"Almost every time I suggest using herbaceous plants in landscape settings, here’s what I hear: perennial plantings are fussy and high maintenance; clients don’t understand them and won’t take care of them; in a year from now, it will all be a weedy mess; use more shrubs or lawn. It kills me. Some days I wonder if I will spend half my career battling the tyranny of low expectations.
The reason it kills me is because I know from experience how low maintenance perennials and grasses can actually be once established. I know that clients can have a lasting, beautiful, and sustainable planting in a fraction of the time it takes to maintain a lawn."
"Plant spacing makes a difference in weed control. If the client can afford it, I try to space perennials and grasses 18” on center (average—this depends on the plant). Twenty-four inches on center works well for most landscape perennials, but this spacing will require more initial weeding. How much time should you budget for weeding? Roy Diblik, co-owner of Northwind Perennial Farm and author of the book Small Perennial Gardens: The Know Maintenance Approach. Diblik states that his gardens require an average of 15 to 20 minutes of maintenance every 10 to 14 days. That’s considerably less time than it takes to mow most lawns. Here’s my conversion rate for larger landscapes. For every quarter acre of planting, assume a three man crew for two hours at least three times a growing season."
"As a culture, we’ve learned to maintain ridiculous expanses of lawn. We’ve developed special machines that cost hundreds of dollars (mowers, edgers, trimmers) and expect that every landscape must have one. We expect these landscapes to be maintained every week or two during the growing season. When you think about it, we’ve chosen one of the highest maintenance landscapes possible—the lawn-- as our national landscape.
Don’t listen to the bush-pushers, those jaded contractors or city officials who tell you that shrubs and lawn are the only things that can be maintained. We can have richly layered tapestries of perennials and grasses as a part of our everyday landscapes. But it will require a different mindset. And it will require different maintenance approaches. But the end product is worth it."
[And as an aside, I pretty much don't weed in my garden. The perennials are thick and established in 2-3 years, shading out weedy competitors and keeping the soil cool, thus keeping it more moist. I spend 1-3 days in mid March cutting all the plants down, using their bits as mulch, spread some compost, and am set for the season. If I wanted to, I could just sit back and let it go until next spring--but I like to garden and keep dirty.]