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natural settings should be

informally pruned hedges, which have a natural

considered as well as native plants

shape and require much less attention. Be patient,

when constructing your ideal

the complete make- over may take several years


of corrective pruning.

It is important to scale down your

wish list to keep high-maintenance areas small scale. Instead of planting an orchard, plant a row of low-maintenance blueberries. Rather than planting a large formal garden of herbs, which would require a lot of preparation and tending, why not compromise?

Confine particular herbs you really want in clay planters.

Another way to scale down the scope of your gardening is to reduce the amount of your property that you will actively cultivate. Keeping your garden on a smaller scale conserves water and reduces tending and maintenance. Remember an open area can often give fine relief to a more ornate fully landscaped section of your yard. Don’t feel like every given inch of property must be developed.

You’ve accomplished a great deal by following the step-by-step outline introduced here in the first chapter. You can now say you have truly taken ‘new eyes’ to your property and given some serious thought to how you wish to proceed. When I did the same project I used up a whole weekend just making notes, re-visiting the property a second and third time, refining that list, dreaming and imagining what I’d love to see out there and making my notes.

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It was time well invested!

Though you may wish to scan through the rest of this book to find the problem areas, or as I’d prefer to say, the most ‘exciting’ areas that match your particular set of goals and plans; I’ll start the next chapter with a look at the single largest piece of landscaping in any yard. The Lawn.

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Chapter 2: Easy Lawns

The typical suburban lawn, like the one my neighbor Fred had to

struggle with, provides little satisfaction. Any expansive lawn and its

maintenance can easily turn into just another monotonous chore. I

could see Fred, trying to keep his lawn an emerald green, the hedges

and shrubs neatly pruned, and the fallen leaves all raked and bagged

for collection and thought: “that must get pretty old - pretty fast”.

Let’s make your lawn an easier, more enjoyable lawn by employing low-maintenance

ground covers, shrubs and trees. The funny thing about what you will discover in this chapter is that, surprisingly, this easy lawn will most likely far outshine your old one in appearance, too!

A New Vision Of Lawn Care

Lawn maintenance consumes more gardening time than just about any other garden

chore. They must be mowed, weeded, watered, fertilized, limed, dethatched, re-seeded, edged, and raked of debris including leaves. Add the fact that these chores must be performed at critical times in the lawns’ seasonal cycle and you get a pretty rough picture of just how daunting this lawn business can be.

One of the best ideas I can give you is to actually reduce the amount of space taken up by lawn. Flower and herb gardens, shrubbery borders, and expanses of decorative lawn covers can replace much of this large, task intensive lawn area,— especially those difficult to mow areas.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying lawn areas are bad! Heaven forbid! A well-kept expanse of lawn delights the eye and sets off your other landscaping. It is restful and it integrates. Bolder textures of foliage are offset by a fine lawn and can save you from having a garden area that is too ‘busy’ or overpowering.

Furthermore, no plant can replace the fine-textured lawn. No other groundcover is as good as simple lawn grass.

The shape of the lawn area also plays a large role in the garden’s design. Does it curve?

Square-oriented? Elongated? Round? Whichever yours is, realize it plays a crucial role in directing the eye and can add special design qualities to the final appearance you intend.

Nice to know, as well, that lawns have never been known to block any views!

Here’s something to consider as you prepare your weekends around this vital landscaping area: Don’t assume that the lawn is the automatic answer to filling up leftover yard space. Do just the reverse - plan the lawn shape and then plant around it!

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The nice thing about lawns (and there are so many) is that it is a relatively low-cost form to other alternatives like mass plantings of groundcover plants or installing extensive decking or a brick or stone patio.

Sloping Lawns

It’s best to remove grassy lawn areas entirely in

the following situations:

Sloping lawns, with their steep dips

can make maintenance difficult.

Where surface roots interfere with

The mowing can be treacherous,


physically challenging and very


Where low-hanging trees or shrub

branches interfere with the mower or require

One solution is to remove the lawn


on a steep slope and plant the area

with shrubs, ground covers, or both;

Where the ground slopes so much that

plants that bind the soil with

moving the mower is difficult

creeping roots are best where the

Where many specimen trees and shrubs

grade is particularly steep. Plants

grow in the lawn, making for extra work and time

that trail, weep, or arch look

to trim around the trunks

stunning as they gently caress the

slope. English ivy is an excellent

Under or bordering a fence

choice, usually.

Where access is difficult

Low spreading shrubs like

cotoneasters, or junipers also look

attractive and provide a low-maintenance solution to slopes.

It’s important to prevent erosion on slopes until your ground cover establishes itself.

Rather than stripping away the sod, which could be tricky on a steep slope, you might want to kill it instead, leaving the dead plants in place. Herbicides are made for this chore but more eco-sensitive gardeners can place a black plastic weighted down with rocks, or use a thick layer of wood chips to accomplish the same thing.

What About Lawn in Shade?

Why try to grow a lawn where it simply doesn’t want to grow?

In shady areas, especially the north side of buildings or under trees, grass often struggles to fill in and look beautiful for you. But the same sites that are bad for your lawn can be excellent for shade loving ground cover or a garden of shrubs, perennials, or wild flowers. These grow very well in the shade. Try planting these plants:

Dwarf rhododendrons

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Creeping flox

Dwarf Chinese astilbes

These recommendations grow all year long, look pretty and require very little care.

If you want the open feeling of the

lawn replace parts of it with

groundcover that grows no more

than about 6-8 inches tall. Or get

Reducing the size of the lawn, rather than totally

creative and replace areas with

eliminating it, often makes sense, especially if

more exciting choices like perennial

your property is large.

flower border, a shrub bed, a

meadow or if you live in a ‘sturdy’

Remember, think of the lawn as playing an

area try a wildflower garden.

important landscape role in your design, not as

occupying whatever space happens to remain

In arid areas stones and pebbles can

after installing perennials and shrub borders.

make an attractive hardscape- or a

non plant area. In townhouses, and

Make the lawn only big enough to hold your

condominium garden areas these

landscape together and you can’t go wrong!

forms of patio coverings can really

dominate smaller landscapes very


Let’s Line up Our Lawn

Let’s mark the contours of our lawn to clearly move toward a reduced lawn shape. Use a clothesline, string or a garden hose to outline it and study the size and shape to see how it balances with the rest of the garden area before you make any final decisions.

The usual choice is to bring in the edges of the lawn, planting the perimeter, but this may create a more closed in feeling, especially with shrubs planted around the edges. An alternative is to create islands within the lawn and plant those with whatever you wish. If there are trees already there, it makes sense to arrange the islands around them.

For an open feeling, plant the bed with low flowers and/or evergreen ground covers. A more wooded look would include flowering shrubs within the island and blanket the ground with mulch or ground covers.

By creating several of these island beds, the remaining grass acts as an alluring path or corridor meandering through the beds. With wide paths and an open planting, the feeling The Weekend Gardener by Victor K. Pryles

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will be ‘open’, spacious and more formal; with narrower paths and taller plantings, the feeling will be of a woodland.

Another alternative is to turn part of the lawn into a field of colorful flowers. A meadow garden of this type is less work than a lawn, but it isn’t as easy and carefree as is often thought, or written about in those magazine articles. The meadow can’t be started by simply scattering wild-flower seeds on the lawn. Like any garden it takes some tending.

Mass Planting Ground Covers

You’re getting the idea by now aren’t you fellow gardener? We are finding delightful ways to lessen the work load that a lawn presents us with. By choosing some of these alternatives you greatly enhance your esthetic view and considerably reduce the

painstaking care that wrings hours out of your weekend.

Another way to accomplish this is to ‘go for ground covers’.

Lawns can be totally replaced or reduced in size in many landscapes by mass-planting ground covers. When planted in quantity, in great swirls beneath shrubs and trees, a groundcover adds texture and interest without overpowering the more dominant plants and serves as a backdrop for the changing flowers and foliage in your garden paradise.

The term ground cover applies to many kinds of plants. Most are nonwoody plants.

Some, like periwinkle are evergreen, while others, such as leadwort are deciduous and lose their foliage in winter. Some ground covers such as sweet woodruff, die back to the ground, disappearing after the growing season. You can use rock cotoneaster which are leafless in winter but provide an interesting branch structure all year. Other choices include creeping juniper, that are evergreen. Some are less than an inch in height such as wooly thyme and others grow to several feet like gardeners garters.

One thing all ground covers are capable of doing is spreading horizontally to blanket the ground. They are often vining or creeping plants or spread rapidly by underground roots or stems. Though turf grasses meet the definition of a ground cover, usually the term is used to mean alternatives to turf grass.

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Advantages Of Using Ground

Covers in Place Of Lawns:

You must reach a happy compromise when

choosing a ground cover for your low-

Once filled in, the ground cover

maintenance landscape by reminding yourself

crowds out most weeds.

that nothing’s perfect. The best ground covers

spread rapidly and shade out weeds, or they

Fallen tree leaves usually require

wouldn’t be desirable for your goal of an easier

little or no removal since they sift to

gardening experience. These ground covers need

the ground through the ground

discipline to stay put. Beat them back from time

cover and act like a natural mulch.

to time and show them who’s boss!

Once established, the ground cover

Regardless of how strict you need to be here it’s

requires only occasional

surely better than dealing with more lawn.

maintenance, if any.

Mowing a lawn where trees and shrubs are planted in an island formation is easier than mowing around trees and shrubs in an open lawn landscape, because bumpy roots and overhanging branches don’t become obstacles to your mowing.

You also won’t risk injuring those trunks with the mower.


Most ground covers are very attractive landscape plants in their own right; they

can add beautiful foliage, and texture to your backyard vista.

My Big Three Suggestions!

In an effort to simplify and add more delight to your weekend gardening, I’ve decided to go out on a limb and flat-out tell you the three best, all-around ground covers that you can employ for excellent ‘care-free’ results.

All three are probably the most common and taken together, they are probably planted more often than all other ground covers combined. Some garden writers and magazine publishers don’t give them enough credit saying they are boring. But I disagree. I think they are rabidly popular because they work - and they work for you, not against you!

Three plants - pachysandra ( Pachysandra terminalis), English Ivy ( Hedra helix), and periwinkle ( Vinca minor and Vinca major).

One of the benefits these choices offer is expense. They are relatively cheap compared to most other choices, they fill in quickly and provide a tantalizing carpet of dark green foliage throughout the year. The larger your yard area the more you will appreciate the (relatively) inexpensive three mentioned above. Other ground covers might tempt you but these three will save you money and provide all you need for fine coverage.

Of the three, periwinkle, with its tidy leaves and small blue flowers, is by far my personal choice, and if it weren’t so common I’m sure most gardeners would agree. I’ve The Weekend Gardener by Victor K. Pryles

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used it over large sweeps of land and to trail over walls, sprinkling more attention grabbing plants throughout.

Pachysandra provides you with whirls of green foliage and short peaks of creamy white flowers.

The English ivy, with its dark green three pointed leaves will give you a sturdy and lively look.

Just remember, the pachysandra grows much taller than periwinkle, up to 8 to 10 inches, and English ivy can be a bit testy, even a pest sometimes if not regularly trimmed back—

both establish themselves faster than the periwinkle.

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Oh! The Tangled Webs Of Deceitful Ground Cover!

It’s a real shock to find that so

many ground covers are plants that

are listed as such AND as weeds in

The list below highlights difficult to keep ground

popular gardening publications.

covers that can turn into hard to get rid of weeds

Ironically, the very qualities that

and are a sure-fire way to extend your weekend’s

make ground covers so desirable

precious gardening time. Avoid them at all costs:

can make them a menace to

Weekender’s, like us. Ground

Goutweed, or Bishops Weed

covers are meant to spread— but

some of the best spreaders are just

dwarf bamboo

too ‘slap happy’ to spread, if you

get my meaning. They literally

crown vetch

swamp areas of lawn. Be very


cautious when buying ground cover

that you know little about; you may

mock strawberry, Indian strawberry

be paying a high price for a real


ground ivy

It’s fine to look through catalogs for

Hall’s Japanese honeysuckle

other forms of ground cover, in fact,

my ‘Big Three’ barely scratches the

moneywort, creeping Jennie

surface as to what’s available on the

market, but do your research and

Virginia creeper

watch your pocketbook. These

ribbon grass

other forms may well be suited to

your needs, but my purpose in

Japanese knotweed, Mexican bamboo

writing this book is to simplify your

chores, while making your lawn

creeping buttercup


wooly speedwell


Handling Unruly Ground


If you properly situate your ground cover in the soil with the light conditions it prefers, it will always spread out pretty nicely. However even the best, like sweet woodruff, often have to be controlled. The worst (see my avoid at all costs list above) like Hall’s honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’) are almost as easy to stop as a racing locomotive, becoming an out and out pest. Others can be controlled if you just remain diligent.

One of the best ‘helps’ in controlling any ground cover spread is with an ‘edger’. The edge can be landscape timbers, or vinyl lawn borders that are sunk into the ground, The Weekend Gardener by Victor K. Pryles

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keeping your ground covers from trying to make their little trip into stellar space where it doesn’t belong.

Vining type ground covers can’t be stopped so easily by using an edge. They’ll gladly step right over it. An occasional clipping works with these, others may need more attention. I just keep my English Ivy and Periwinkle in order by simply clipping their tips with my lawn mower when doing the lawn— see how easy that is?

Mowing And Lawn Care Freedom

You’ve done a lot so far haven’t you? You’ve actually planned, chosen ground cover, placed it where it belongs, and in the process cut down the expanse of lawn needing to be mowed.


You’re solidly ahead of the unhappy Weekend Gardeners like my past neighbor, Fred.

Now let’s look at ways to make the actual mowing easier. Even if you own one of those turbo charged ‘sit-down’ mowers, or like me, push the infernal ‘manual’ kind that never seem to have the radius of cut you wish for, these ideas will greatly enhance the

‘enjoyment’ of your lawn trimming and care experience.

First, as you do your planning (from Chapter 1) please try and get rid of those back breaking curves and sharp angles that you need to mow around. Make your lawn outline straight or gently curved. A right angle may be dramatic— but it’s you that must cut around it every week or ten days.

Wherever, you find branches, or limbs that are just waiting to attack you, scratch your arms, poke out your eye, or simply impede your smooth mowing ( as you grunt by them) make a decision in your early planning to either get rid of the limbs or replace the grass with ground cover. Preferably the latter.

Grass Choices

If you’re like me, you haven’t a got a hound’s tooth of an idea what kind of grass your current lawn is covered with. I don’t know about you but the lawn - along with the wall to wall carpeting in my house - came with the property when I bought it.

It helps to know the kind of lawn you have so you can care for it properly, but if you don’t and your lawn is growing happily, looks lush enough, pleases you overall - then , as Alfred E.Neuman once said, “What? Me worry?”

However, if you’re struggling to grow your lawn, it may be you have the wrong grass for your situation. There are tons of lawn species. They all differ in climate preference, light and moisture requirements too.

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Most lawns are a mixture of grass types. It’s survival of the fittest here; the most hardy just outlive and eventually replace the less hardy or well adapted.

If you’re starting a new lawn, take the time to install a well adapted, disease resistant variety. You want something that fights off weeds easily, requires less frequent mowing and will stay green with less fertilizer and water.

In general, cool season grasses are grown in the North (colder climates). These grow best and are greenest during the cool months of spring and early summer and won’t brown out in late summer unless you refuse to give them water. In the South (warmer climates) warm season grasses are usually abound. These may turn brown in the winter but remain green during the hot summer months.

Overall, in choosing your new lawn remember that climactic factors such as the degree of humidity, amount of rainfall, and the extent of cold and heat, as well as the type and condition of soil, vary throughout the country. These factors influence which types of lawn grass do well, and where. I suggest you contact your local Horticultural Society for input and feedback before making a final choice.

Shaded Grass

Grass loves the sun. It needs it to do its miraculous photosynthesizing— and to remain green. In the shade grass can struggle. If you are dead set on having grass in a shady area of your landscape plan, rather than ground cover or a shade garden, then you should reseed with a shade tolerant mixture.

In general, St. Augustine-grass, bentgrass, and to a lesser extent Kentucky blue grass and perennial ryegrass will work.

Helping Grass In The Shade

Modify your cultivating practices to help shaded grass so they grow better by:

Being sure the area gets good air circulation to discourage fungal diseases, which flourish in the shade

Mow the lawn ½ to 1 inch higher than recommended for your mixture, so the grass

retains enough leaf for photosynthesizing in low light

Increase the fertilizer by one-half if the lawn is growing under a tree

The shaded lawn may need extra water if tree roots compete for water

Now wouldn’t it just be easier to plant ground covers or a shade garden?

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Plant breeders have brought us cultivars of great species that are exceptionally tolerant of low light. For instance, Kentucky bluegrass cultivars include: ‘A-34', ‘Benson’, ‘Bristol’,

‘Glade’ and ‘Nugget’.

Again your local horticultural society, or garden club will be glad to discuss these different approaches if you wish to get ‘fancy’ with your lawn grasses.

Grass Vs. Tree Trunks & Roots

I’ve never been able to simply run my lawn mower over grass that is situated close to a tree trunk or root system that is bulging out of the ground and then move on. Invariably I have to go back and hand trim these persistent blades of grass. That’s something that can turn a quick mow into a tedious, time consuming event that eats away at my weekend.

Roots of some trees grow just under the surface, forming lumps in the lawn that make mowing an unhappy affair. When the roots actually break through the ground, they can be awfully mean to my mower, and they both lose; the mower and the tree with that encounter.

What’s a carefree Weekend Gardener to do?

I planted a groundcover beneath the tree. Creating a bed of pachysandra beneath the branches which quickly eliminated the problem. Many other shade tolerant ground covers like periwinkle and English Ivy work well as does dead nettle and bugleweed.

For best results make the bed large enough to visually anchor the tree. I’ve seen wonderful examples of the ground cover actually spreading out to form a ring out to the tree’s canopy and beyond it. The ground cover actually balances the scale of the tree.

Very nice effect.

A Mowing Strip To The Rescue!

Wherever you find a raised bed, a wall, or a raised edging, mowing becomes difficult. A mowing strip can be like a knight in shining armor here. A mowing strip is an edging that is low enough and solid enough to for the mower’s wheels to run along it. Landscape timbers used as an edging can double as a mowing strip.

Bricks work well too. As long as you set them flush with the ground. If you want to double the bricks as a lawn holding edge they need to be set on end or sideways, not flat, or they won’t be deep enough to stop creeping grass roots.

Ultimately, weeds and grass have many sneaky ways of getting into spaces between

bricks. To help reduce this stagger them and butt them closely together or lay them over a piece of landscape fabric, which is permeable to water and air but not weed roots.

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Professional landscapers often use steel edging to edge borders. That’s expensive stuff.

You can purchase many kinds of edging strips at well-stocked garden enters. It’s easy to install steel, aluminum (though I don’t like the aesthetics of aluminum) or vinyl edging.

Use a flat garden spade to cut along the edge of your bed, creating a straight sided trough a little deeper than the width of the edging. Lay the edging flat against the outer side of the trough with the rounded edge protruding just above the soil line. Backfill with soil and firm it up with your hands or feet. Simple,— but what a time saver!

Conclusion: Easy Lawns!

I hope you’ve found the tips and tricks in this chapter helpful in cutting down on your biggest weekly chore in your beautiful Weekenders’ Backyard Garden— the lawn.

Overall the single best advice I gave earlier stands in good stead. Wherever possible cut down the lawn area, but do so without sacrificing the esthetic beauty of the lawn itself.

Use it to guide the eye to other areas of interest. Let it be your first consideration in design.

Remember too, you can add walkways, patios, decks, shrubs, hedges and other trees to enhance your lawn expanse. All of

these help tame your workload and

beautify your surroundings.

Problem: A large lawn takes too much time to

By carefully planning your grassy lawn

care for it.

you will save yourself countless hours

of struggle and maintenance. Be

Quick Fix: Replace some or all of the lawn with

inventive and creative but keep in mind

low-growing groundcover, or install a patio or

how serious lawn design is to your


desire to kick your feet back, lounge in

that hammock and sip some nice iced tea!

Now that you’ve placed a stunning expanse of low-maintenance lawn in place it’s time to decorate your backyard escape. How about a nice flower garden out there?

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Chapter 3: Fast Flowers

Dear Weekend Gardener, don’t expect that this chapter explains how to

grow flowers and flower beds faster! They will grow just as Nature

decides and not a second quicker.

By fast, I simply mean care-free flower beds— beds that don’t take a lot

of work. If you’re looking for packs of vivid blossoms from early spring

through fall this chapter will show you the short cuts, quick tips and

easier ways to accomplish this goal.

Your flower beds, like everything you find in this book should be low-maintenance. If you set up flower beds that need little pampering they take care of themselves.

Perennials, shrubs, and bulbs that are specially selected to thrive in their sites; drought resistant flowers that grow in the dry sandy soil where it may be difficult to get a water hose to them; shade loving flowers and ferns to decorate borders beneath trees. We’ll discover disease and bug resistant flowers that don’t require stalking or dividing, but will instead, return next spring and summer with wonderful blossoms.

All you need to do to keep this kind of flower plan going is:

Pinch off the faded flowers of the spring bulbs

Water the flowers in case of summer or fall drought

Cut the perennials to the ground in the winter once the tops have turned dry and brown That’s it!

We’re going to leave our fast flower beds heavily mulched with a deep layer of shredded leaves to reduce watering and weeding chores, and some lawn edging will confine each planting area so there will be no need to consistently fight off the grass from invading flowers.

The Perfect Weekend Flower Garden

Since many herbaceous perennials and bulbs live for years and form ever larger clumps, a garden that relies on a careful selection of these hardy and long lasting flowers guarantees low-maintenance. If you match your flowers selections to the soil and sun conditions you experience in your climate zone you can rest happy with this approach.

In this chapter I’m going to list some easy care choices and some easy care bulbs. Then I’ll list the same in perennials and bulbs to avoid. Use them in making your selections and you can’t go wrong.

As you proceed with your choices remember that adding spring bulbs to the perennial garden involves the risk that the later in the growing season, as they disappear from site, The Weekend Gardener by Victor K. Pryles

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you will have inadvertently sliced into the dormant bulbs when dividing a perennial or adding something new to the bed. Avoid this at all costs! In the fall, you might even try to plant more bulbs where bulbs are already located. Don’t laugh! This happens more often than any of us would like to admit. Try to plant more bulbs in their own designated spaces in the garden— don’t mix them in between the perennials— and then as the bulb flowers have faded or their foliage begins to look a bit downcast, plant shallow-rooted annuals right on top of them. By alternating like this, you’ll get a long display of vibrant color and have a marker that tells you where the bulbs lie dormant.

Flowers: A Short Course

Let the fun begin! Before you take on the joyful planting of a delightful flower bed arrangement in your backyard paradise, it will help to understand the basic habits and living patterns of the plants you will be growing— flowering annuals, biennials,

perennials, and bulbs, with some evergreen and flowering shrubs.

If you are already a seasoned gardener this may appear old hat to you, but this book is for beginners too and it’s very important to understand different types of plants available to you when planning the flower garden with the goal in mind; low maintenance, blossoms from spring through fall - if you please.

Easy care flower gardens depend on three major types of choices. The herbaceous

perennials, bulbs, and some flowering shrubs for color. All of these return year after year.