Too busy to garden? Take a lesson from lawns

The Microgarden, in all its Fall Frowsiness


If you have a busy life, you can’t afford a busy garden.

Take it from M.I.A.-me. My garden this fall is payback for a neglectful summer. The beds that looked charmingly cottage-y back in June could now be used in a dictionary to illustrate the word frowsy.

I’m taking a lesson from lawns

There’s a reason for the lawn’s longevity as a garden design template. Simplicity. The lawn has been the “little green dress” that looks presentable in most situations. Add a couple of accessories – a tree, a container or two – and it can usually pass for a garden.  

Basic maintenance of a lawn is also relatively uncomplicated. Just add water and mow.

Now I’m not a lawn advocate; in fact, my last tiny patch of grass will be disappearing soon. Instead, I draw the busy person’s attention to two concepts I’m striving for myself: 1) Simple design, and 2) Uncomplicated maintenance.

Mass planting for a sunny spot, from the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art

Simple design

The lawn is a monoculture; that’s a mass planting of a single kind of plant. Once you rise above turfgrass, though, that design strategy is a little extreme. Yet we can learn from it.

Simplify your design by planting larger groups (three is good; five is better) of the same plant. Limit your palette to just a few plants. Repeat them in various parts of your garden. In short, plant more of less. Give anything that doesn’t work away… or compost it. I’m doing that now in the Microgarden.

Mass planting for shade, from Government House in Victoria, B.C. Hostas, astilbe and ferns all need similar care.

Uncomplicated maintenance

That means no fusspots needing special care that you don’t have time or energy for. Choose them for their happiness together, in your kind of garden, and for your kind of life.

No time to water? Choose drought-tolerant plants. Don’t like pruning? Pick plants that don’t need that kind of attention. Away every summer? Create a spring and fall garden and forget anything you won’t be there to enjoy. And stay far, far away from busy-making self-seeders or rampant spreaders, unless your cunning plan is to let them run riot – a strategy best left to those with time on their hands.

If only I could “simplify” away all the morning glory seeds!

Life, and gardening, made simpler

Like Henry Ford’s Model T cars, with lawns you can have any colour you like – as long as it’s green. While the photos above show that you can have more colour than that, accept that your simple, uncomplicated garden will come with a necessary degree of compromise.

It might not be as flowery as you’d wish, for as long as you wish, but…

Sorry, hon. You have a busy life. You can’t afford a busy garden.

Take it from me.


  1. That's exactly the trouble with cottage gardens. They go off. Do you grow crocosmia? It's very 'off' (over, caved in, flattened . . . ) at present. On the whole, though, I think I'd rather have variety than elegance.

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