Maintaining Planting- Is a Maintenance Plan really necessary?

By Patricia Tyrrell MGLDA

For designer and client there is a long journey from initial meeting on site, through design development, final plans and on to the final realisation of the design. The planting plan alone is a time consuming process; getting the appropriate style for the site, the right colour and textural combinations and ensuring the longest possible season of interest. Even for the very experienced it is a long process. On top of this, is the sourcing of good quality plants and, when they arrive on site, ensuring proper care and planting. So when the day finally arrives when all the work is completed and handed over to the client to look after – what then? Is the designers work now finished or is there something more? Many sites will be looked after by a gardener or maintenance crew, some qualified and knowledgeable, some not so much.


There are a number of questions to be asked at this point:
Who will maintain the planting?
What methods will be employed to maintain it?
Has the designer imparted their design intent for the planting?
How will it look in 1yr/5yrs/10yrs?


Good planting design is a rare and beautiful thing, and so when occasionally you come across it, it is an absolute tragedy to watch its slow attrition into the mundane: the original design intent being completely lost on whoever is chosen to maintain it.

The reasons for the attrition are myriad but the process usually goes like this: Firstly a few plants die due to inappropriate maintenance, ill-timed pruning etc. The ensuing gap must be filled, but with what? Perhaps it was a garden based on textural contrasts and restful green shades. The gardener perceives it as plain dull, so in with some roses, perhaps a little bedding to ‘brighten’ it up! As time goes on this approach creates a tatty sort of look, so in an effort to improve it, whole swathes are removed and replaced with whatever is flowering in the nearest nursery. The design has now shifted completely from the designer’s original vision for it, though it still carries the designer’s name.
AVOCA -Rathcoole
A very good example of this is at Avoca in Rathcoole. An example of a wonderful piece of planting design by Karl Barnes of Formality. The initial design was a combination of ornamental grasses – Stipa gigantea, Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’ and Nassella tenuissima, combined with lavender, Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ and evergreen perennials, such as Libertia and Euphorbia wulfenii; green and textured with lots of movement.
A prairie style planting scheme that would have impact for a large proportion of the year.

Plant losses in a busy environment such as a car-park are to be expected – trampling or accidental damage from bumpers and wheels is a frequent occurence. As plants were lost in Rathcoole, replacement planting was put in. The style of the replacements – roses, Agapanthus, bedding, relating more to the cottage garden than the prairie. The whole effect has been lost.

Prairie planting, grasses
Avoca-original planting
Replacement planting inconsistent with design intent.
Replacement planting inconsistent with design intent.

Other areas that require the designer to leave guides are in relation to structural planting, such as hedging. The height of a hedge affects the feeling of space in a landscape, so hedge heights and widths need to be indicated.

Tree forms also impact on the feeling of space and enclosure; will the trees be feathered or does the designer envisage the crowns lifted to a certain height?

Shrub pruning too is important. Would the designer like them to keep their natural form or all clipped into rounds…….hmmm?
The best approach to take is to decide what it is you want to convey and communicate that in a clear and ordered fashion in written format.

Begin with an overall ‘Design Intent’. How do you want the garden to look in terms of style and level of maintenance?

In the short term, maintenance is aimed at establishing the planting, so watering and weeding are a priority. Once established the focus shifts.

Divide the garden or landscape into areas: Lawns, woodland, perennial plantings and so-on and detail what you want for each area in 6months, 1year, 5years etc.

Hedges, Topiary will need to be specified in detail – height, width, shape, pruning times, feeding etc.

It may be useful to create a list of the plants, with identifying images and how each should be maintained and managed. This is, initially, a long and tedious process but once done can form the basis for future maintenance plans.

An overall summary schedule should be created, highlighting the key tasks through the year and the optimum time for their implementation, so that the maintenance crew or client can, at a glance, establish what needs to be done and when. If this is referenced to the more detailed parts of the document, no misunderstandings will occur.

Put in place site visits, twice per year or annually, depending on the necessity and/or what the client is agreeable to. Having invested so much in a garden or landscape, most clients are more than willing to get on-going advice on how to keep it looking its best.