Garden Books

The New Low-Maintenance Garden

Summer was its usual hot, dry self.  I spend at least an hour daily in tiring heat, watering and weeding my own small garden. My life is ruled by roses, cleomes, lantanas, lilies, salvias, and huge grasses. Although the view from my deck is adorned with blues, pinks, oranges and various shades of green, I am considering simplifying my plantings this fall.

The advice in The NEW Low-Maintenance Garden (Timber Press) on “how to have a beautiful, productive garden and the time to enjoy it” is becoming more and more appealing.

The author, Valerie Easton, uses the experience of downsizing and lowering the responsibility of her own garden as the basis of this book. In Seattle, she sold a home with a large garden and created a smaller less-demanding place on a nearby island. She turned an ordinary flat area into a garden worthy to be featured in a gardening magazine.

In the six chapters of the book, Easton combines her simplifying skills with knowledge acquired from years of writing weekly gardening columns for the Seattle Times, and from writing three additional gardening books. These chapters are filled with lists of recommendations for lessening a garden’s care. This advice is accompanied by interviews with architects, landscapers, and horticulturists and descriptions of their gardens. The numerous photographs accompanying these gardens illustrate the variation and creativity available in well-designed spaces.

The first two chapters discuss the philosophy of and the basic concepts of low-maintenance gardening. She sees these gardens as those that suit a gardener’s “tastes, climate, and topography” and “can be cared for with ease.” Whether constructing a new garden or revising an established garden, the design of the spaces must precede the decisions over what plants to include in the finished garden. She recognizes the required “plant editing” as one of the most difficult steps for gardeners.

“Making It Work,” the third chapter, is introduced by a listing of gardening activities and instructions on how to make them easier. Following this list, eco-lawns, mulch types, ground covers, raised beds, weed control, and other plant-care needs are discussed. The next two chapters, “Nature’s Rhythms” and “Eat Your Garden,” emphasize the organic structure of good gardening by introducing logical ways to decrease the strains on nature. “Carefree Containers” discusses the various kinds of pots from which to choose, including a selection of plants that do best in planters. The last chapter about “editing your plant picks” was the most helpful to me. She lists perennials that need little dividing, ground covers for sun and shade, easy roses, behaving bamboo, and a list of plants to avoid, of which I have two.

If you are searching for an inspiration on how to decrease the required labor in your garden, or a source of information for a beginning gardener, Easton’s book is an excellent one to read.

Christine Thomson is a Raleigh gardener obsessed with plants.  She is a volunteer at the Raulston Arboretum and fills her spare time reading books, especially volumes about vegetation.

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