You Can Have a No-Work Garden, But it Takes Work

The Home GuruBy Bill Primavera

Since the onset of COVID-19, I, like everyone else, have been more confined at home. My living circumstances make it more difficult than it might have been several years ago when I lived in a home with a good-sized lawn and garden. I would have had the opportunity to busy myself outside maintaining both.

But as it happens, I live in a condo development where all the landscaping is done by other people. It’s something that I sorely miss.

Since the invention of the washing machine, vacuum cleaner, dishwasher and self-cleaning oven, the time needed for household chores has been greatly reduced. Outside in the garden, however, there haven’t been many inventions to assist us in cutting down on time, with the possible exception of the lawn mower. The dull task of cutting grass is one that I handed over to the experts when I first moved to the suburbs.

Early on as a homeowner, I surrounded myself in the garden with beauty and color from early spring to late fall, with very little time spent for labor. My method required just one weekend of work at the beginning of the season and only a few periodic touch-ups, which I called my therapy, along the way. This included the planting and cultivation of plants and the onerous chore of keeping weeds, invasive plants and deer at bay.

My first teacher in easy gardening was Ruth Stout, the sister of mystery writer Rex Stout, who many years ago wrote my favorite book about gardening called “The No-Work Garden Book.” Stout’s mainstays for an easy garden were thick mulching and composting. Though no longer in print, there are still copies of her book available on eBay.

Somehow this handy book was lost from my library years ago, and I suspect I gave it to a new homeowner who, like me, moved to a suburban home with a big yard.

I developed an approach with a few rules of (a green) thumb – and with some trial-and-error experimentation on my own – for advancing the beauty of my garden from year to year while cutting back on the time required to maintain it.

Actually, it’s a three-pronged approach. First, I considered carefully which plants I put into my garden and which I would keep out. Excluded were roses, which can kill you from the constant attention needed, and annual flowers for cutting which can be as intense as raising a child.

Anything that blooms every year with no attention from me can be included, from the foundation planting of bushes such as azaleas and rhododendrons, to blossoming trees like cherry, apple and dogwood. My flowers were mostly perennials, including phlox and black-eyed Susan, which, if properly watered and fertilized, naturally or otherwise, will spread each year, along with bulbs and tubular plants.

Martha Stewart might cringe at my choices, but I did plant annuals that require no work at all once I stuck them in the ground. They included impatiens, which actually do better in the shade than in the sun, annual geraniums, which thrive in bright sun and can take incredible abuse from weather and lack of water, and my beloved petunias which, while requiring frequent watering, perform gloriously all season long. 

To these I added many perennial geraniums. The latter don’t look like regular geraniums at all, but rather grow on vine-like stems every year, without prodding, and have delicate little flowers that last from late spring to frost. 

A side tip is that if you plant the annuals in clusters or in tubs and urns, they “pop” better in the overall landscape. My annuals required just one long day to plant and gave a full season of colorful pleasure.

Step two of my no-work garden was to employ thick mulch doing its triple-duty miracle work of retaining moisture while inhibiting weed growth, plus adding nutrients to the soil as it decays. I have a money-saving trick in achieving a thick mulch look. Regular mulch can be quite expensive, so I asked my landscaping company to drop a full load of clean chips near my driveway. I used them in all my garden beds as a first layer. Then, I cover that layer with a mere skin of the more expensive mulch. Clever, huh?

My third element for easy gardening was to utilize certain products to keep plant and animal invaders at bay. I always liked Preen, those tiny granules that keep weeds from germinating.

Another product in my arsenal was Bobbex, which keeps deer from wishing each other bon appétit over my hostas and most other plants with flowers. While Bobbex must be sprayed at least once a month to continue its effectiveness, it’s a small price to pay to assure that you won’t lose an entire bed of plantings to one evening of deer indulgence.

If I had had the time, I probably would have planted annual flowers for cutting, but instead I would stop off at the local grocery store every week where I would buy them cheap, already cut and bundled nicely, for my wife. It serves two purposes. It demonstrates to my wife that I am a sensitive guy who thinks of her whenever I see flowers, but it was also to eliminate the big gardening chore of growing them myself.

Bill Primavera, while a publicist and journalist, is also a realtor associated with William Raveis Real Estate and founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

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