Low Maintenance Garden Plants
Cyclical garden trends make fashion victims of some great garden plants that are low maintenance and high performing, and therefore perfect for the low maintenance garden.
It’s hard to keep a good plant down though, especially one that needs minimal water, is adaptable to a range of soil and light conditions and that is resistant to pests and diseases . Perhaps that is why eventually they come back into favour. Of course, being attractive helps too.
Here’s 3 ‘out of fashion’ garden plants that deserve a comeback based on their good looks alone and that are also perfect plants for a low maintenance garden.
3 Low Maintenance Garden Plants That Deserve A Comeback
1 - The Super Star - Agave attenuata (swans neck agave)
Out of fashion for a while now, this dramatic feature plant seriously deserves a come-back in the popularity stakes. This is a bold foliage plant that has a distinctive rosette form, with thick fleshy leaves that are an attractive glaucous grey-green tone. Easy to propagate, agave quickly matures from ‘pups’ (the offsets that form at the base of the mature rosettes) into large, sculptural clumps of around 1.5m x 1.5m. It throws show-stopping 1.5m long greenish-yellow flower spikes every few years and these are so weighty they swoop in a crazy Zuess-plant fashion.
Agave attenuata survives on minimal water, thriving in extremely dry, sunny spots including sandy, well-drained soils, as well as tolerating partial shade. This large succulent is different from many other agave in that the fleshy leaves are spineless, giving it a softer and more versatile aesthetic that lends itself to use in Mediterranean, subtropical, coastal and xerophytic planting themes. It is also perfect when used as a pot or container specimen.
Whether nestled in amongst lush palms and statement flowering plants like strelitzia (bird of paradise), paired against soft flowering plants like lavender or Salvia leucanthe or used as a stand-alone monoculture feature planting, find a space in your garden for this low-maintenance, high performing superstar. You won’t regret it.
2Loud and Proud – Aucuba japonica ‘Crotonoides’ (spotted laurel)
Gardeners seem to fall into two camps when it comes to variegated plants, and this out of fashion shrub certainly seems to provoke strong feelings from both the lovers and the haters! I once had a client dismiss Aucuba crotonoides as ‘the toilet plant’ (it was a favourite by councils some years back for planting near public toilet blocks) but savvy fans will tell you this is THE foliage shrub to use for brightening up dark and gloomy garden corners or for enlivening the troublesome shady side of the house with its splashy, splotchy golden-yellow foliage.
The striking leaves are the stand-out feature of this shade-loving shrub, but look closely and you will see that the base colour of the shiny dark-green leaves is dark green. The female plant bears small purple flowers which admittedly don’t add a lot in terms of ornamental value, but if pollinated by a male form these will be followed by stunning waxy red berries in autumn.
Aucuba crotonoides grows relatively slowly but will eventually attain a height of 1.5-2m with a similar width. If you want to establish a large mass quickly, then just plant them closer together, about 1m apart. They grow best in moist soil however will also cope in dry conditions. This is a trouble-free plant that needs very little attention to look good. Ideal for the low maintenance garden, Aucuba crotonoides is also well suited to woodland and subtropical planting themes. Anywhere where the glorious foliage can stand loud and proud against lush, leafy green plants and textural ferns or fronds, this plant will make a splash.
3The Florists Friend - Fatsia japonica (Japanese aralia)
If you are looking for a fast-growing, unfussy, exotic looking evergreen shrub with large glossy leaves then look no further than Fatsia japonica. Why this plant is out of fashion is a mystery to me as it has so many great qualities and physical characteristics, most notably its fantastic foliage.
The large palmately lobed leaves can grow bigger than a spread hand sometimes reaching up to 40cm across. These splay from the shrub on thick green stems, giving the shrub a bold, tiered look. Fatsia japonica also has distinctive, knobbly white flowers (actually small compound umbels) that protrude from the foliage mass and these are followed by black fruits.
Like a lot of plants, it prefers well-drained soil but will cope in sandy and clay soils and once established can even cope in challenging situations like under the eaves of your house or a shady spot below taller trees or palms. It must be said though that the best foliage results come from a regular watering regime in the summer and when planted in partial to deep shade.
Also known as umbrella plant, glossy-leaf paper plant, fatsia, and false castor oil plant, this moderately sized shrub has as many uses as it does names. Mass plant it or use it as a striking stand-alone specimen. Growing to around 2.5m high x 2m wide, Fatsia japonica is equally as at home in the Japanese garden as it is in a tropical, rain forest or woodland garden setting. Fatsia japonica is also a useful addition to the picking garden as the cut leaves are ideal for floral work and keep for weeks in a vase of water.