Garden Maintenance: the bakkie brigade, a full garden management service or something in between?

The very term “maintenance” in the context of a garden is somewhat of a misnomer. It is no wonder that people are led up the proverbial garden path only to find at the end of the expense that the outcome is not what they thought it would be. Instead, the garden is slowly degrading over time despite the money and effort being allocated. To “maintain” a living entity sounds like it needs to be held in a state of suspended animation; and it misrepresents the thought, energy and effort that goes into managing the fluctuating beauty and health of a growing and changing landscape from infancy to maturity, and beyond.
Semantics aside, for the non-gardener, choosing a garden service can be confusing.  What should one expect from a service, and what is best suited to you, the homeowner?  Here are some tips to help you pick the right service; and it hinges around two components:  it should match the investment you have made in your garden, and it should meet your expectations.


Sweeping, mowing & hedging

This is the lowest tier of management and involves sweeping and mowing and can easily be undertaken by the ordinary homeowner. It is simply a matter of time and energy and some basic garden equipment.  

Be aware that hedging seems like a simple task, but it does require some skill to be able to clip keeping lines straight, whilst ensuring that foliage remains on the lower reaches of the hedge.  Vertical faces of a hedge may also need to be trimmed at an angle so that light to the lower parts are not blocked by the upper foliage. How many times do you drive past a hedge that is full and fresh on top, but has untidy bare ‘legs’ at the bottom? This is more than likely due to an incorrect angle on the vertical face.

Any garden service can provide this level of maintenance, with a surface level of weeding thrown in. This level of garden care is typically serviced by what is affectionately known in the industry as “the bakkie brigade”. They are cost-efficient and quick, charge by the hour and there is definitely a place in the industry for them.

Choosing this service would either be to support the home gardener who would rather have their hands in the soil doing more interesting things, or it would be an economic decision from someone whose interest may not be heavily invested in their garden. They are keeping things simple and to a minimum of care and expense.

Having the right equipment is only one key to good garden management. The other is regular care and expertise.


Weeding, hedging & trimming, pest management

,Weeds, by their very nature, are opportunistic and very often pioneer plants, so they will quickly make the most of available nutrients. They will also colonise space quickly as their role in nature is to hold the soil to prevent wind or water erosion. Many are annuals that grow and set seed speedily or often, and their impact can be exponential. For all these reasons, they can quickly overwhelm higher value plants, so they do need to be managed.

Preventing plants from overwhelming other plants requires someone to be paying attention, and trimming back as necessary. This includes hedging as well as preventing shrubs from overgrowing their allotted space. 

Paying attention is key to keeping pests under control. What we term pests, are also a natural process in a garden. For this reason we do not advocate blanket nuking of pests, but rather to manage them gently in your limited space, so that they do not decimate high value plants but can nonetheless fulfil their ecological role. Within their lifecycle this may be to reward the garden with beneficial services such as pollination, recycling of organic matter, soil aeration services, etc. Should management be necessary, this service may be offered by your garden service if they are paying attention, but will likely be required more frequently than once a month.

Most garden maintenance services offer one (basic) or both (basic and general) levels of service, but all this service can do is maintain what is there. These services are rarely afforded the time and resources by the client, and the service provider may not have the expertise to manage a landscape fully.

Shrubs such as Coleonema, Plubago and Salvia want to be large sprawling shrubs. In smaller gardens, they will need to be clipped to prevent them overwhelming the space and other plants.

Immediately after installation, a garden is poised with potential.


Managing the change

Have you ever been in the wilderness and been stopped in your tracks by the sheer vision before you – a place so perfect in its balance, texture and light that one must stand before it in awe and absorb the image so that it can be tattooed on one’s brain? In these instances, I feel the pull to return, to have the endorphins transport me once again. Yet, when I return three years later, it no longer looks the same. It has ‘moved on’ in growth and change and lost the balance that had so entranced me previously. 

This happens in a domestic landscape too. Without the love and attention of a specialist or an avid gardener, it too will revert to unfettered natural processes.

We cannot hope to hold back growth, but we can manage and nurture the landscape as it grows and changes. This should be the intervention of man in a man-made garden. This is a specialist service that includes not only the full range of horticultural intervention but has a design element attached to it.

This service is best suited to those who have made a significant investment in their landscape, have either not enough time or inclination to DIY, and have the resources to afford the professionals and level of care necessary. It need not be monthly, but it does need to be regularly timed to reap the rewards. This is a proactive service best run on a contract basis where professionals are tasked with the management of the maturing landscape. 

Meanwhile, as a patron, one will watch it thrive, and change, and flourish; and it will reward consistently. It may seem like an expensive investment but compared with the cost of re-establishing a degraded landscape, it is a mere fraction.

Ten years after installation, with a managed care program, this garden continues to reward, year after year. Each season, the return of some ‘old friends’ is eagerly awaited.

Contours Design Studio offers a managed care service post installation to ensure that your investment retains its value.

About the author
Lucy Schnell is a landscape designer and blogger for Contours Design Studio, based in Cape Town.
N.D. Landscape Technology SACLAP registered Pr LM
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