Design for easy maintenance

Creating a new garden this spring? Tamsin Westhorpe shares her top tips for designing an easy to maintain plot

Top tip: make sure your garden paths are wide enough to take a wheelbarrow through.
Published on Tagged with

This is the busiest gardening month of the year for me. Stockton Bury Gardens opens to the public on April 1 for the National Garden Scheme and the pressure is on. With four acres to prepare there’s no time to be wasted.

I’ve been inspired to write this blog after spending a day weeding the iris bed. It’s always a tricky task weeding between the fat rhizomes and delicate new shoots. The weeding challenge was made more frustrating as the bed is too wide to reach the centre without getting into it. Squatting for a few hours in a border on tiptoes isn’t something I would recommend! If only the bed was about 40cm shallower.

Stockton Bury has been created over a long period of time and there was never a grand plan. There’s nothing unusual about this. If you’re planning a garden this month then I’d urge you to consider, not just the overall look, but the ease of which it can be maintained. A little thought at the planning stages will save you hours for years to come.

Effortless border care

There are parts of the garden where the design for maintenance is perfect. Stockton Bury has two long herbaceous borders and at the front of each there is a line of attractive paving slabs flush with the lawn. This makes mowing a breeze. I don’t have to edge this area of the garden or lift the skirts up of plants before mowing. At the back of these beds are two yew hedges. I only wish we had a line of paving at the foot of them, so I could quickly brush up the hedge clippings. A path at the back would also allow me to prune the roses and pull out the odd weed without creeping through the border.

In summer the greenhouse in the kitchen garden is packed with fuchsias. These fuchsias spend the winter in the frost-free cellar (they’re placed by the door where they will receive light). This month I will put each pot onto a sack cart to take them to the greenhouse. This journey involves going up two sets of steps. My uncle has done this heavy task for the last forty years. In hindsight a small slope running alongside the steps might have been a good idea!

A border edged with a path makes mowing the lawn so much easier – no need to lift the plants away from the mower when I mow,

Planning paths

Fortunately, my uncles who created the garden made paths and gates wide enough for a large wheelbarrow. There’s nothing worse than not being able to push your barrow through the greenhouse door or between the raised beds, so take this into consideration when planning.

In a large garden a fairly stretching walk to the shed and compost heap is often unavoidable. However, it’s a good move to have a tool shed at the heart of the garden rather than at the far end. Those gardening on a sloping plot might appreciate a shed at the top and at the bottom of the slope.

The garden here has plenty of people traffic through it and as a result the lawns do get worn. When designing your garden have a think about what route you will take most often and either install a stone or gravel path or make sure that the grass path is wide enough to give one side a rest every other year.

Before you get excited about planting your plot think about its care. After all, who doesn’t want an easier life and more time to spend enjoying the pleasures of the garden?

Design tips for easy maintenance

  • Design wide paths and gate ways; large enough for the barrow.
  • Install taps close to the greenhouse or container planting displays.
  • Having an outdoor electric socket half way down the garden will prevent wrestling with long extension leads.
  • Locate your shed in an accessible place. Putting it at the far end of the garden can be a big mistake.
  • Edge your border with slabs or bricks that are flush with the lawn for easy mowing.
  • For easy maintenance design raised beds so that you can reach the centre.
  • Have a clear area in front of compost heaps so you have working room to turn compost.
  • If your garden has different levels a working slope for the barrow is a great idea.
Tamsin Westhorpe

About Tamsin Westhorpe

Tamsin Westhorpe is well known as an editor, garden writer and lecturer. However, she prefers to be known as a gardener. She was previously Editor of The English Garden magazine and lecturer at Kingston Maurwood College in Dorset. Tamsin started her gardening career at the age of 16 working for her great uncle John Treasure of Burford House Gardens in Worcestershire. Alongside her freelance work and being a mother Tamsin runs Stockton Bury Gardens in Herefordshire with her uncles and is currently training to be an RHS judge.
View all posts by Tamsin.