Can you have a long-distance garden without settling for a sterile space that has little foliage and fewer flowers?
- © GAP Photos/Suzie Gibbons/
Designer: Kathy Taylor
- © GAP Photos/Elke Borkowski
If you want English roses, a fully fledged herbaceous border and a lush, green lawn to greet you every time you arrive at your weekend retreat, you will need a regular gardener as well as an automatic irrigation system.
The more sensible option is to choose your plants to suit the space, as well as your situation, in which case a gorgeous garden can be yours.
Weekend gardeners with town plots — those who seldom pick up a spade or secateurs during the week — could follow the same advice.
The low-maintenance landscape requires plants that need no staking, no feeding, no deadheading. Usher in the relaxed, informal prairie-flavour with perennials such as catmint, Nepeta racemosa Walker’s Low, late-flowering Aster frikartii Monch, echinacea and rudbeckia, filling in the gaps with grasses in the stipa and miscanthus family.
Bring in tough, drought-tolerant plants such as Sedum Purple Emperor, Euphorbia characias, sea holly Eryngium bourgatii, euonymus and pittosporum.
Be realistic. Don’t expect the lawn to look emerald green without lots of TLC, so if you can’t rake it, feed it at least once a year and mow it weekly through summer, consider giving it up for gravel. A neglected kitchen garden is more likely to deliver weeds than produce, so don’t even attempt one.
Herbs, however, can thrive, provided you plant the easy-going Mediterranean varieties such as sage, thyme, rosemary, lavender, bay and oregano. Bronze fennel looks decorative but needs to be cut before seedheads develop. Grow a mix of these herbs in the border, where they will provide valuable year-round clumps of foliage in shades of green, silver, grey and smokey purple.
© GAP Photos/Designer: Tom Stuart-Smith, RHS Chelsea
If snipping the leaves for cooking doesn’t keep them in trim, you can chop them back after they have flowered, or when they become too bushy. Shrub roses need deadheading but the tough rugosa roses do not. They have lovely perfume, are tolerant of shade and will flower through most of the summer. Use them singly in the border, as hedges or even as screening.
‘Usher in an informal prairie-flavour with perennials such as catmint, echinacea and rudbeckia’
A few of the most free-flowering varieties: pure white frilly-flowered Blanc Double de Coubert, clear pink Fru Dagmar Hastrup and purply-crimson Roseraie de l’Hay. Rambling roses, once established, can look after themselves and will flower with or without attention.
© GAP Photos/Jonathan Buckley/Designer: Tom Stuart-Smith
Pale pink May Queen, light mauve Veilchenblau, blush-white Francis E Lester and yellow Goldfinch are all sturdy showstoppers. Another plus point of rambling roses: they can be used to support easy-going Clematis viticella, so that when the roses are over, the clematis begins.
All you need do to keep both in check is cut out the oldest branches when the rose becomes too dense and cut back the clematis to a low set of buds in early spring.
Make self-seeders your ally. Imagine arriving in April to face a sea of blue forget-me-nots or, in May to see swathes of knee-high aquilegia in the prettiest pastels. Scatter the seed of both the previous autumn, or start the colony with a dozen seedlings. Bulbs take only a short time to plant yet the results can last for years.
This autumn, plant bulbs of dwarf daffodils, which will not keel over or look unsightly when they have flowered, short, species tulips that will naturalise and, above all, plenty of alliums: their drumsticks popping up all over the place look great long after the starry, purple flowers have faded.
For the main event, focus on the view from the most used rooms. If you have a sloping bank, for instance, on one side of the house, with no window facing it, just keep it green by planting it up with trailing evergreen periwinkle and leave it to its own devices.
© GAP Photos/Rob Whitworth at Highcroft gardens, Cornwall
Containers have a place in the long-distance garden provided they are large tubs that won’t dry out quickly and house drought-lovers such as olive trees, clipped box or agapanthus.
On the terrace or patio table, always have a plant or two — a living one — to greet you; there is nothing less welcoming than a potful of withered pansies.
Succulents thrive on neglect and need little or no watering; easiest of all are houseleeks, which look wonderful when planted in several wide, low pots to show off the different variants of pale greens, dusty pinks and deep reds.