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10 ways to a great-looking, low maintenance garden

A great-looking garden doesn’t have to be hard work. Follow these simple guidelines for a no-fuss outdoor space that will bring you joy every time you step into it

1. Ditch the lawn

© Clive Nichols
Just because you have a garden, you don't have to have a lawn – there are lots of alternatives such as this low maintenace decking

It might seem surprising advice, but if your garden is small and you don’t have children, ditch the lawn. Big borders and a generously-sized paved or decked area will actually be less work than keeping a small area of grass looking good, and you won’t have to allocate precious shed space to a lawnmower.

2. Right plant, right place

Plants like this French lavender thrive in free-draining soil, but would sulk in a waterlogged area

Pick plants that are well-suited to your soil and site conditions. For example, if you have a sunny garden with dry soil, lavenders will thrive. Try our online plant selector to find the perfect plants for your garden. You can specify the amount of light, soil type, colour preference and season of interest for a selection of results to guide your plant hunting.

3. Go large with pots

© Marianne Majerus
Most of these plants are in generous containers and planters, which need less watering than smaller patio pots

As a general rule of thumb, big pots are easier to look after than small ones. The smaller the pot, the quicker it dries out and the more watering it will need. Group plants in large pots or use raised planters instead if you have little or no garden soil – such as in many urban gardens.

4. Keep it simple

Helleborous x nigercors 'Ice Breaker' planted with bronze sedge, Carex comans, contrast well together. Planting fewer different varieties in larger numbers gives greater impact

Keep planting simple – hardy shrubs and evergreen plants are key. Shrubs are great because they’re long-lived and won’t need replacing every year. Evergreens such as these sedges and hellebores look good all year and drop fewer leaves than deciduous plants. Those labelled as  ‘groundcover’ plants are a good choice as they tend to be tough and will knit together to help keep weeds down.

5. Choose long-lasting combinations

Different foliage textures and colours come into their own when the leaves of deciduous plants have disappeared in the winter, as these conifers, pines and heathers show

Choose plants with complementing textures and colours for year-round effect - round glossy leaves next to finely-textured grasses, for example - that way you won’t be needing to put in seasonal bedding plants to add colour. The foliage in the Winter Garden at RHS Garden Rosemoor looks great all year round, even in the depths of winter.

6. Search out award-winning plants

Reliable plants make gardening easier and less time consuming, and the AGM label is a trustworthy guide when buying new plants

Look out for the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) label in garden centres and online. It’s an independent certification from the RHS that the plant is a good variety that’s likely to do well in ordinary garden conditions. The scheme covers everything from trees and shrubs to fruits, flowers and vegetables.

7. Make your lawn easier to cut

© Marianne Majerus
Simple lawn shapes are easier to maintain

If you do have a lawn, install a permanent edge to it, such as a run of bricks or paving stones. This means you won’t have to spend time trimming the edges every time you cut the grass. Smooth out any difficult angles and awkward corners (either by extending the grass or enlarging your borders) to make a shape that’s easier to cut.

8. Extend your garden upwards with self-clinging climbers

© Marianne Majerus
Growing colourful climbers helps to make the most of your outdoor space

Climbers are the perfect way to extend your growing space by making the most of walls, fences or even trees. Self-clinging climbers such as ivy, Virginia creeper and climbing hydrangea attach themselves onto surfaces (rather than needing wires or trellis to grow up). Paint or stain the surface before planting for a low-maintenance, high impact look.

9. Use mulches for less watering and weeding

Covering bare soil with gravel or bark, called mulching, makes a real difference to the number of weeds that will seed themselves

‘Mulching’ simply means using another material, such as bark chippings or gravel, to cover up any bare soil between your plants. This is a really useful technique which saves on work because it helps prevent weeds growing and stops water evaporating – meaning you’ll need to do less watering and weeding. And it smartens up the garden too!

10. Embrace a bit of wildness

© Marianne Majerus
Finally, remember your garden doesn't have to be ultra-neat and tidy to be enjoyed. A more relaxed approach will benefit you and wildlife, as well

Learning to love wildness and imperfection can help you enjoy your low-maintenance garden, and this can be helped by designing your space accordingly. Here, cracks between the uneven paving stones have been colonised by low-growing plants, and the seating area is surrounded by exuberant planting. A weed or two or a fallen leaf won’t spoil the scene like they would if the garden was made of formal paving and clipped topiary. Embracing the quirks of the natural world can bring great satisfaction.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.