This clever timer can then be attached to other watering apparatuses, so that you can spend less time with your watering can and more time being productive elsewhere and enjoying yourself.
Soaker hoses are very economical, because they deposit water straight into the soil instead of letting it lie on the surface; since they can be buried, they don’t make an eye sore in your garden either.
Alternatively, you could opt for a timed sprinkler, or even invest in a sprinkling system. The latter is really helpful aesthetically, as it is all but hidden.
Drip irrigation systems are yet another low-maintenance choice, allowing you to customise how much water to give to your plants and deposit the water straight to their roots. These can also be set up for the plant pots and containers on your patio too.
Another time-saving aid for your plants are self-watering containers. These can come in many different forms, which vary in price from cheap to more expensive, but fundamentally they all allows plants to draw up water, as and when it’s required, from a reservoir in the bottom.
Weed suppressant fabric, also known as weed suppressant membrane or landscape fabric, is a means of avoiding weeds poking up between plants in your borders.
Once you’ve laid down the fabric, you decide where you’d like to put your plants, then slash a small cross shape into it, before planting. Once this is done, you add a layer of thick mulch, wood chippings or gravel across the top to hide the fabric.
Having this in place prevents weeds growing up, keeps your borders looking tidy and delays you having to factor in time for constant weeding. Naturally then, this time benefit makes it one of the biggest draws for low-maintenance gardeners.
It’s important to take into consideration that using the fabric isn’t eradicating weeds, but is more accurately just buying yourself time. Yes it can handy, but it has some potentially negative long-term implications too.
Depending on its strength, the fabric will start to degrade at some point, allowing weeds to poke through, if they don’t eventually take root in the new layer of mulchy soil decomposing on top anyway. What’s more, the fabric doesn’t allow you to move plants around without cutting new holes and leaving gaps for weeds to creep through, so once something’s in the ground it’s staying there indefinitely.
Most significantly of all, the fabric starves the soil beneath it of new organic matter from decomposing plant life, meaning its nutrient levels will be strongly affected. Allowing an extended period of grace every couple of years for your soil to recover is vital for its long-term health, otherwise it will essentially become dead earth.
The fabric can be a real help for a low-maintenance gardening lifestyle, but weighing up the short- and long-term pros and cons of weed suppressant fabric before you decide to lay it down is the best advice we can give.
There’s more to a garden than just plants. Furniture makes your green area somewhere in which people really want to spend time when the weather is warm and can really boost a property’s appeal.
Whilst it’s true that sun loungers are often liable to succumb to damage or need a lot of cleaning and maintenance after regular use, a suitably-sized outdoor table with chairs is a much more manageable and very worthwhile investment.
From a low-maintenance point of view, you simply need to pick ones with a material that works for you.
Synthetic resin furniture is weather resistant and needs very little care, apart from the occasional wipe with a damp cloth. It can often be quite lightweight, which is great for moving it around, but it’s best to position it somewhere more sheltered to avoid it being blown about and damaged.
Cast-aluminium furniture won’t rust or go dull and has a really contemporary aesthetic. Don’t forget that aluminium does conduct very well heat, so perhaps it’s a good idea to have some attachable, weather-resistant cushions for your guests too!
Wooden furniture has a great, rustic cottagey look to it and good quality furniture can be very resilient. However, the elements can be very unkind to wood, so it will require treating annually with teak oil to keep it in looking its best and will have to be brought indoors over winter. If you can commit to this proper yearly care, wood can still be a good low-maintenance choice. For those drawn to it, opt for brass screws as they won’t rust.
However durable or weatherproof your furniture may be, it’s wise to store it away over winter to extend its life.
Cane or rattan furniture in the garden should be avoided like the plague, whether it’s treated or not, because all of the little, woven nooks and crannies are the perfect breeding ground for mould and algae – a cleaning nightmare!
Classic wrought iron furniture looks elegant and lovely, but will rust over time and need treating.
Basic plastic furniture is another no-no: despite the fact it can sometimes look a little cheap and unappealing, it’s easily cracked and damaged with use, becomes dingy and faded over time, and has even been known to melt when temperatures soar. Best avoided all round!
Remember: there’s is no such thing as a totally maintenance-free garden since, like all of us living things, every plant needs a little dose of TLC every once in a while (even the most robust ones).
However, having a garden definitely does not mean having to being a slave to constant upkeep. We hope these useful insights on low-maintenance gardening help you maintain a cottage paradise to dazzle your guests whilst giving you as much time as possible to put your feet up in the process!
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*Based on a 7 bedroom property in the Lake District with bookings between October 2017 to September 2018.
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