Time is money, but at what cost?
The headline question is a constant response to the question of production and associated tasks.
It may well be correct in many areas, however, I would suggest that garden maintenance is not in such an equation. I would prefer the argument that what you create you have to maintain; the landscape is not a static entity, therefore growth, and thus maintenance, is critical to the success of the end product — an aesthetically pleasing garden.
Maintenance is closely linked to the design product which is then related to the cost of the undertaking of the maintenance to a desired level of the aesthetic value — the opposite being a deteriorating asset.
Good maintenance is based on knowledge, understanding and observation. Knowledge in knowing why, how and when to do a task, understanding the ramifications of doing the task correctly vis-à-vis incorrectly, and the result of the action. Observation is by its very nature a very difficult thing to learn. It is visual but induced by the mental capacity to “see and act accordingly”.
I have never understood the concept of the yearly maintenance cycle being, invariably, once a month between November and March and twice a month from April to October. Bermuda has a growing season that accommodates both tropical and temperate plants. Growth for the former ranges from April until temperatures and daylight hours are reduced thereafter.
“Winter” growth kicks in when temperature levels suited to their growth initiation are reached. By approaching the maintenance schedule based on an “as-and-when-required” approach, a control mechanism is put in place for issues that might occur.
If left, a problem literally grows in proportions to the time lag before the next visit and will expand further if not dealt with then. This can perpetuate the problem in the case of ephemerals — quick-flowering and seeding weeds — thus increasing the labour cost in attending a task that should have been carried out previously but did not fall into the timeline allotted for the maintenance visit.
Multiply this by the numerous other tasks, while still being mown on a regular visit, and you are constantly playing catch-up. It is especially a problem in lawns when weeds are simply allowed to take over, allowing the grass to deteriorate visually and physically.
It is important to remember the garden consists of flower beds, lawns, orchards, pathways and drives, mature specimen trees and palms et al. It is a truism that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, which is a prescription for setting a standard and adhering to it. It is human nature when looking at a garden to invariably see a dead plant before a blooming one, while bringing it to the owner’s attention.
When maintenance is carried out on an as-and-when-required basis, visits should vary on a monthly basis but, in the long-term, should equalise out by year end. The design layout plays an important role in keeping the property looking pleasing and weed-free.
Two major factors in maintenance — from a financial, visual and functional cost — are the constant pruning of stand-alone plants and flowering hedges. Why buy flowering plants and constantly remove potential flowering? When pruned correctly, flower distribution should cover the sides and top of the hedge.
On-centre distancing of the plant — ie, the distance apart in the row — and planting 3ft minimum from the boundary will help to reduce the amount of pruning required. In tandem with correct pruning techniques, this will also produce a more aesthetically appealing plant. How does one determine the height of the desired flowering hedge? It would seem simply by observation. It is the height of the gardener and at what comfortable position he can swing the machete!
Bare ground is an invitation for weed growth and the quick drying out of the soil surface, especially during the hot summer months when the areas face south. Turning over and leaving the soil surface in a bare state also encourages weed growth, as turning the soil over to break the surface brings weed seeds to the surface and a new cycle of weeding begins.
Mowing every visit, especially in hot summer periods, can be detrimental to growth and is unnecessary as it will stress the grass, thus allowing weeds to be more dominant. Control weed growth and fertilise to encourage a healthy sward and have a greener lawn. After all, the lawn is invariably the largest area of land in the garden setting.
Deployment of labour in tandem with a well-planned garden will increase the visual interest while reducing cost.
Malcolm Griffiths is a trained horticulturalist and fellow of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture in the United Kingdom. He is also past president of the Bermuda Horticultural Society, Bermuda Orchid Society and the Bermuda Botanical Society