Gardening while Lazy

No-mow lawn being tested at JC Raulston Arboretum. Photo: JC Raulston Arboretum


By Kit Flynn and Lise Jenkins

This summer, what with dealing with a changing world due to COVID-19, I find that I’m not as enthusiastic about spending time in the garden. Whether it’s due to a creaking, aging body or a loss of concentration, my enthusiasm has waned a bit.

Consequently, when I happened upon Mark Weathington’s presentation about lazy gardening on YouTube (, it hit a chord. And from this presentation I learned a couple of new ideas, proving that even this old dog can learn new tricks. Here are some of the points this director of the JC Raulston Arboretum made:

Turf is the single most intensive gardening task there is. You have heard it before: there is no perfect turf grass for North Carolina. If it is to look lush and green, grass needs both water and chemical treatments. Think about using grass sparingly. In my garden, I have two grassy areas, both used as contrast to separate perennial borders. Get over that suburban picture of extensive grassy areas.

The JC Raulston Arboretum is now experimenting with a “flowering lawn,” consisting of flowering thymes, Dianthus and Delosperma (ice plant). This “lawn” will not hold up to foot traffic but is suitable in providing contrast in the garden — and it never needs mowing.

Improve your soil by adding organic matter, thereby increasing the carbon content. Most of us start composting during our lifetime as gardeners and along the way most of us stop. I never seem to have enough brown material when I am overwhelmed with green, and vice versa. Mark assuaged my pangs of shame by assuring us that most of us will never create enough compost to fulfill our garden needs. Buy commercial compost or make use of the town’s compost if you have access to it — and let go of the guilt.

Mulching is important. Not only does it suppress the weeds by depriving them of sunlight, it also helps to feed the soil by breaking down. He advocates using shredded mulch rather than larger wood chips because shredded mulch breaks down quicker.

“Wait!” you say, “Isn’t this supposed to be about lazy gardening?” True, the faster shredded mulch breaks down, the more often you will have to reapply it. However, with the faster breakdown, the quicker your soil will become enriched. Enriched soil means it’s easier to grow good plants.

Buy good plants. Of course, we all love a bargain but the bargain table at the big box stores is probably not the best place to purchase a good healthy plant. Instead, look at the newly arrived plants.

Know your plants: Daphnes are good plants for North Carolina gardens — if you know what to expect. They are beautiful evergreen plants that are poisonous so the deer will leave them alone. They bear wonderfully fragrant flowers in the winter but they are short-lived plants. A Daphne will end its life at approximately five years of age, so don’t look at Daphnes as permanent members of your garden, and you won’t be disappointed.

Don’t put up with plants that fail to perform for you. There are plants you simply don’t like. Call it a bad marriage. Get rid of them.

Once, a tree surgeon cut off the lower limbs of two of my magnolias: never cut off magnolia skirts, as they help to control the falling leaves. Without the skirts to contain them, the leaves went everywhere and I spent every spring raking, raking and raking, cursing the hapless trees that had lost their skirts through no fault of their own. I grew to loathe these handsome trees because they were so messy, demanding so much work.

Finally, the trees came down, the stumps were removed and I was a far happier person. Slowly I’m learning to embrace lazy gardening — without the guilt.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email:


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