Create a Gorgeous and (Virtually) Maintenance-Free Outdoor Oasis

Michelle Hopkins
August 20, 2015

Most of us live incredibly busy lives and between work, family, children’s activities, travel and more, who has the time or energy to maintain a garden? For many of us, the idea of a maintenance-free garden or deck, one that is worthy of our neighbours’ envy but requires no work, is extremely appealing.

Linda Rushlow, horticulturalist at Daisy Landscaping, says, “When it comes to live plants, there are no maintenance-free gardens but you can have low-maintenance gardens that require minimal upkeep.”

There are many super-low-maintenance plants – think succulents, cacti and ornamental grasses – that are need very little watering and look great year-round. You just need to know what to look for (see Rushlow’s tips, below).

But what if you want a truly 100 per cent maintenance-free garden? Would you like to enjoy beautiful, natural-looking foliage all year round, without the watering? What about a stylish yard or deck that requires no maintenance whatsoever?

REW.careached out to Tommy Smythe, co-host on HGTV’s Sarah’s Rental Cottage series. The interior designer and frequent TV guest and host, along with Sarah Richardson, says more and more of his clients are asking him "to minister to their exterior spaces in a way that requires virtually no fuss."

”When looking for virtually maintenance-free accessories or furniture, make sure they are weatherproof; as in treated, sealed or stained,” Smithe tells REW.

So get ready for your most carefree garden ever with tips from both Rushlow and Smithe so that you almost never have to put on a pair of gardening gloves again!

Smithe's Favourite Zero-Maintenance Garden Ideas

1) Install outdoor art:The sky is the limit here. Smithe loves to restore and reuse items and he loves architecturally salvaged items. "Every major city has an urban salvage centre where they sell stuff such as carved limestone, stained glass, bricks, gorgeous pieces of wood from old buildings that have been torn down. With a little imagination and a bit of sweat equity, they can become side tables, outdoor art … anything. Remember eclectic is in and avant garde is trendy."

Or head to Habitat for Humanity's ReStores, flea markets or secondhand stores where you can find great vintage wall art, such as 1950s metal seagulls or three-dimensional copper or bronze wall art, which can be sprayed with all-weather paint in whatever colour suits your overall vision.

2) Use faux foliage for the green look: These are not your 1980s Golden Girls-style, tacky, fake-looking plants, says Smithe. These days, artificial plants can be incredibly realistic and create a great effect. Look for plastic boxwood leaves, which are extremely natural-looking and have a lush green shade that looks beautiful, or fabric-based fake grasses and bamboo plants. Artificial plants can be placed in any outdoor container or even right in your garden beds. You can even make a large trellis to showcase your smaller faux hanging plants, or display them on weatherproof shelves along with other accessories. Voila! You have year-round greenery that never dies.

3) Frame low- or no-maintenance plants as a “living wall”: “You can create a living mosaic out of succulents in a weatherproof wall frame that looks especially stunning,” adds Smithe.

4) Gather great accent pieces and furniture: Treat your outdoor space like another room and furnish it. Go on the hunt for antique/vintage wrought iron, cast iron tables and chairs, mid-century treated teak wood and glass-top pieces of furniture. "Then spray a little colour on to add soul to your patio or deck," adds the TV personality. "I had a client request that I paint an outdoor cast iron table she found in a fire engine red and we placed a glass top on it ... fabulous. Remember mix it up and no matchy, matchy." 

5) Lay parquet deck flooring: Like the furnishings in your outdoor room, the flooring is important too. Parquet flooring tiles go right over your concrete and are a quick and easy way to create an artistic deck. You can find parquet fairly inexpensively through most hardware stores and they are one of the most versatile DIY materials there are. "It's a great opportunity to add the softness of wood on your deck," adds Smithe.  "They also come in a variety of colours, including navy blue and emerald green."

6) Accessorize with eclectic items such as marble candlesticks, ice buckets, vintage bar carts and lanterns: Check out Kijiji, Craigslist or Ebay to source out any of these items to add interest and personality to your outdoor decor, says Smithe. Look for chrome or copper lanterns, then paint them if desired and hang them from the ceiling of your deck or in trees (more on outdoor lighting here). Accent a vintage bar cart with ice buckets filled with your favourite drinks. Marble candlesticks not only add elegance, they require no fuss and look fabulous on an outdoor table.

Rushlow's Favourite Low-Maintenance Plants:

1) Ornamental grasses such as Pennisetum (Karley rose). These versatile grasses offer plumes of colours, movement and softness. They grow well in containers, grass gardens, borders and rock gardens and only need to be cut back once a year in the spring and, after the first year of growth, require very little water. "There is lots of choice here and in the fall they look especially gorgeous,” says Rushlow.

2) Succulents: Aloe, scilla, gasteria and haworthia are a few examples of succulents that thrive in the hot sun and need infrequent watering. If you're looking to increase the beauty of your outdoor planters or gardens, consider planting a flowering Autumn Joy, which not only looks pretty but butterflies love them as well. A word of caution: If you are planting succulents in terracotta pots, they tend to dry out more quickly. 

Michelle Hopkins
Michelle Hopkins is a Vancouver-based freelance writer with extensive magazine, newspaper and online writing experience in home décor, new home developments, culinary adventures, wine, travel and more. Michelle writes for many notable publications including Real Estate Weekly and other Glacier Media Group publications, Western Living Magazine, Vancouver Magazine, Home Décor & Renovations, to name just a few. Michelle is passionate about anything to do with real estate.