For many, a garden is a great source of joy. It reflects a sense of pride in our home that goes beyond what’s indoors. Gardening can be a relaxing and satisfying practice, but not everyone has the time or means to take care of a large number of outdoor plants.
The act of successful gardening requires quite a lot of trial and error unless you’re with an experienced gardener who can advise you what’s best. It also requires patience and willingness to accept that not all plants, shrubs, and flowers will bloom or even survive the first time around.
Thankfully, there are plenty of low-effort plants and shrubs that will surround you with beautiful foliage and colour and won’t force you to develop a green thumb.
1. Hardy Geraniums
Hardy geraniums are much prettier and more delicate than the types of geranium you may typically have in and around your home but are actually more robust. This plant is almost indestructible and produces flowers throughout the warm months. You don’t need to do anything to help the plant survive in your flower beds, but cutting it right back after the first time it flowers will encourage it to come back with more abundant flowers before the end of the summer.
When to plant: Any time of year
When it flowers: April – September
When to prune: any time between October and March, plus once in July if you want to see the best from the flowers in August and September
2. Any Bulb Plant
Daffodils, snowdrops, tulips, crocuses, alliums, lilies, and nerines are all incredibly easy and will treat you to beautiful, colorful flowers throughout the spring and even the whole year if you embrace a few different types of bulb plant.
When to plant:
When it flowers:
When to prune: No pruning needed! Just clear away dead foliage to keep things tidy.
One of the easiest ways to get a blossom of color in your garden with little-to-no maintenance is to buy a wildflower mix and sprinkle it across a flowerbed or even a patch of lawn you don’t use. Unless you have a very prolific and hungry local bird population, it will soon erupt with wildflowers like cornflowers, daisies, ragged robin, corn marigold, bellflowers, betony, and others.
Wildflowers are a great choice if you have relatively poor soil.
Known for its bright scent and soft hue, lavender makes a gorgeous addition to perennial gardens with its upright flower spikes, silvery-green foliage, and tight, shrub-like shape. Despite having Mediterranean origins, growing in abundance in places like France and Croatia, English lavender got its name because it thrives in our cooler climate. Today, it’s a staple in herb gardens all over the country. Once established, this perennial herb is easy to maintain with little watering required, but you’ll want to prune it once a year. Lavender also offers the added benefit of being harvestable for potpourri, bath mixes, teas, and (if you’re feeling adventurous) cocktails!
When to plant: March – May or October – November
When it flowers: July – September
When to prune: August – September
Looking for something that will give your garden a tropical feel? Then look no further than this hardy member of the succulent family. The sempervivum plant gets its name from the Latin words “Semper” meaning “always” and “vivum” meaning “alive”. This is because it can withstand drought and extreme heat.
The sempervivum is most appreciated for its unusual rosettes of succulent, spiraling foliage and flowers between spring and summer. Each rosette is a separate, monocarpic plant, meaning it flowers once, dies, and is quickly replaced by new rosettes known as offsets.
If you’re aiming for a large spread of sempervivums, you can separate and plant up these new offsets, and they’ll grow into new clumps. Sempervivums can be grown in driftwood, bricks, and tufa rock as they can flourish in little compost. They’ll thrive in a sunny, outdoor position, in a well-drained compost with a layer of grit on the surface of the compost to prevent rotting.
6. Rock Roses
This variety of Helianthemum is a beautiful small shrub that stays low to the ground and produces plenty of flowers from May on. It will grow well in any kind of soil and is hardy, but may not survive a seriously harsh winter.
When to plant: May – September
When it flowers: May – July
When to prune: generally not needed
If you don’t mind its slightly spiky nature, Holly is a slow-growing evergreen that creates a pretty and dense hedge or can be found in tree varieties. There are many different varieties so you can take your pick – the Silver Queen and Silver Mermaid varieties are particularly striking.
Yew plants need very little care once they’ve rooted, just some pruning to keep in line once they are well established (you generally shouldn’t trim upward growth for a couple of years or you’ll find they will struggle to grow for some years).
This deciduous native of China is loved for its easy care and impressive bloom production. This shrub can reach 10 feet in height and is hardy to -34 degrees celsius. Between April and June, the weigela produces pink or wine-red tubular blooms that will attract hummingbirds. It’s popular among novice gardeners and those who don’t have the time to fertilize and spray as it’s essentially pest- and disease-free. The weigela plant has an arching growth habit when its shrubs reach maturity so hardly any pruning is needed.
When to plant: October – November
When it flowers: May – July
When to prune: whenever necessary; plant somewhere it has space to grow if you want to plant it and ignore it
Mahonias take up a lot of space but without turning into a huge mass – making them a distinctive and eye-catching plant all year round. The foliage resembles holly and turns from dark green close to the branch and turns light-green or yellow where there’s new growth. Provided you plant it in a suitable area, you can leave this plant to grow for years completely undisturbed.
Best used in gardens in the South of England, pittosporum has dark purple stems with light green leaves with veins of near-white – it’s incredibly unique and evergreen to boot, so an ideal low-maintenance large shrub. While it will thrive in the south, it is an incredibly hardy plant, growing well in any kind of soil.
6. Winged Spindle
This large shrub has foliage that turns bright red in the autumn, offering your garden plenty of autumnal shades. In the summer, you’ll find lime-green flowers on green foliage, with berries following. You won’t need to do anything for this shrub provided it’s healthy – just prune anything that looks dead or diseased in early spring.
Also known as ‘winter sun’, this evergreen plant has shiny leaves and spreading shrubs. These eye-catching clusters grow bright yellow flowers between winter and early spring. The flowers are fragrant and often compared to the lily of the valley. It then produces plump, deep purple berries in autumn. Mahonia grows quickly but is easy to maintain as it’s resistant to heavy rain and even snow.
When to plant: May – September
When it flowers: November – March
When to prune: Prune every other year as necessary
2. Shrub Roses
Shrub roses may be the flower of romance and luxury, but they’re one of the easiest flowers to grow. Pruning will produce fewer but bigger flowers that will bloom later than those on an unpruned rose bush. The earliest flowers will blossom on shrubs that haven’t been pruned in some time. If you’re a novice gardener or don’t have much time on your hands, pruning your shrub rosebush is optional; you can leave your shrub roses unpruned or dead-headed and they’ll still look fantastic.
When to plant: October – April
When it flowers: May – September
When to prune: rarely necessary, but do so between December – March when you need to
The abelia plant grows slowly but requires very little pruning. It’s a semi-evergreen shrub with dark green leaves and light pink tubular flowers during the summer. Abelias grow more flowers in a sunnier spot, but once you’ve planted it, there’s nothing extra to do in terms of maintenance. They’re also pretty frost-hardy and do well in almost any soil type.
When to plant: May or October
When it flowers: July – October
When to prune: prune as necessary in March or April
This flowering bush is also known as the red robin due to its vibrant red foliage. It’s a member of the rose family but is also a relative of the apple. Most species of photinia are evergreen, but some deciduous species exist, too. The red robin’s glossy, red foliage will grow brighter in a sunny spot, adding a warm hue to your garden.
When to plant: September – October
When it flowers: April – May
When to prune: rarely needed, but best in September or October when necessary
5. Japanese Spirea
Unsurprisingly, this flowering shrub is a deciduous native of East Asia and can withstand temperatures as low as -40 degrees Celsius. It’ll reach up to six feet tall and a maximum of seven feet wide. In sunny June and July months, you’ll see flat-topped clusters of pink flowers which butterflies and other pollinators are drawn to.
6. Ornamental Grasses
As we all know, grass grows almost anywhere throughout the year. With them, they often bring disease and pest resistance. Stipa tenuissima or Mexican feather grass is a great option- it’s compact and bears stiff, closely packed stems in a horizontal shape. In summer, lots of pale, feathery seed-heads will grow above the foliage. You can also cut and dry these seed-heads when they first open and create winter arrangements for table settings. Stipa gigantea or ornamental grass is another great alternative to pampas grass and does well in smaller gardens.
This shrub is another you can plant and forget – with dark green waxy leaves and white flowers that appear throughout the year, especially during the darker periods. While Viburnum can reach sizes of over a metre square, they are fairly slow growing so if you plant one that’s less than a few feet tall, you’ll have very little to do for many years to come.
When to plant: best planted November – March
When it flowers: December – April
When to prune: as necessary
Here are some tips to make your gardening even easier:
If you’re not sure how to design your garden with low-maintenance plants and you live in Essex our garden design team is here to help. We’ve been helping transform gardens in the area for over a decade, and we’d love to help you design an outdoor space you adore. To find out more about our garden design services click here, or download your free eBook on things to consider before designing your dream garden by clicking here.