I hate hand-washing clothes and I know that if I have any such items, one busy day I will throw them into the washing machine with my fingers crossed behind my back and predictably disastrous results. Consequently I have learnt not to buy anything which needs such dedicated and delicate care, however gorgeous it might be. What has this got to do with a stress-free garden?
Even enthusiastic gardeners have certain tasks they enjoy far less than others or positively dislike. Some of my favourite gardens to visit have immaculate lawns and miles of beautifully clipped hedges. But I know that if I was to have these at home I would be creating my very own stress-inducing garden. Resenting every moment spent pushing the lawnmower or clipping the hedges; I would delay and procrastinate and the untidier they got the more they would annoy, irritate and nag at me.
All gardens, however low maintenance, need some care and attention. It’s the external equivalent of housework and similarly there are things you can do to help minimise and sometimes avoid the jobs you don’t like. As well as thinking about whether you like decking or paving, need a sandpit or fire pit, remember to think about what gardening jobs you do and don’t like. It’s probably the most important aspect of creating a garden you can relax in. You may have fallen in love with a Chelsea Show Garden full of perfect box balls and pleached trees but do you have the patience and time to keep them just so and more importantly would you be able to relax if they were not precise and well-manicured.
But I like box balls, you cry. Avoiding the associated work doesn’t mean that you can’t create something similar; many well-behaved shrubs such as Hebe rakaiensis naturally grow into neat domes without the need for you to wield any clippers.
Hate the thought of pruning or even owning secateurs? Then avoid primadonnas which need regular pruning to be at their best. Many shrubs don’t need any regular pruning if you’re happy to let them do their own thing and grow naturally; the worst that can happen may be slightly fewer flowers or an untidier shape.
Most of us want to do less weeding. Weeds love bare soil, it’s their dream destination so squeeze them out by generously filling your borders and pots with plants you do like or cover bare soil with a mulch such as gravel, slate or bark.
Maybe you love cottage gardens full of flowers, but don’t have time to deadhead or fiddle with all those plant supports?
Then choose shrubs or tough perennials such as hardy Fuchsias and Geraniums which will flower all summer and from one year to the next with minimal care and attention. There are literally hundreds to choose from.
Or maybe you’re new to gardening and getting stressed trying to remember what each plant needs or even what it is? Keep it simple. Choose a few easy-care plants you like and repeat them. You will get a strong look which is also simple to look after.
What’s your least favourite job in the garden?
Won’t you come into my garden? Richard Sheridan used the excuse that he would like his roses to see the young lady in question, maybe not a chat up line that would work today. However there are many reasons other than romance to enter into the world of gardens and gardening.
Horticultural therapy is now a recognised field and profession and uses plants, gardening activities and the garden environment to promote well-being and improve mental and physical health. We may know someone who benefits from such treatments and happily support it's growing (pardon the pun) use across the NHS. But do we think about how it could help us live a healthier, happier life? I have yet to meet many people who include 'must do more weeding' or 'visit more gardens' as part of their list of New Year resolutions.
There are obvious benefits from any hobby which involves exercise and fresh air and maintaining a beautiful garden or productive allotment can provide plenty of both. But there are also measurable health benefits from just looking at a garden, a strong argument for creating a beautiful garden and the perfect excuse for a lazy summer afternoon in the deckchair.
Just a few minutes looking at a view of trees, water or flowers can reduce stress and anxiety and induce relaxation. These are not just self-reported feelings but real, measurable improvements in blood pressure, muscle tension and brain and heart activity. So maybe this year instead of New Year diets and gym passes we should simply decide to make the most of our gardens and if we haven't got one of our own at home prescribe ourselves a visit to a nearby park or garden and simply enjoy the view, increase our daily step count and unwind.......