GARDENING: Design your garden to reduce effort and pain

Last week, I talked about gardening with back pain and what you can do in practise to keep doing the hobby you love without causing any further damage.

Friday, 11th November 2016, 5:12 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th November 2016, 3:51 pm
Mulching the soil using the no-dig method for Cephalotaxus harringtonia (Korean Gold yew) and Cotinus (smoke bush).

This week, I’m looking at how you can design your garden to minimise effort and pain. This isn’t just for back pain sufferers, but for anyone with joint problems, arthritis or any condition that makes demanding physical labour difficult.

They’re also good tips for non-gardeners who want a decent-looking plot, but want to spend a lot of time on it.

Sorbaria has lovely leaves and cream flowers.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Here’s four ideas to reduce time and bending;

1. Layout: Avoid leaving bare soil, which will need weeding. Use low-growing ground cover plants to suppress weeds. Mulch the surface with chipped bark, well-rotted manure or old growbags. This helps to retain moisture, saving on watering.

Cut bending by using raised beds and keep them narrow so you can reach the centre.

Avoid having a lawn – it’s labour intensive and hard work.

Ground cover plants, such as Arabis and golden marjoram, suppress weeds.

2. Tools: Use hand tools, such as forks and trowels, with long handles. Pruners and loppers with a ratchet system makes cutting easier and saves putting pressure on the back and shoulders.

Put secateurs in a holster attached to your belt, saving you having to bend down to pick them up.

Use hoses on reels or an automated irrigation system in your garden, not heavy watering cans.

3. Plants: Slow-growing shrubs are easier to maintain than annuals, herbaceous perennials and vegetables, but these can be grown in pots, where they are easier to reach.

Sorbaria has lovely leaves and cream flowers.

Courgettes, potatoes and lettuce will grow well in containers. Choose fruit trees grown on dwarf rootstocks so you can pick the fruit at a comfortable height or train them as espaliers against a wall or as stepovers.

4. No-dig method: Spread manure, compost and fertiliser over the surface of a bed in late autumn. This gives the soil a chance to settle down before planting in spring and allow worms to take the organic material down into the soil for you.


As the gardening year winds down, work according to what the weather will let you do. If you’ve fallen behind, you probably still can do some of them.

Ground cover plants, such as Arabis and golden marjoram, suppress weeds.

Shrubs normally pruned hard in spring - such as Buddleja davidii, Cornus alba and Lavatera - can be cut back by half now, to prevent wind rock.

You can still order and plant container trees and shrubs, and large semi-mature specimens for planting later in the winter.

Tree and shrub seeds and berries can be harvested and sown, once they are ripe.

Garden hygiene is vital to help control and prevent disease. Rake up and NEVER compost infected leaves, such as black spot on roses, or scab on apples and pears.

Toadstools are often visible now, especially honey fungus. The toadstools appear on, or at the bases of, affected trees. Similar toadstools in beds or lawns are more likely to be harmless fungi which live on dead material and pose no threat.

Lift and divide overgrown clumps of herbaceous perennials, or leave them until spring.

Ornamental grasses and bamboos can be cut back and tidied up.

Root cuttings can be taken now and through winter. Papaver (perennial poppies), Verbascum (mullein) and Phlox are examples.

Digging the soil will expose pest larvae and eggs to birds and frosts, as well as clearing weeds and improving soil structure.

Around ponds, remove last of the dead foliage. You can still divide hardy waterlilies and cut back overgrown marginal plants.

Tender plants should already have been brought into a frost-free greenhouse, until the risk of frost has passed.

Cover borderline hardy perennials, such as Euphorbia wulfenii, red-hot pokers and Gunnera with fleece sacks to protect them from the worst of any winter weather, especially if still young plants.


For more on these topics, plus cook what you grow, traditional recipes, North East information, environmental news and more, log on to (now smartphone friendly),, follow me on Twitter @MandyCanUDigIt or you can like me on Facebook at Mandycanudigit