Wonder of winter

Anyone know what this is? You will if you grow one, but if you do, you can't answer.

For everyone else, it's a clematis. But it's a very special clematis – tangutica, a late-flowering variety which is extremely hardy (it will have to be – this one was photographed in a Pennine village which has already had almost 2ft of snow this winter and seen temperatures of –10C).

But tangutica is a hardy beauty, producing masses of lantern-shaped, pale yellow flowers throughout the summer and into autumn.

Then it does this – produces masses of cotton-woolly, silvery seedheads. If they appeared in spring, the birds would go mad, ripping them off to line their nests ready for the young. In winter, the seedheads remain mainly on the plant.

In case you're wondering, C tangutica can reach as high as a house – 20ft. It's also one of the clematis which flowers on the current season's wood, so it should be pruned before new growth starts, usually in early spring. Remove the previous season's stems down to a pair of strong axil buds a foot so above the soil. Then watch it start all over again.

A garden should be a pleasure not a problem, but finding the perfect balance is something few gardeners seem to achieve. There's no half-way house when it comes to having a garden which gives pleasure rather than pain. But the low-maintenance, high-enjoyment garden is really within the grasp of everyone. It can be just as colourful, just as interesting, just as beautiful as a garden which takes endless hours of toil to keep it looking good. And the low-maintenance garden has the added advantage of allowing its owner to enjoy it at leisure.

It all starts with planning. What do you like, what do you want, what are you prepared to pay and what are you prepared to sacrifice? Lawns are time-consuming and very often have more in common with rough pasture. If you really want to save yourself time and money, cut down on the grass. Consider areas of gravel, paved areas broken by ingeniously placed pots of flowers and evergreens.

Once the initial work has been done, the maintenance is minimal and the choice of plants is almost unlimited. The gardener can create individual growing conditions for specific plants; he can move them to suit the time of day, the time of year, or just because he wants a change of view.

Root out trees and shrubs which are high maintenance and which require annual pruning. Instead, grow those accommodating, gardener-friendly varieties which offer year-round beauty without asking for much in return.

Mixed borders might look beautiful for a few months of the year, but they demand work – pruning, feeding, watering, dead-heading, splitting, staking. Keep the best to grow in pots and replace the rest with ground-cover plants broken by the occasional specimen which is happy to just grow while you get on and enjoy the garden.

Deter weeds by laying down heavy-duty polythene of a proprietary membrane and then mulch with gravel, bark or just mass-plant with ground-cover plants or shrubs. An added bonus is that you should never again have to water such a bed – the soil stays moist whatever the weather.

The low-maintenance garden can be as small as a back yard or as big as a field. It's a question of gardening to scale, of using plants that look right – and grow right – without the gardener having to spend hours caring for them.

Consider the following shrubs:

Box (Buxus sempervirens) – a slow-growing evergreen which can be trained as a low hedge or allowed to grow in pots and simply clipped to shape.

Viburnum 'Eve Price' – a lovely evergreen bush which carries thousands of small white flowers which slowly turn pink.

Champaecyparis obtusa 'Boulevard' – a name to terrify the gardener, but a compact, highly attractive bluish conifer.

It doesn't like limey soil, but looks good in a patio pot where its growth can be checked.

Bergenia cordifolia, Elephant's Ears for want of a better name. Big evergreen leaves, glorious pink/red flowers which first appear in late winter but which have an engaging habit of sprouting again in mid-summer. Great as a weed-suppressor.

Hostas – Grow them all because they are truly wonderful. And if you grow them in gravel beds, it will help to deter their other great fans – slugs.

Junipers – Any of the horizontal varieties which spread outwards to form living fans. And a number of erect, slow-growing forms, such as 'Pyramidalis' or even 'Blue Alps'.

Choisya ternate 'Sundance' A big favourite. It's a yellowy form of Mexican orange blossom with fragrant white flowers in spring. Compact in form but not too happy in bright sun or biting winds. Give it a bit of shelter.

Grow them all, if you can, spread plenty of colourful gravel, plant bulbs, sell the lawnmower. Then sit down and enjoy your garden.

YP MAG 11/12/10