Retiring a Section of My Garden - But What To Do With It?

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

Ideas and inspiration needed!

I want to retire a section of my garden, a French-style potager with mixed flowers and vegetables, because it's just too much to weed and maintain, plus I don't need that much growing space. What can I do with it that won't be high-maintenance and that will add interest and appeal to the rest of the garden?

I'm also getting a wall-hung lion fountain; at first I was going to place it in that section along the fence and then try to let the area in front of it grow up in flowers. But I realized that the fountain will look better on the other side of the arbor, and that's a section that is easier to keep planted and weeded than the one I'd like to retire, so I want to keep that in veggies.

Thumbnail by greenhouse_gal Thumbnail by greenhouse_gal Thumbnail by greenhouse_gal Thumbnail by greenhouse_gal
Lake Stevens, WA(Zone 8a)

My first thought was large shrub trained as a little tree, as shade is the most low maintenance thing in the yard. Then I saw the Peach tree by the greenhouse, and saw the orchard on the other side, so that didn't seem like quite such a good idea. So then I thought of low shrubs that are low maintenance, or low maintenance short perennials. Nothing over two feet tall or it will just look overgrown. These must be non-invasive. A ground cover that wants to get in your veggies would not be low maintenance.
An area of that size with only a few species that need care just a few times a year should be much easier than a mixed flower bed.

Your climate is rather different than mine, but here my most low maintenance shrubs that would supposedly be hardy there would be:
Heather/Heath. Once a year I cut them back a bit.
Caryopteris-cut it back once a year in spring
Lavender (some are short)

My low maintenance perennials that aren't too tall, take sun, don't take over but suppress weeds and are super easy are.
Geranium x magnificum
Geranium 'Rozanne'
Amsonia 'Blue Ice'
Geum 'Totally tangerine'
Lambs ears
Sedum 'Elsie's Gold'
Bergenia (favorite is 'Pink Dragonfly')

Or-a table with big umbrella. sprinkle grass seed. Mow occasionally.

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

Thanks! I do have a table with two chairs on the patio by the greenhouse; otherwise that would be perfect. I was thinking about lavender, myself. And my zinnias, California poppies, coral nymph salvias, and Victoria blue salvia reseed and are all over other areas of the garden, so they could join in with the lavender. Apparently there's a new cultivar of that which is hardier and fungus-resistant.

Lake Stevens, WA(Zone 8a)

I got that one last year-called 'Phenomenal', but it is really tall so might not be good there.

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

How tall is it? I don't mind some height.

Riverhead, NY

Ornamental grasses are another idea. They get large in a hurry, cover lots of territory and have winter interest. Plant large ones in the back and go to the smaller. Feather reed grass, specifically Calamagrostis ◊ acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' is an award winner and won't disappoint. If you mix in blues with the greens, you'll find it quite stunning as well as easy to maintain. As you likely know, many grasses don't require much water or maintenance. Plus they are really easy on the eyes.

Wishing you well.

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

Thanks for the suggestion, RevWhitebeard. So many neat ideas!

Lake Stevens, WA(Zone 8a)

My 'Phenomenal' is 4 feet tall now, and possibly will get taller as this is it's first full summer. But-many plants seem to get much taller than listed, here in the Pacific Northwest. I am not sure why. My Solidago 'Fireworks is 7 feet tall!
p.s. Rev- my 'Karl Forster' disappointed! Too many of the grass stalks get knocked over and bent, like the problem of "lodging" in corn. It therefore looks messy here, not like the pretty pictures in books. I suppose I could patrol regularly and cut off the bent ones, but I just don't have time for that kind of gardening. Dangit, I had such a great plan for that area, with "Karl' and 'Fireworks' but now it kind of just looks overgrown.

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

Aren't you supposed to cut back lavender in the spring, though? I would assume that that would keep it in bounds, no? I forget where Lake Stevens is; we used to live on an island off the coast of Bellingham. But I know that things grew really lushly there, compared to here.

A friend who posts bulletins on gardening for wildlife tipped her readers off on a good buy in native plants; the hardware store chain that was selling them this spring now has them at a reduced price. I was driving by the local store yesterday evening and stopped to ask about that. The guy pointed me in the right direction; they were on sale for $2 a pot, down from $5! So I am now the proud owner of 22 native plants - a mixture of Seaside Goldenrod, Bee Balm, Spotted Bee Balm, and a couple of New York Asters. Iím getting twelve Phenomenal Lavenders through another friend with wholesale connections and Iíll plant those in the area-to-be-retired, plus those native plants and as many zinnias and other flowers as I can transplant into that space. My friend is also bringing me four bales of salt hay, for mulch, tomorrow. Then if I can add things like zinnias, etc. I should have a good garden for bees and butterflies and hummingbirds. I'll also check into some of those perennials that you mentioned. Thanks!

Lake Stevens, WA(Zone 8a)

I did cut it back!
Anyway your plan sounds great, and it sounds as if you got enough plants to crowd out weeds, thus keeping it lower maintenance.

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

Pistil, that's what I'm hoping for. I'll try to post pictures once it's planted.

Yikes, you cut it back and it's still four feet tall? I'll have to see how it does in my climate.

Btw, I shared your list of low-maintenance flowers with people on a gardening board on FB. It sounded very useful!

Ithaca, NY(Zone 5b)

@greenhouse_gal - What software did you use to draw your design? Thanks!

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

DTT, I couldn't find any garden layout programs for Macs that would serve my purpose so I finally just used Photoshop Elements, which I've had lots of experience in for my art stuff. That didn't help much when I had to create blocks and paths, but I figured it out. I keep the template on my computer and print a copy each spring to work out my vegetable placements and rotations for the upcoming season.

Ithaca, NY(Zone 5b)


Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)

I put in some miscanthus graziella that took beautifully. So well that I added more. Not too tall, not too wide. It is one of the least temperamental miscanthus - develops fast and is sound.

I had great luck with calamagrostis acutifolia 'Karl Foerster'. Mine did not lodge, but te soil was heavily clay. I am growing it again now, but it is too young to judge.

I put in two compact carlesis from from Classic viburnums - MUCH cheaper than garden centers. The great thing about them is that Gary Ladham will guide you. I told him I wanted two compact carlesis and he sold me two that he hybridized that are not in commerce. A "normal" compactum is four by four. They are small enough that I put them around a paperbark maple.

In terms of grasses, I have discovered panicums. I have 'Heavy Metal' and 'Cloud Nine', the latter being quite tall but establishing it has been a piece of cake!

And lastly, eragrostis spectabilis. I trialed one last year and it was so smashing I put in three more this year. I wasn't 100 percent sure it was hardy but it is, and the fall color is fabulous!

Thumbnail by DonnaMack
Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

Thanks, DonnaMack. I am ending up using lavender, zinnias, and some native perennials. I'll be interested in seeing how the area evolves.

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