Designing a Holistic Garden – Part Four


Frog and Azolla Pond

Designing for Low Maintenance

  1. Keep it simple!
  2. Use gentle flowing curves for areas that need mowing.
  3. Emulate nature with meadows, woodlands, hedgerows, ponds, bogs and wetland areas, etc. Become a Garden Caretaker: make a place for nature to grow and add a little here, subtract a little there; aid the less aggressive and subdue the more aggressive; and bring the greatest possible diversity to your landscape.
  4. Choose and place plants carefully.  In selecting plants for a sustainable landscape:
    • Use native plants and naturally drought-tolerant, insect and disease-resistant plants, as they require the least attention.
    • Place plants with care to their needs for sun and moisture. Attention to their ultimate size and shape will result in little special care and little, if any, pruning.
    • Choose plants for multiple functions.
  5. Keep lawn areas to a minimum, using grass only where it is needed for play, etc. and then use the new dwarf, drought-tolerant grasses. Use gentle curves for easier mowing. Substitute groundcovers on slopes, under trees and in front yards.
Emulate nature – with natives and curves

Make a list of plants you would like to have.

Make notes by each of what their ultimate size will be and what conditions they need to thrive. (Sun or shade, moist or dry, rich soil or poor soil, evergreen or deciduous, slow growing or fast growing, low maintenance or not). Don’t include annual flowers and veggies as these can have their own spaces or be tucked in wherever there is room amongst the permanent plants.

A list of questions to ask of each plant you choose:

  1. Is it INSECT AND DISEASE-RESISTANT for our area? Local nursery people and Extension Services can often help with this question.
  2. Is it HARDY and suited to our climate? Unless you want to experiment, choose plants for their ecological fitness to your site.
  3. How TALL and WIDE will it get? Given enough room to grow, a plant will never need to be pruned because it is too big!
  4. Is it DROUGHT-RESISTANT? Even in areas not normally bothered by drought, the problem may arise from time to time. A landscape with drought-tolerant plants will suffer less and make fewer demands on their caretaker.
  5. What does it need to be HAPPY? Sun? Shade? Good drainage? Lots of moisture? A happy plant is healthy and thriving, needing little attention.
  6. Is it MESSY at some time of the year? Does it drop fruit, twigs, sap, seed pods, etc.? This may be good for wildlife, but bad for patios, walkways and parking areas.
  7. Is it DECIDUOUS or EVERGREEN? An evergreen tree casts shade in winter too. Does that work for you? An evergreen hedge gives you privacy all year long, not just in spring and summer, and provides shelter for overwintering creatures.
  8. What FUNCTIONS will it have? Each plant should have at least TWO.
    Here are some possibilities:

    Food for humans Medicine
    Food for critters Compost/fertilizer material
    Shade Windbreak
    Wildlife Shelter Pollution control
    Cover crop Noise barrier
    Fragrance Cut flowers
    Privacy Syrup
    Erosion control Firewood
    Beauty Nitrogen Fixer
    Species preservation Wattle material
    Butterfly host plant Butterfly Nectar plant
    Pollinator food Other
  9. Is it SELF-SEEDING, SUCKERING OR INVASIVE in any way? Self-seeding is an important attribute in a meadow plant, suckering is useful for a hedge tree or shrub, but in some situations both are simply a maintenance headache.
  10. Does it need PRUNING? Many fruit tree, bramble berries, groundcovers and vines need yearly (or even monthly during the growing season) pruning to look or do their best. Keep the number of these plants to a minimum.
  11. Does it need frequent STAKING, DIVIDING OR SPRAYING? Avoid these plants when possible.


Evaluate and Prioritize

Now, evaluate your answers on each of the plants you chose. Make sure that there will be a balance created in bringing each into your landscape. It may take some research and time spent questioning nursery people, growers and experienced gardeners in your area, but it will save an enormous amount of effort and time in the future.

List your absolute priorities of features and plants. Try not to get too carried away to begin with. After all, growing all your own food while holding down a full-time job might be an unrealistic goal. Many “free” foods are available from wild plants, like blackberries and huckleberries, as well as excess apples, walnuts or zucchini from your friends and neighbors gardens. Use low-maintenance and native plants primarily, and install low-water usage watering systems as you go.

And most of all – enjoy the process and the doing of it all and learn to let go of our cultures need for instant gratification. A truly amazing garden can take several years to reach it’s potential – but it’s worth waiting for!

Bird’s Eye View of a holistic garden — by Barb Allen


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