Post category: Easy-care features
A bank can be a problem weedy area, but there are ways to reduce the effort. When a new house is built on a sloping site, earth-moving often leaves one or more banks, or cuttings. These can be close to the house running along one or more sides, or alongside a driveway entrance. The bank can rise back from the house, or slope away from it.
Planting a bank
In either case, a bank can present a difficult problem. The usual approach is to plant these banks with shrubs or flowers of various kinds. The result is nearly always an unsatisfactory garden feature that does not fit in very well with the rest of the garden but requires considerable maintenance effort to control weeds.
There are three possible solutions that will reduce the effort of maintaining a difficult bank. The most obvious answer is simply to reduce the grade of the bank further. In the case of a slope away from the house, this can involve filling the slope. Then it can be grassed over as an extension of the adjoining lawn area.
If the slope is too steep to be reduced, or a boundary is in the way, an alternative is to build a retaining wall and fill in behind. Then a terrace of lawn, paving or shrubs can be installed, as appropriate.
Planting a bank
If it is not possible to soften the slope or to terrace it, the third option is to plant it with suitable plants. Trees, shrubs and perennial flowers should be planted up just as a full-scale mixed border would be, not just relying on ground-cover plants and low-growing plants alone.
If the bank is near a boundary, the bank/border should run back to the boundary with trees filling the back. The advantage of mixed planting is that it is easier to maintain than a motley scatter of low shrubs or groundcover alone, and it looks much better. The slope is lost among taller plants whereas low plants just mirror the slope.
Compared with a conventional lawn, a wildflower meadow, or a wildflower lawn, has considerable advantages, the most important being the reduction in mowing. Mowing requirements can be cut to a fraction of that required for a good lawn.
Another significant advantage is the removal of the necessity to apply fertilizers or weedkillers. A wildflower area makes a change from manicured lawns; it is a beautiful feature in itself, and very appropriate for a certain kind of garden.
A lawn can be maintained as a wildflower lawn, encouraging the wildflowers, or ‘weeds’, instead of killing them. A lawn grown for wildflowers needs mowing less frequently, about every two to three weeks instead of every week, giving the flowers a chance to open. Mulch mowing returns the nutrients to the soil. Fertilizers might be used but only once a year at most and at a low rate of 10 to 15 grams per square metre, not using high-nitrogen lawn fertilizer, which encourages grass, but general fertilizer which encourages the flowers as well, or an autumn lawn fertilizer. A wildflower lawn, note this is not a meadow, is a very practical labour-saving approach for smaller gardens.
There is a big reduction in effort when a lawn area is turned over to wildflower meadow, especially in a large garden. Instead of mowing once a week from April to September, no mowing at all is done before the end of June, or early July, just like a traditional hay-meadow. After cutting, the grass is left for a few days to shed seed and then removed to a compost area. Subsequently, the re-growth of grass is mown every four or five weeks to keep it tidy.
The cut grass must be removed to reduce the fertility of the soil. This, in turn, reduces the vigour of grass growth and encourages wildflowers – the exact opposite of looking after a quality lawn. For the same reasons, no fertiliser is given, or lawn weedkiller applied, to a wildflower area.
The process of creating a successful wildflower area takes a few years. The reduction of fertility and the build-up of wildflowers takes some time. It can be speeded up by removing some of the top-soil, and by planting wildflower seedlings raised in pots. However, if the object in converting to a wildflower area is to reduce effort, these techniques are unlikely to be adopted.
The single big cut in July can involve considerable effort. For a small wildflower area, the grass can be cut with a strimmer and raked off. For larger areas, a rough grass mower, or mowing machine will be required, and these can be hired. However, the job of mowing gets easier as the meadow settles down, and infertility increases.
Even in the early years, it is still a lot easier than weekly mowing. This feature suits large gardens best because it can look a bit messy in a small garden. A close-mown boundary where wildflower meadow meets paths and driveways helps to tame an otherwise unkempt look.
Generally, a large pool requires less attention than a small one. A larger body of water is more stable than a small volume which tends to get polluted and overgrown more quickly. If a pool can be fed naturally by a small trickle of water, it makes maintenance much easier.
A large pool takes up space that might otherwise be sown down to grass, usually. Only requiring the clearing out of surplus plant growth every year, a pool is easy to maintain. It takes a great deal of effort to put in place but relatively little subsequently. Because they are generally deeper, large pools contain relatively more water and a natural balance is more easily achieved and maintained.
A small pool tends to warm up more quickly, goes green with algae more readily and becomes contaminated with leaves and debris more easily. Plants fill the space of a small pool more quickly and need reduction more frequently. If fish are kept, they need feeding regularly. In terms of ornamental value, a small pool is far more effort than a large one, and probably best avoided if the aim is to reduce effort.
Gravel beds are widely used to reduce the proportion of the garden covered by lawn, the idea being to reduce the work of mowing. Gravel areas need practically no maintenance compared with lawns, flower beds or borders, and they compare well with solid paving.
They have the advantage over paving of being cheaper and easier to install. Gravel sets off many plants very nicely. However, the location of gravel areas, and whether or not they contain plants, can affect their value for reduced effort.
Gravel beds are easy to maintain if they contain few or no plants. If the gravel is sufficiently deep 8 to 10 centimetres – very few weeds will come through. These can usually be pulled by hand. The weedkiller Simazine can also be used, except around non-woody plants.
All gravel areas need to be raked over occasionally to leave the surface even, but this is relatively light work. Gravel beds close to trees tend to suffer badly from falling leaves and germinating tree seedlings, typically sycamore and ash. Unless removed, leaves rot down to provide excellent rooting material for weeds. Although Simazine can be used where there are no non-woody plants, it will not control tree seedlings.
As time passes, gravel beds tend to sink into the soil and must be topped up. A lining of polythene, or woven polypropylene, beneath the gravel can reduce sinking but tends to encourage the accumulation of debris among the gravel, and consequently more weed growth.
Though relatively expensive, paving has the major advantage of requiring very little maintenance. By increasing the area of garden under paving, a resultant reduction in labour requirement can be achieved. Relative to any other garden feature, paving of any kind needs practically no work.
All kinds of paving need to be swept of debris and dust occasionally to prevent a build-up that would allow moss and weeds to grow, but this is a very light task compared with maintaining a similar area of lawn, for example.
Where there are cracks, or joints in the case of concrete slabs, weeds are likely to get established. These can be difficult to remove physically but there are many excellent products for their control, such as Hytrol, Pathclear or other path weedkiller, and Casoron G granules.
Climbing plants can be labour-intensive but some kinds are easy. Climbing plants and other wall plants can be used to decorate walls and fences and turn empty wall space to good advantage. Some climbing plants can creep up walls and fences by means of suckers and aerial roots but most, such as the clematis shown, need some support to cling onto, or to be tied onto. Choosing the ones that creep by their own means, such as ivy and virginia creeper, avoids the need for tying-in.
Regular tying-in of wall plants can be very time-consuming, and the easiest way to approach the task is to wire the whole wall first, or at least that part of it where plants are to grow. It is by no means necessary, or even desirable, to cover an entire wall with climbing plants, but the aim should be to wire the area which the climber will fill.
Wires can be placed in horizontal lines about 30 centimetres apart, from about 60 centimetres off the ground right to the top of the wall. Galvanised steel wire is best, attached to brass screws at about 40 centimetre centres along each length. If a wall needs painting, these screws can be removed and the plants taken down.