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Maintaining a big garden when cash- and time-strapped!

(35 Posts)
gretagrape Sat 08-Feb-14 07:38:27

We moved into a house 18 months ago with big front and back gardens lovingly tended by a retired RHS groundsman - unfortunately it's been a bit neglected as I got pregnant a month after moving in, so I am only now started to get to grips with it.
As of March I will be back to work full time, so the only time I am going to have is 10 mins in the evening to water any pots/pick veg, then hopefully 1-2 hours each weekend for pruning, planting, maintaining, etc.
Can I be a frugal but quick gardener? I'm not going to have the time to be doing things like taking cuttings from everything to avoid buying costly plants, but I also don't have a lot of cash to replace all the plants I'm having to take out because they are either diseased or too out of shape to recover from hard pruning. I have two compost bins and 4 water butts so shouldn't need to spend money planting and watering things.

I suppose I want tips to help me use my time and money well:
-what plants respond really easily to taking cuttings without too much TLC needed?
-what are your top easy veg to grow? I've grown some stuff in the past (courgettes, dwarf beans, carrots, peppers, with varying success), so will do various salad leaves and spring onions, but ideally a couple of other things for the first year while I get going.
-if you have a nice garden but only have a couple of hours a week,tell me what sort of garden do you have?

Thanks all

purplemurple1 Sat 08-Feb-14 07:51:14


Not a garden as such more a small holding, we have flowering trees and bushes rather than flowers (except for a few daffs). Then grass on the parts by the house for the kid and sitting out the rest is 'meadow' as mil likes to call it smile

Easy veg we grow - potatoes, swedes/turnips, lettuce, beets (easy for kids to weed as the leaves are red).
Carrots are a pain as we always end up having to separate them out and they are hard to transfer from pots in the spring.

We also have some red currant bushes no maintenance, pretty and attract birds and of course you can eat the fruit so useful or at least not dangerous for kids.

Oh and of course a decent lawn mower!

gretagrape Sat 08-Feb-14 11:22:41

Well, the lawn is the least time-consuming part of it! The previous owner was such an amazing gardener that the front garden is just a load of criss-cross paths with probably about 70 different plants in (mostly shrubs and perennials with lots of bulbs as well), and the back is about 100ft but has 2 massive square beds full of plants (as well as beds down each side) so there's no massive patch of lawn as in most gardens.

I do like that meadow look though, where you mow a path then leave the rest long - it's just keeping all the plants under control that's the problem!

funnyperson Sat 08-Feb-14 12:54:40

what happened to the retired groundsman? mean he was the owner not the gardener....oh sorry blush

funnyperson Sat 08-Feb-14 12:55:59

could cut back everything now and let it grow and do cuttings later in the spring ie april time.

WynkenBlynkenandNod Sat 08-Feb-14 15:14:27

I find the easy veg I do on allotment are ones that you don't need to harvest regularly and just leave to do their own thing - parsnips, beetroot, borlotti beans, sweet corn, leeks, rainbow chard, yacon, oca, tomatillo, swede, butternut squash, pumpkins. I only water at the beginning when first planted. After that I check my Wolf garden push pull weeded round to keep weeds off, which has max effect for min effort. Brassicas are a pain as need netting .

Think I'd be tempted to get the diseased shrubs out now , then gently prune the others now, knowing you might lose some of the flowers for this year. It sounds like you've got a great selection of plants. I'd be looking at splitting clumps of perennials in the spring to fill the gaps for this summer and splitting big clumps of bulbs too. Maybe chucking some half hardy annual seeds around too, ones that self seed so you'll hopefully have some for no effort the following year.

Pots can be lovely but one more thing to bother with so wouldn't. 18 months is still fairly early on for a garden. I'd take photos this year each month, try to keep on top of things then review after a year.

However there are many on here much more clued up than me who I'm sure will be along.

gretagrape Sat 08-Feb-14 16:19:15

Wow, thanks, lots of good advice already. Yes, unfortunately he didn't come with the house - I actually had a dream that he came back and was crying because the garden looked so awful!

I reckon there are in total about 200 plants that have all been ignored since we moved in, though I did get half an hour in this morning before yet another rainstorm moved in.

I think you are right, I need to prioritise rather than thinking that I'm going to sort the whole thing out this year. So first job will be to get all the old/dead stuff out and see what sort of scheme I'm left with. After I'd taken one plant out this morning I found another behind it that had been completely hidden and is lovely with pink 'floppy' flowers on it (hmm, need to get some plant identification books out the library I think).

Then I can look at dividing others that are already there - there are some heuchura's (rubbish spelling probably), some small black grasses which will be good for ground cover to keep weeding down, and tons of clumps of snowdrops, crocus and grape hyacinth.

I like your list of veggies - I would never have expected most of those to be easy. I don't think I'll get time to dig a veggie patch as well, so maybe I'll just do one or two or them plus all the salad things in pots for this year. There aren't any ornamental plants in pots so that shouldn't take too much to look after.

I'll start taking photos as well so I can see how it looks each month.


WynkenBlynkenandNod Sat 08-Feb-14 17:01:33

Oh dear, what a nightmare! There is quite a lot of pressure taking over a well established garden, I didn't have that.

Heuchura are very easy to split, you just need a small bit of root and decent weather and they grow really well. I bought a small pot of black grass last year (ophiopogon I think ) and split into 4 bits. 3 are doing pretty well so that was easy. Snowdrops are good to split just after flowering apparently. Grape hyacinth can get a but invasive.

With the veg, if you find you have a big space you want filled after taking some of the diseased stuff out and have a few garden canes around, make a wigwam. Then when weather warm stick a few borlotti seeds around the canes and let them do their things. Doesn't take long. The pods look quite pretty and can just leave them alone till the Autumn until they've dried on the plant.

Some varieties of veg can look pretty eg. Rainbow chard, Scarlett flowered broad beans (though the yield wasn't as good on that as the more traditional flowered ones) and look good in amongst the flower beds. I might have lied about parsnips being easy, they are easy if you can germinate them in the first place, then all you do is leave them.

That's lovely finding a surprise plant , is it a type of hellebore maybe ? If you post pictures people can help identify some of the plants for you.

Most important thing we haven't mentioned, somewhere to sit and admire your garden, it sounds fantastic smile

MillyMollyMama Sat 08-Feb-14 17:24:06

We had enormous flower beds. It was like weeding the Forth Road Bridge. As soon as you finished you had to start all over again. I would really consider if you need those big beds? Could they be made smaller so you have more grass and more play space when you need it? We drastically cut out beds and some were weird shapes which were no great loss. Transplant anything you really want to keep.

Gardens evolve and you do not have to keep it as it is. It should adjust to your needs and resources. We have quite a lot of shrubs which spread. We also underplant with bulbs and perennials. I buy bulbs late so they are reduced in price . I split existing perennials if I can. Big gardens are great but they can be very time consuming if all you do at the weekend is weed!

gretagrape Sat 08-Feb-14 17:53:40

I hadn't thought of planting the veg in the gaps that I'm going to create but that would be a good idea as they'd need a lot less watering than in pots so I'll try that.
My Mum has some sweet pea seeds from last year's plants so I thought I could make a wigwam out of my canes and grow them in some gaps so there would be some colour where I'm taking old plants out - are they reliable growers?
You're right about the beds at the back - we could make them a lot smaller and that would create extra lawn for our son once he's running about, plus at the moment there is so much planting there isn't actually a big area for a table and chairs for us to sit and admire it!
I'll take a piccie of the surprise plant tomorrow and you can see what you think.

WynkenBlynkenandNod Sat 08-Feb-14 18:01:28

I think Milly has a good point about shrinking the beds and gardens evolving. We just had a few big shrubs in our back garden that were not appropriate in the space and needed grass for the DC's whilst little. Now they are older we're digging up a bit of grass fir borders now the climbing frame etc has gone <nostalgic sniff>

Sweet peas are pretty easy but need picking regularly I think to keep flowering throughout the summer or they set seed. However a nice job to do in the evening and flowers for the house.

gretagrape Sat 08-Feb-14 19:11:27

Yes, it's hard when the garden was so 'designed' and lovely - the tendency is to try and maintain what is there, but I do need to adapt it to suit us rather than just leave it as a memorial to the last owners.
One problem I have is that my Mum is one of those people who could literally just chuck a load of mouldy old seeds out the back door and she'd have something worthy of the Chelsea Flower Show all summer, so when I ask her advice, everything is easy!
I think the sweet peas will be a nice idea then - it will be a nice little task for my son to help with when we get home from work/nursery, and I think they will add a nice bit of colour and scent while the rest of the garden is looking a bit sparse from my pruning/hacking this year!

Pannacotta Sat 08-Feb-14 21:45:51

Have you thought about asking him to come and do some gardening work for you?
Perhaps just a few hours at a time until you have it under control?
A proper gardener can get a lot more done than an amateur and it might save you time and hassle in the long run.
He could also talk you through what is there and perhaps you could ask him to create a maintenance plan as a proper RHS garden would have.
No need to keep it as it was but you can build on the foundations.

funnyperson Sun 09-Feb-14 06:10:29

Yes I think i*pannacotta's suggestion is a good one- I once left a 'gardening diary' behind when I moved house: it was a month by month diary of what came up when and what work I tended to do: sounds grand but there were lots of bulbs and perennials and things and all of the planting wasnt immediately obvious to a new comer.

whereisshe Sun 09-Feb-14 06:43:18

If you want to fill gaps cheaply, other than seeds, plug plants are a good option. They do need a bit of attention until they get established but if you pick your moment in early Spring that's quite a quick process. Other things that are hard to kill and don't need much maintenance include aquilegia (will self-seed), some of the geraniums, Icelandic poppies (although a bit invasive), violas (the small native one- will self seed happily), pachysandra...

gretagrape Sun 09-Feb-14 09:47:25

Oooh if only bringing the last owner back was an option - unfortunately they moved a 4 hour drive away! I could look at getting a local gardener in for one session of pruning/clearing and try to get as much info as I can out of him, but I couldn't afford for it to be a regular thing.

I'll have a look at your suggestions for plants that are easy to look after - I'm off to the garden centre in a minute to get inspiration (WITHOUT my purse!).

I've taken a picture of my surprise plant that I found yesterday - it's about 12" tall x 16" wide - it looks more like a perennial than a shrub as it's very green and fleshy rather than woody. There are a few black leaves on it, but I'm hoping it's ok as the rest looks healthy. What do you reckon it is? It would be good if it's something that could be divided because I'd love to have a few more of it for spring colour.

gretagrape Sun 09-Feb-14 09:48:39

Oh, that picture isn't great is it - here's a close up of the flower!

Lovely, hellebores. But if you want them as cut flowers indoors then they will droop, need water very close up to their necks.

If you don't already have a veg bed already and you are horribly time strapped do you need to start growing veg? Pots work out expensive and the plants aren't necessarily cheap (although this month's gardener's world has a good article on veg that save loads of money) and you have to be religious with watering some of them.

hellebore is perennial and you can split it. When you get to the garden centre look at the prices of flowering hellebores in pots and gloat a bit.

Pannacotta Sun 09-Feb-14 10:43:49

Yes why not get a good gardener to come and help you work out a plan of action and look at what you have there so know what plants are there. Someone RHS qualified will know their stuff, is there a horticultural college near where you live where you could ask for names?

Cut off the black leaves of your Hellebore btw as this will prevent infection spreading, also means you can see more of the lovely flowers.

Also worth looking at gardening books for ideas and identification.

Btw not all gardeners are male!!

CatsAreLikeChocolates Sun 09-Feb-14 10:45:41

Ooh! Those helebores are lovely. They're also called Lentern Roses. So pretty! We've got loads of them in our inherited wilderness, which like yours was once a well loved garden. They come in all sorts of colours and will cross-pollinate so if you buy some others in different varieties you might end up with your own unique hybrids. I bought some purple and some lime green ones last year and this year have some rather natty stripy numbers which I definitely didn't plant. As others of said they divide really well too.

In terms of keeping up with a big garden I would recommend ordering a truck load of bark mulch asap, pulling out all the weeds you can see (like brambles, etc), then putting bark over all the beds to stop the weeds going too mad once the spring comes. I think that really full beds of shrubs are actually easier than lawn, but then I really do hate mowing! Leave the shrubs to do their own thing as much as possible; I don't believe Titchmarsh and co, and I've found that most things don't really need that much pruning. As for veg, which whilst fab it is v hard work, I would go for raised planters filled with bought in irradiated, weed-free top soil for a few salad leaves, spring onions and beetroot. All other veg is so cheap in places like Lidl that I would only bother if you have lots of time to look after them.

Mostly, just remember that it's your garden now and needs to be a happy place for you and yours, not just a burdensome shrine to the previous occupant. Enjoy it!

gretagrape Sun 09-Feb-14 14:37:53

You've all given me some really good ideas. I did gloat at the garden centre as they had loads of the hellebores at £10 a pop. I'll cut the black leaves off then have a go at splitting in a month or so. I also had a good look around my Mum's garden and will be hoping to steal some cuttings of hebe's and grasses as they are also really expensive.

I've just starting hacking at the hideous half-dead pampas grass that is in the centre of the front garden - I can't wait until that's out then I'll be able to get a perspective of the whole area.

I think you're all right about the veg - I was keen to do it so my son would grow up knowing about it all, but he really won't take it in this year so I think I'm just going to concentrate on what's already there and what needs taking out, then hopefully start on veg next year (there is a 15ft greenhouse which has just been used to store our bikes and wheelbarrow, so hopefully that will get a bit of use next year!)

It's funny, but it's not until I started this thread that I really thought about my motives and realised that I was trying to preserve what the last owners had built up, which was a lot of pressure, so I feel really relaxed now about taking my time to make the garden work for our own family.

Thanks for all your advice - the sun is shining for what looks like the next 20 minutes or so, so I'm off to do some more hacking!

LadyMetroland Sun 09-Feb-14 14:52:15

We have similar issue - huge garden, no time.
I like wild gardens so letting it go a bit hasn't bothered me too much
Biggest issue, of course, is weeds! Putting bark over the borders and just leaving major shrubs is something I've been toying with but don't even have time to do that (3 kids under 5).
Last couple of years we've ended up getting gardeners over to blitz the place once a season but of course that can get very expensive.
Watching for further ideas!

gretagrape Sun 09-Feb-14 16:10:25

I'm really lucky because I can see even from the small amount of time I've spent out there this weekend that there are hardly any weeds apart from tiny ones with almost no roots and the odd dandelion. There does seem to be a lot of well-rotted bark down, so it looks like that has done the job really well. There are only a couple of odd stems of thorns so they shouldn't be an issue either.

I like the idea of buying a different hellebore then seeing what happens when they mate!

I found a sedum below the pampas grass - this is great, like getting loads of free presents every time I go out there! I've had one of those before and split them successfully, so I'll split that one and replant. Do you split perennials after they have flowered as a rule, or during a specific season?

My aim is to not actually spend any money on the garden this year - just prune, remove, and take cuttings/divide what I have time to do, then see what I've got next Spring, otherwise it's so easy to go out and buy lots of pretty plants without really looking at what I've got.
I think the Gardening section of MN is going to be my best friend now!

funnyperson Sun 09-Feb-14 16:36:09

Generally you can divide perennials in the spring and again in the autumn. 'spring' is a variable depending on the warmth of your soil and the absence of night time frosts.
I've come to think that spring is a better time because there is a longer growing season for your divided plants.
I don't really like pampas grass at all- it seems a very dated plant,and takes a lot of sun and space.

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