Plantswoman FIONA EDMOND owns the award-winning Green Island Gardens in north Essex.

Today the topic of her gardening column is keeping it low maintenance in your outside space.

How often have you seen this sort of arrangement in gardens? Hopefully not in any of my readers own plots, but so often I am called in the create designs for people’s private gardens, and I see that their attempt at gardening has stretched to something similar!

In both cases, the owners have drawn a circle around the base of the tree and made a bed underneath, creating a lot of work for themselves. Inevitably the soil under such a tree will be dry, shaded and starved of nutrients, so any planting will need watered and fed regularly. In both cases the bed is far too small to be in scale with the tree.

It should extend to the limit of the canopy in order to look correct. The addition of the bricks has created an eyesore as they do not match with anything in the rest of the garden and the edge of the grass at its base will need to be strimmed regularly. In the example on the left the grass growing into the border will be a constant headache.

On top of all this the tree on the right will most likely die as the soil level at the base of the tree has been raised to allow for the planting bed. The point on the trunk of a tree where it turns to root must be kept at ground level or the trunk will rot. In both examples the planting is of annuals which will provide nothing more than a splash of colour in the summer before dying and needing to be replaced with something else.

I do not understand why people see the need to try and grow flowers in the least hospitable bit of soil underneath trees?

Instead why not just leave it as grass. If the tree roots prevent close mowing then the grass can be allowed to grow longer which should help prevent as much moss growing. I like to naturalise bulbs in the grass where they can pop up and do their thing and be

Crocus have self-seeded under this Acer.


The same Acer in September. No need for gaudy annuals underneath it, the longer grass shows it off beautifully

allowed to die down naturally as the grass grows taller hiding any untidy leaf dieback. I do cut the long grass once a year, at least 6 weeks after the last bulbs have flowered.

This method of cultivation is good also for wildlife as I allow the wildflowers to flourish, creating much needed habitat for many species of butterflies and moths. In addition, the bulbs can be left completely undisturbed, to increase without being at risk of having a spade or fork cut through them if in the flower beds! There are many varieties of bulbs that can be grown, naturalised in this way, from snowdrops and crocus in January-February, Narcissus in March, Tulips in April and finally Camassias in May.

Tulipa and Camassia naturalised in the orchard

Mown path through the longer grass.


In addition, the contrast of the short-mown lawn with the longer grass is a really good way to add informal structure, pattern and shape to your garden. A mown path through an orchard for example can lead the eye from side to side and make the space appear much larger than it really is. In the height of summer, the seed heads of the long grass add another colour and texture to the garden as well as massively reducing the time needed to mow the grass every week!

To see trees and shrubs planted informally along with bulbs naturalised in grass visit Green Island Gardens, or further information visit