Low key plants ideal for budget garden

We needed a low maintenance garden on a budget. My mother-in-law came to the rescue. Now we have a beautiful postage-stamp-sized front yard with rock walls, a stone pathway and enough of the right plants to soak up water and not break the bank.

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After almost two years of staring at the wasteland we call a front yard my husband and I enlisted our family to help us landscape our garden space. (My mother-in-law is a passionate gardener and has literally transformed her once barren property in Uxbridge to a flowering oasis.)

After much talk we settled on a garden plan that would keep in mind the following:

  • We were busy people, with limited time to devote to maintaining the garden;
  • A massive (beautiful) tree took up a good portion of the postage-stamp front yard and while we loved the shade many plants wouldn’t;
  • We needed a garden that would seriously help us move water away from our attached row house and filter it through the limited amount of greenery and soil;
  • We were on a budget.

To satisfy the first requirement we picked low maintenance plants. We also designed a plan that was simple and clutter-free. Strategic placement of stone and trim helped contain the planted areas, while flagstone and hardscape elements created pathways to the plants and flowers. We also opted to plant fewer plants. This lack of overcrowding in our newly tilled fertile soil will allow our garden the space to grow, but won’t require a great deal of time spent on garden maintenance.

Because our big, beautiful tree would provide a great deal of shade we then opted for low-shade, low maintenance plants. That’s where my mother-in-law came to the rescue. She devised a plant plan that included: Hostas, day lilies and bamboo. However there are five other hardy shade plants that you can use:

  • Wild Ginger: An obliging groundcover, growing to 6 inches, wild ginger creates an attractive carpet in woodland, shady conditions. The great part: one plant will quickly spread. If you’re colour coordinating your design keep in mind that wild ginger offers a maroon, bell-shaped flower, in the spring, but for the rest of the year it’s hidden beneath the plant’s heart-shaped leaves.
  • Solomon’s Seal: An annual, this spikey plant will grow up to 18 inches and produce tiny white flowers that cover the arching stem. In summer, its foliage provides a cool green retreat for garden dwellers, while in the autumn leaves turn to a golden, straw colour.
  • Bloodroot: For problem areas — for instance, around the base of our tree — you can’t beat bloodroot. One of the earliest spring flowers to appear, its small white blooms last for a few days, then its saucer-shaped leaves carpet the ground.
  • Foamflower: This plant is also useful under trees and produces masses of white flowers, on short spikes, that appear in spring and last for weeks, creating a foamy carpet. Grows to approximately one foot in moist, rich soil, and spreads well.
  • Bee Balm: In part-shade conditions, bee balm is a colourful addition to the garden. Its prolific, bright red flowers appear in early summer and last for weeks.

After we’d chosen our plant and our design we double-checked to make sure that both elements were not only attractive to the eye, but also achieved their primary purpose: to move water away from our foundation. The gravel under the flagstone would help to filter the water and the bamboo planted near the foundation would certainly help to leach water away from the foundation and into the front yard. But to be sure, we dug a trench near our property line and then lined it with hostas. We did this to provide a pathway for the water, should a massive thunderstorm overwhelm all other water-repelling elements.

Finally: our budget. We bought the stone, gravel, extra soil and plants for just under $2,000. I know it sounds like a lot (particularly given the fact that all the labour was free!) but hardscape elements, such as stone and pathways, can add a lot to a budget. To decrease your costs you can simply add more plants and fewer hardscape elements. For more on this read Build Your Own Garden Paradise.

So now we were ready to plant. To get us started we cleared the soil of unwanted plants and weeds. Then we started by digging holes, at least two inches deep, for the backbone plants; these are the plants that are the backbone of the garden and often include bushes, trees or hedges. For us, the backbone were the bamboo and day lilies. Then we started transplanting all the other plants. We dug two inches holdes for each and kept smaller plants in bunches, which helps them grow, and looks more pleasing to the eye. Once each plant was in the soil we then watered the area to help with the transplanting process. That’s when we turned to the border (a plastic divide that keeps soil from spilling over onto walkways) and gravel. Once both elements were in place, we added the flagstone and rock elements. By placing and pounding each one we developed a tiny garden patch in the middle of urban-chic Toronto.

Our plan was simple, but it will look fresh and clean throughout the year.

For those struggling with gardens that get too much sun, here are five hardy, low maintenance plants you should consider:

1.     Black-eyed Susan: With prolific yellow blooms throughout the summer, black-eyed Susan is a cheerful addition to the sunny garden. It grows to about 2 feet and thrives in dry to average soil. And it needs no special care; no watering or fertilizing. It’s a biennial, which means it blooms every second year, but it self-seeds in the garden, so you’ll have lots of flowers.

2.     Coreopsis: This drought-tolerant plant blooms throughout the summer with bright yellow flowers. Deadhead spent blooms (just cut them off when they start drying up) and you’ll encourage new flowers. It grows to about 2 feet in dry to average soil.

3.     Purple Coneflower: A long-lasting perennial, purple coneflower is covered in large flowers from mid-summer through to fall. The purple flowers attract butterflies and require no special care. It will tolerate drought and nutrient-poor soil; it grows to 5 feet and spreads quickly.

4.     New England Aster: Another butterfly-attracting plant, New England aster grows quite tall – up to 5 feet – and is covered with purple flowers with yellow centres. It blooms from late summer through to mid-autumn. Prefers moist conditions, but does just fine in regular soil.

5.     Joe-pye Weed: This is a dramatic plant for the back of a border – it grows tall, to 6 feet and produces large flower heads with dark-rose to purple blooms. From the middle to late summer, its flowers attract butterflies. Prefers moist conditions, but will do fine in average soil.

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