Top tips for easy gardening

Although you might love working in your garden, it’s also important to make time to sit back and enjoy it. Kim Wilde shows how.

Wnen thinking about gardening short cuts you must first be clear in your own mind about how high maintenance you want your garden to be. Most of us have busy lives, with children or jobs leaving us litde time for our gardens. Making realistic decisions when deciding on design and planting schemes will save you time and money in the long-term. For instance, lawns are quick to lay, look good for most of the year and are relatively straightforward to look after. But a lawn needs regular maintenance, while gravel and paving would be a virtually maintenance-free option. Of course, not al1 gardening short cuts will be cheap – the cost for paving slabs, decking, bricks or gravel can be high, but balanced against the alternative of spending hours mowing your lawn or weeding your garden, the initial ouday could be a good long-term investment.

Rethink the lawn
If you definitely want a lawn, there are ways to make 1ife easier. First, think about reducing its size. A wide, rectangular lawn would work better and need less upkeep if it were smaller and shaped wiili p1anting areas.
Avoid corners and shapes, and stick to large curves, which will be easier to mow. A circular lawn would be the most efficient shape as you can start from the outside and keep mowing in ever decreasing circles without having to turn or stop at all.
Add a brick or paving strip round the edge of your lawn so you can push your mower right on to it, eliminating the need for edge trimming. Set the paving slightly below the lawn surface.
Leave &hort clippings on the surface, as they’ll return nutrients to the soil, reducing the need to feed your lawn. They’ll also stop dIe lawn from drying out, and save you time disposing of them.

Clever planting
Ground-cover planting is great for tricky areas such as steep banks, dry shade under trees or dry sunny areas. It’s virtually maintenance-free and, as well as suppressing weeds, can deliver a decorative evergreen display. Some ground-cover plants, like the periwinkle (Vmca major) and Hypericum calycinum, are very invasive and should not be used between other p1ants. However, they’re great for an inaccessible area, such as a steep bank. Try Tiarella cordifolia, Euphorbia robbiae and Epimedium x perralchicum for dry shady areas, such as under trees or sheltered areas by walls, particularly if they are north or east facing. Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’ has variegated evergreen foliage and will brighten up a large area – particularly usefu1 in shade. Lonicera pileata needs a lot of space and wiIl cover a 1 x 4m area easily with its arching branches of small bright green eaves. It’s great for difficult areas such as banks.
Geranium macrorrhizum will form a reliable semi-evergreen carpet of fragrant foliage and pretty flowers in May to July. It can be planted in the sun or light shade and has the added bonus of autumn colour.
Alchemilla moIlis provides a lovely frothy lime-green display and will grow almost anywhere – although deciduous it’s a superb ground-covering p1ant.
Evergreen plants give year-round ground cover and are nore successful than deciduous ones, which can leave unsightly gaps during the winter months.

Work with nature
Save time, money and disppointment by gardening with nature, not against it. Don’t be tempted to buy a plant that won’t enjoy your soil conditions. Buy a soil tester from a garden centre to test your soil’s pH (pH is the scale that acidity or alkalinity is measured by -pH 6.6 to 7.3 is neutral, below is acid and above alkaline). Most garden plants thrive in neutral soils, but some, such as rhododendrons and pieris, require acid conditions. Gardens can have a variety of soil conditions, for instance at the base of a sunny wall the soil is often dry and seemingly inhospitable. Yet plants such as Nerine bowdenii and the lovely winter iris, Iris unguicularis will flourish there. Be sure to research your soil conditions thoroughly before undertaking planting.

Watering without effort

Watering can be very time-consuming, so if you have a lot of containers why not invest in an automatic watering system. Just connect an outside tap to a simple water ‘computer’, which can be programmed to turn water on and off at set times. Aiso use water-retaining granules in containers – they’re invaluable. Mulching cuts down the need tor both watering and weeding. Natural mulches such as cocoa shells, bark chippings and manure will also improve the soil. Gravel will improve drainage, looks attractive and works well with alpines or Mediterranean plants. A 7cm layer of mulch can last up to three years and is best done in late spring when the soil is warm and moist. At other times, water the area well first. In an existing border, treat perennial weeds with a systemic weed killer betore applying mulch. If you’re planting a new border, use mulch matting, which will create a barrier trom weeds, as well as protecting the soil trom wind-born weed seeds. Matting insulates the roots and prevents water loss. Use polythene, cardboard, newspaper or carpet, which can be covered with a layer of bark chippings.

Cutting edge

Now’s the time of year to take softwood cuttings. Take them trom the tips of shoots which are still soft and pliable, and haven’t started to harden or darken at the base.

  1. Snip off the tips of non-flowering shoots just below a leaf joint, with four oriive pairs of leaves on each cutting (5-8cm long). Choose only healthy shoots that are still pliable.
  2. Trim off the two lowest pairs of leaves and dip the base in hormone rooting powder. This will help the roots develop and reduce the risk of rotting. Cut off the top pair of leaves to reduce moisture loss and prevent wilting.
  3. Put several cuttings into a pot filled with rooting compost or any well-drained compost and cover with a clear plastic bag to hold moisture.
  4. Put in a warm, bright place out of direct sunlight. Transplant cuttings into individual pots as soon as they have developed a strong root system.
Kim’s choice

This book on organic gardening is a great buy for anyone wanting to go organic. Bob Flowerdew’s Organic Bible is published by Kyle Cathie and costs 14.99. For credit card orders, call 020 76927221.

Things to do in May
  • Prepare supports for annual climbers
  • Cut grass around bulbs as toliage begins to die back, but don’t cut foliage until it has dried off completely
  • Plant out dahlias when any danger of trost is past
  • Put straw under strawberry plants
  • Plant out tomatoes into the greenhouse
Prima solution

Q: I have a very big Swiss cheese plant and its leaves have turned brown at the edges. What’s gone wrong?
A: This is quite a common problem with Swiss cheese plants and could be caused by the surrounding air being too dry for example, if your plant is near a fire or radiator. It this is the case, either move the plant to a less dry environment or mist it with a water spray every day. Alternatively, it could be due to underwatering or a pot that’s too small, in which case you either need to water it more, or mtransplant it into a bigger container.

Garden of the month

Tatton Park, Knutsford, Cheshire WA16 6QN
(01625 534400) Enjoy the grandeur of the Italian aod Japaoese gardeos or simply wander through the massive parkland.

What’s in bloom
  • Tulip ‘Clara Butt’ is a lovely late-flowering pink tulip.
  • The ornamental cherry, Prunus sargetii, is a mass of pink blossom now.
  • Pieris japnica is a beautiful evergreen shrub with clusters of white flowers.