Want a garden you just can’t kill? Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a no-maintenance garden, says Julie Moir Messervy, a Vermont-based landscape designer and owner of Julie Moir Messervy Design Studio.
Lavender-colored catmint has a delicate look in a garden, but actually has a tough nature. Photo: Bill Sumner, from Landscaping Ideas that Work (Taunton Press)
Still, if your thumb is less than green, you can certainly hedge your gardening bets by planting hardy plants that will have a better chance of surviving the occasional lapse in watering or lack of fertilizer. Messervy adds that choosing species that are suitable for your plant hardiness zone also helps ensure that the plants will have the best chance for survival.
Messervy, who is author of Landscape Ideas that Work (2014, The Taunton Press) shares with us some of her favorite plants for an easy-care garden. These plants, she says, work well for zones 3 to 9, which comprises most of the United States.
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(Catmint “Six Hills Giant” Photo: Ironwood Gardens)
Catmint (Nepeta): This perennial blooms a long time throughout the season with spikes of bluish lavender flowers, and has gray-green foliage that is pretty even when not in bloom. “If you cut it back, it’ll even bloom a second time,” says Messervy. Catmint makes a good filler plant for the front of a garden, since it doesn’t get tall. It does best in sun, but doesn’t require particularly fertile soil, and once they’re established, they’re fairly drought resistant.
Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum): For shady areas, Solomon’s Seal is Messervy’s go-to plant, because it’s so low-maintenance and its foliage is “very architectural with a great structure,” she says. While it has small, dangling white flowers, it doesn’t require deadheading (the practice of clipping spent blooms so the garden looks neater as well as to encourage more flowers), since the flowers will drop off on their own.
Christmas Rose (Hellebore): Also called Lenten Rose, these plants are a nice addition to any garden as they bloom very early in the season with bell-shaped flowers that come in a variety of colors and will last for weeks. They’re fairly resistant to pests and require very little in the way of maintenance. They do best in moist, shaded soil.
(Geranium “Biokovo” Photo: Garden Design for Living)
Geranium (Cranesbill): Don’t confuse this variety the bright red and white geraniums typically found in pots or window boxes. This plant is a great ground cover, with its frilly leaves and delicate flowers that come in white, pink, blue, or lavender, depending on the cultivar you choose. Messervy says this plant “makes a clean, neat, trim space for other plants to grow behind it.” Different cultivars have different sun requirements, ranging from full sun to partial to shade, so you should be able to find one that will adapt well to your space.
Rosemary: If you haven’t had success with growing herbs, a woodier variety like rosemary might be the solution. In warmer parts of the country, it can be kept outdoors and may even reach hedge-like proportions. Another hardy herb option is fragrant lavender, which has a similarly woody stem.
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Planting them in containers gives tomatoes a better chance to thrive. Photo: Mark Lohman, Landscaping Ideas that Work (Taunton Press).
Tomatoes: One of the most rewarding vegetables you can plant is tomatoes. Planting them in containers helps their chances of thriving because it ensures that they’re in healthy soil, and they can even be moved around to catch the sun.
Even with these sturdy plants, you’ll need to do some minimal maintenance: start off the spring season by spreading a slow-release fertilizer, and, of course, weed and water your garden as needed throughout the growing season. Need something requiring even less care? There’s always the option of an entirely fake garden.
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