For some, the pleasure of gardening is in the doing — the staking, deadheading, weeding and watering that keep plants in peak condition — like thoroughbred racehorses. Others prefer to appreciate their flowerbeds, pots or windowboxes from a reclining chair.
If you are in the latter camp, and many time-poor Londoners are, what you need are plants that you can pretty much ignore but that will fill your space with colour, scent and greenery. It may sound like a tall order, but follow these tips and you can maximise your flower power without cramping your downtime.
Put the watering can away
If the thought of watering puts you off gardening, you just need to plant the right things. If you get lots of sun, go for anything with Mediterranean on the label, since these barely need watering as long as you give them a really good soaking when you first plant them.
Lavender, salvia caradonna, rose campion, ornamental grasses like miscanthus and pony tail grass (stipa tenuissima) and sedum matrona can be ignored even in hot weather — as can herbs like thyme, rosemary and oregano.
For pots, plant pelargoniums, houseleeks or Mexican fleabane, which has clouds of pretty, daisy-like flowers and will also spread around into cracks in the paving and up steps, making everything look soft and romantic.
If your outside space is shady, even under a tree, don’t despair: plant foxgloves, dusky cranesbill, astrantias and hart’s-tongue fern, water once and then leave them to it.
Stand up for yourself
Top of the tick list for a hands-off gardener is a plant that can stand up on its own. Even tiny spaces need tall flowering plants but supporting them can be quite an art form, especially if you don’t want bamboos and string to dominate the scene.
Forget delphiniums, peonies and top-heavy dinner-plate dahlias and go instead for self-supporters like Verbena bonariensis, gaura (beeblossom), sanguisorba and fennel, with tall airy stems topped with flowers. Add ornamental grasses like purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea transparent) or giant oat grass (Stipa gigantea) and you’ll have glinting golden flower heads to add to the mix.
If you get lots of sun, these will soon establish into an artful tangle making you think of Mediterranean hillsides and they will sway and bend in the face of wind, footballs and marauding dogs, emerging unscathed. If you don’t get much sun, Japanese anemones are a cool, low-energy alternative planted with Japanese forest grass, ferns and sweet woodruff.
Go weed-free in the garden
If you are allergic to weeding, grow plants that don’t give the dandelions a look in. Hardy geraniums and lady’s mantle are your friend since they quickly cover bare ground so the weeds can’t establish. Another great smotherer is hardy Jerusalem sage, which will soon form a mat of evergreen leaves and pale lemon spires of flowers.
No need to be snippy
Dead-heading — cutting back flowers when they are over to encourage a plant to produce new ones — can be mindfully relaxing for some. But if sauntering round the garden after work, snippers in one hand, drink in the other, doesn’t sound fun to you (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it) steer clear of sweetpeas and cosmos and plant things that simply don’t need deadheading.
Cranesbills or hardy geraniums are your go-tos, knitters of the flowerbed that blend everything together. Rozanne and Orion will grow anywhere, forming a carpet of purple flowers, while magenta Patricia basks in sun.
Tips from a ‘handsoff’ gardening pro
In Forest Hill, south London, Julie McMurtrie is a dab hand at finding “hands-off” plants. The keen community gardener, who shares her images on Instagram @365daysgarden not only looks after her own garden but also the nextdoor plot and a community space at the end of the road. “I tried to make the planting really low-maintenance so I didn’t have to keep going down there and watering,” she says.
Outside the community cafe, Julie pulled up the paving and planted rock roses and lamb’s ears and has never had to water them. Next door she combined a “huge and gorgeous” cardoon with a tree mallow, while hers is a colourful self-supporting mass of geraniums, lady’s mantle and sisyrinchium that people stop to take pictures of. All need little attention and no additional watering.
Her top tip for a hands-off plant? “Perennial wallflower Bowles’s Mauve — it flowers in my garden year-round. And don’t forget geums, they flower all summer without deadheading.”