Daniel Lee garden design blog

Digging Deeper- The thoughts and observations of Daniel Lee of Cambridge Garden Design  

My intention is to write a blog with more content and body based upon my work at the Shelford Deli,  Great Shelford Memorial Hall and other client in the Cambridge area.

This blog is about low maintenance gardens,  myths surrounding them  and offering  you examples of how you can achieve REAL low maintenance whilst not compromising on seasonal interest and REAL beauty within your garden.

Can  you ( and by "you" i mean, domestic homeowners with medium sized gardens) still have the high impactful gardens whilst at the same time not become a slave to them.?

Can we have  seasonal, long-term interest in the garden, whilst at the same time not having to deadhead for two hours at the end of each working day?

I hope by end of this blog you might re-examine your perception of "low maintenance" and potentially make positive changes in your own garden

When meeting a new client the standard request  is:   It just has to be low maintenance, we simply haven't got the time these days" followed by obligatory


"We were thinking about putting the garden down to gravel, what do you think"

My reaction is to smile politely, (though inwardly I am screaming).

 How do we define low maintenance. Your definition of low maintenance will probably set by the time you can spare in the garden and/or by the amount of hours you can pay your gardener to maintain it on your behalf .  This will obviously very between reader to reader.

I can tell you what isn't low maintenance. (Does this scene look familiar)

Though these plants that are considered low maintenace ( Nandina, lonicera, Pieris, Heuchera) they are planted in a minute border.  

The Nandina, loincera and Pieris will need to be pruned throughout the year to keep them within the confines of the border, furthermore  by pruning they will lose their individual form ( and flowering buds) and look like generic shrubby blobs which i see to often these days.

Creating REAL Low maintenance gardens boils down to one simple thing, correct plant selection. If the beds are designed correctly,  you shouldn't need to work so hard to keep plants under control. The most appropriate plants should have been chosen for the space at the design stage. 

This border has been designed so it only requires 4 hours maintenance per year. Low maintenance doesnt have to be boring!!!

Secondly, now look outside into your garden,  how much bare soil do you see.  Can you see more bare soil than plants?

It's vital that you have as much ground coverage as possible in your garden.  You could use a conventional  bark much , or you could  use mulched a thick layer (4 inchs) compost.

However have you considered that you could cover the soil surface  with a dense plant layer.?  Let me make this point clearly, a dense  ground cover layer is very different from ground-cover plants as shown in the picture below.


This type of planting will make your garden feel very bland/sterile. Secondly a lot of the groundcover plants are highly invasive.

 As illustrated in the pictures below this can be achieved with a wide range of plants.


Perhaps consider the examples below . This method of planting uses a greater variety of species. By increasing the number of species, you can vastly  increase the season if interest.

Also consider planting your garden at a higher plant  per square metre density. 

Having specimen (low maitenace) shrubs at two or 3 m apart with acres of  soil in between them simply isn't going to work . It may be cheaper in the short term to plant this way, but it is merely a faulse economy.

The money you may save at the planting stage will be undone by the amount you pay for maintenance both in terms of cost and time.

I hope this blog gives an  small insight about how you can create a lower maintenace garden for yourself, that can very highly attractive at the same time.

Take some time to re-exemine your own garden and analyses if your low maintenance gardens is errr, ummm actually low maintenance. You would be surprised how a few simple changes and tweaks to your existing plants, with a few new additions can transform you garden space.

Daniel Lee


Twitter: @DeliGardener

There are enough flowery (excuse the pun) and gentle blogs out there providing visual relief through beautiful pictures of gardens and close-up portraits shots of flowers. 

My intention is to write a blog with more content and body based upon my work at the Shelford Deli and at the Great Shelford Memorial Hall.

My first blog focuses on why employing the services of a Garden Designer/accredited landscape professional when planning your garden, is so vital. 

I hope to talk about the subject in an even-handed manner and not from a place of self-interest.

For the record, many other Garden Designers work in and around Cambridge, and many offer an excellent service. 

A comprehensive directory of other garden designers is at http://www.sgd.org.uk  ( Society of Garden Designers).

There are also landscape companies that offer a "Design and Build" service. They will have an in-house designer working in the offices. These are at  http://www.bali.org.uk (British Association of Landscape Industries) and APL ( Association of Professional Landscapers) http://www.landscaper.org.uk

So if employing the services of a Garden Designer/accredited landscape professional is so vital why are Garden Designers services overlooked by many people. 

Firstly, the TV Gardening programme totally dumbs down the horticultural content and technical aspect of designing and building and planting a garden. 

I get it; viewers don't want to be challenged and for most, it is just light entertainment. However, this does nothing for educating and informing clients and seriously skews the perception of our industry and the highly trained professionals that operate within it. 

I remember in Alan Titchmarsh's "Love your Garden" programme there was a total of 30 seconds dedicated to the design drawing (which was just a scribble on a sheet of paper)  

Granted, garden design inherently is a personal subjective process. 

NEWS FLASH........ Garden designers are not the only people on this planet with imaginative ideas about gardens,  but, and it's a BIG but, not everybody's desires and ideas will work in reality, or they aren't easy or practical to maintain.

Clients will also see the heavily photoshopped picture taken of their favourite garden in Gardens Illustrated  (GI) or The English Garden (TEG) . Unfortunately, this doesn't mean it would transpose into your garden space. Far from it actually. 

As a footnote to the above, I attended a garden designers conference last year, and one of the speakers was a famous photographer who regular exhibits in GI and TEG. He made the point ( to the annoyance of the audience, who try to make their designs look like a GI cover shots) he takes most of his pictures at dawn or dusk, so the light is perfect. Secondly, the light is "perfect" only for that precise moment when he is taking that shot and he spends more time in front of his computer photoshopping than actually in Lord and Lady Smithers (the 3rd) garden in the Cotswolds. 

Gardens, real gardens, don't look like this. I wished they did, trust me. I have always tried to design the perfect garden, but gardens are ephemeral beasts, they are always in a state of change and evolution. 

It is my opinion as a consequence there for a section of society that feel a designers services can be bypassed.

I am also not naive to think cost (or more specifically people perceptions of cost and value) doesn't play a role as well. However time and time again I have seen client bypass the need for designer services and go straight to a builder or landscaper. 

Without having a good knowledge of the above, it will mean the client will pay for unnecessary maintenance when it is not needed. 

You should in my opinion be paying your gardener to be dead-heading your roses/perennials thinning out the small apple in early summer on your fruit trees or transplanting seedlings into positions where new exciting combination can be achieved, not undertaking repetitive tasks that take up lot time that didn't need to be done in the first place....you get the picture. 

So if you can instruct a Garden Designer at an early stage, the chances of these costly mistakes could be avoided. 

Thanks so much for taking the time out of your day to read my blog.

Daniel Lee

Twitter: @DeliGardener