There’s gardening, and then there’s maintenance. Things have been so busy this year, and for the first time in my life, my garden has felt like a chore. I don’t have time to be in it – relaxing or gardening – and I barely have time to maintain it. Maintenance isn’t the sexiest of garden topics, but it’s part of life, so let’s talk about it.
As a designer, especially one who loves plants and gardening and who knows about the myriad benefits thereof, I used to be so disapproving when clients wanted a “low-maintenance” landscape. How boring! Nevertheless, I would try to sympathize and design accordingly. A low-maintenance landscape can still be beautiful and rewarding. For example, one Santa Fe client had a sweet little backyard but was not a gardener and was away about half the time, traveling for work. When she was home, she didn’t want to worry about weeding and pruning and deadheading and mowing; she wanted to sit in her garden with a cup of tea, or meditate under her favorite tree, or hang out with friends. She was very happy with the design, a xeric, “zen-like” garden.
In presentations on restorative landscapes, I talk a lot about stress reduction, and I do touch on maintenance. If you’re not a gardener, or if you don’t have time to garden, or if your climate doesn’t allow for gardening (think Texas in the summer), or you don’t have the budget to pay a gardener, a high-maintenance garden is going to cause more stress than joy. You don’t want to look out your window and think about out all the work that needs doing, or be sad when your plants die because they are not being tended to. Where’s the pleasure in that?
For private home healing or sanctuary gardens, you have to know yourself and your limitations (preferences, time, funds). Whether you’re designing and planting for yourself or hiring a designer and installers, be honest with yourself, and only bite off what you can chew.
And the same thing goes for gardens in healthcare facilities and other public spaces. There’s a garden nearby that was so beautiful when it was installed a few years ago. A very interesting design, with a rich variety of native plants, around a really cool building. But the organization that owns that property lacks the funding and the volunteers to maintain the landscape. It needs more TLC than it gets, and is no longer the best reflection of the organization.
It doesn’t matter how beautiful the design is, or how successful it would be in an ideal world. If it’s not maintained, it doesn’t serve the facility or the users of the space – the patients, clients, the visitors, the staff. Maintenance should always be budgeted in from the start, and a plan should be provided to the facility so that things can be kept looking good and working well. Having a horticultural therapist on staff certainly helps, as they work with patients in the garden and can really keep an eye on things. A good designer will know and understand the limitations and the strengths of the facility and design with that in mind.
There’s no such thing as no maintenance (and believe me, I’ve had requests!). But there’s a big range in how much a landscape needs to stay healthy and beautiful. If you keep in mind the reality of what can and cannot be done, the garden – for yourself or for clients – has the best chance of being a true source of healing and inspiration.
Note: We’ve been having a good discussion (http://lnkd.in/mfJzKu) on this topic in our Therapeutic Landscapes Network LinkedIn group. Come join us!