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Villa d'Este

Lower vs Higher Maintenance Gardens

There are many styles of gardens in the world ranging from Japanese moss gardens to English cottage gardens to native inspired woodland and prairie gardens to mention just a few. One things gardens have in common is that they all require maintenance. If we consider maintenance in terms of how much time, energy and resources are required to maintain the desired appearance the various types of gardens can be placed on a scale from lower to higher maintenance.

While those glossy magazine images of perfect perennial gardens may seem easily within reach their performance over time requires not only a working knowledge of perennials and how to care for them but also regular attention to dead heading, dividing and, of course, weeding to keep things looking good. Japanese gardens too seem, at first glance, to be easy to maintain because they look so serene and simple. If, however, we consider what goes into keeping, say, an area of moss free of weeds and leaves the garden begins to take on a new dimension.

The intent here is not to frighten away the would be gardener but to promote clear understanding of the reality behind the image. A garden needs a gardener and some gardens demand more of the gardener than others.

Although there is no such thing as a maintenance free garden some approaches tend, over time, to need less input. Naturalistic gardens employ several techniques that give the chosen plants an upper hand. Firstly, naturalistic gardens employ native plants well suited to the region and, ideally, to the specific conditions of a specific site. Native plant gardens also tend to make ample use of ground cover type plants that can establish complete cover thus denying weeds the opportunity to take hold. In the Northeast United States forests dominate the landscape. Here native gardens often make use of shade that favor woodland species and, discourage sun loving weeds.


Lawn is another element in the garden that upon initial consideration seem to fall at the lower end of the maintenance spectrum. In actuality the requirements for upkeep of that green carpet is time and resource intensive. There is weekly mowing, watering, and in some cases applications of herbicides an insecticides. The perfect lawn is an illusive goal that is often just beyond reach.

Formal vs Informal

Whether we like it or not our gardens are in a constant state of change. In a formal type of garden every effort is made to maintain the status quo; trees are pruned, shrubs are sheered, perennials are divided and lawns are mown to insure our original vision is held intact. An informal garden, on the other hand, is designed to allow for change to happen within less stringent constraints. For such an informal approach to work well requires even greater planning. The change needs to be anticipated when locating trees and shrubs. Perennial likewise are selected and arrange in a way that takes into consideration the inevitable competition between neighbors.


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