planting design, gardening, plants, design

Keep gardening, the more so in retirement!

A couple of things have made me think about how important gardens and gardening are to the retired.

Firstly, looking at the way my parents have enjoyed developing a brand new garden in County Kerry (from scratch) and how this has in many ways defined many of their recreational habits and interests in their retirement, from attending the local garden group, to plant hunting their favourite plants from nurseries in Ireland and the UK to physically spending pleasurable hours in the garden undertaking all sorts of frenetic horticultural activity; it sometimes hardly seems like they are retired at all – more as if they have developed new careers.  But that’s the thing about gardening, if you like it, you love it and it can become an all-consuming passion.

planting design, gardening, plants, design

Flowing grass areas for ease of maintenance. Dense Verbena bonariensis planting. Photo taken in Coolaught gardens.

Then the other thing is that I have a new client who has commissioned me to simplify their garden in their retirement.  As I respect client confidentiality, I shall not name them or their garden but what I will say is that they, through their passion and dedication to the craft of gardening, developed one of Ireland’s top gardens to visit over the last decades.  This next move is a big thing for them, they want to significantly reduce the maintenance of their garden; they want to cut back on their work and delegate much of the garden maintenance to a gardener, who will need far less plant knowledge than the expert level that they themselves possess.

vegetable beds, raised beds, gardening, garden design, low maintenance

Raised vegetable beds can significantly save on effort (these are are in a hospital garden designed by Austen Associates for Connolly Hospital)

This is a really interesting challenge for me, but is has also got me pondering as to what can be done to make gardens easier to manage, especially if people want to continue to dabble in gardening well into the latter years of their retirement without the same level of physical effort and hours that they may have put in, when younger.  Here, I am going to list and initial four main ideas that can be implemented to reduce garden maintenance:

  1. Worry less about having pristine areas of lawn: these require high maintenance inputs including mowing, addition of fertilisers, weed control chemicals and watering during the summer.  Of course, if you love mowing, as many people (particularly men) do – it’s a control thing! – then what you need to do is condense the grass areas into as few areas as possible.  By introducing long flowing curves into the design of lawn areas, instead of having straight lines with ninety degree turns you can significantly reduce the cutting time.
  2. Woody shrubs and small trees require far less maintenance input than some other forms of planting such as perennial flower borders. You can plant shrubs in groups or clusters or to form small woodland copses.  Once they have covered the ground, very little weeding will be required.  Yes, there will be some pruning every now and then, but this can be done by a half-competent gardener.  You do have to look at your garden in a different way though, see the planting as an overall composition, see the inherent beauty in trees and shrubs.  If you lean towards planting native plants or those with flowers and edible berries, this type of garden, with a mosaic of habitats can also be very wildlife friendly.
  3. Make sure that all the edges to all your planting areas are simplified. Lawn interfaces with paths should be a neat wood or cobblestone edge that allows a mower to be run over them with ease.  Edging between paths and planting areas should be similar.  The surface of paths should be compact with little opportunity for weed growth possible, examples are paving or bonded and semi-bonded surfaces such as resin-bond or rolled hoggin.
  4. If you are prepared to have a slightly less tidy garden, you could go for a gravel garden in which certain annual and perennial plants are allowed to set seed and take over. Examples of such plants that can be allowed to run free are Lychnis coronaria (Rose Campion) and Lunaria annua (Honesty), Linaria purpurea (Toadflax), Verbena bonariensis or and Fragaria vesca (Wild Strawberry).  You can scatter wildflower seeds on to areas of bare ground each year and just let them grow up, simply cut back, rake off and reseed the following year.  Millium effusum is a grass that tends to spread naturally  also.
  5. Limit your gardening to pots or a few raised planters using simple, high impact, but low maintenance plants, densely planted e.g. Lavender or Agapanthus or use Ferns in shade.
garden plants, garden design, gardening, planting, self-seed, natural

Linaria purpurea (Toadflax)

Gardening can become a passionate pursuit for those in retirement, rightly so, it’s a very fulfilling activity involving cultivating, nurturing and producing, all traits that come naturally to us as human beings, whether younger or older.  It can often be an activity undertaken alone but equally it also affords opportunities to exchange information and engage with other people who have a shared enthusiasm for gardening.  Finally, it is so important for well-being to be outdoors, exercising and in touch with nature.  All good reasons to keep gardening in to our dotage.  If you would like some advice or tips on reducing your garden maintenance, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.  Why not leave a comment, pose a question, express an opinion or share my post – I’d love to hear from you, especially if you are a retired, active and happy gardener!

garden care, maintenance, landscape design, gardening, tips, ideas

A neat mowing edge between planting and lawn areas (Tim Austen garden design project)

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