Revision Notes

RHS Level 3: Low Maintenance Amenity Planting

Defining Amenity Planting

Amenity planting can be defined as any planting within a public space. Today there is a growing interest in low maintenance schemes that reduce labour, fuel and machinery costs for hard-pressed public funds. There is also a great deal of interest in sustainable amenity designs, for instance, making use of recycled materials and requiring no or little watering.

According to Botanic Garden Conservation International (BGCI):

In its broadest sense, amenity planting is a wide-ranging subject. It covers planting in parks and gardens, roadside flower beds, roundabouts and cemeteries, and extending to supermarket car parks, motorway verges and public visitor attractions. It is in fact any planting in a public space. Those responsible for amenity planting include local authorities, trustees of private gardens and museums and tenants organisations.

While hard landscaping elements tend to set the scene and define the overall structure of the low maintenance planting scheme, as in any other scheme, it is the plants that really bring the design to life.

For the low maintenance planting scheme it is best to avoid formally arranged beds and borders, especially for high maintenance annuals or herbaceous perennials that need a lot of staking and tying to look good. Planting beds can still be used, but it’s important to avoid the extensive expanses of soil that are such a feature of traditional amenity planting schemes.

Any open soil will benefit from being mulched or planted with suitable ground cover. These help to cut down on the amount of weeding and help the ground retain moisture, reducing the need for watering. These steps are valuable in any sustainable planting scheme.


Lawns demand a lot of water, time and attention to look good. for this reason, many low maintenance and sustainable schemes dispense with the lawn altogether, instead substituting paving, decking, gravel or bark.

Plants to Include

The best plants for a low maintenance amenity planting scheme are those that give maximum show for the minimum amount of work. Bulbs can come into their own, particularly those varieties that multiply and spread well over time – so most of the traditional flowers of spring are perfect for the low maintenance approach. Narcissi, daffodils, snowdrops, crocuses, grape hyacinths and bluebells – all of which you simply plant and then leave to get on with things themselves – are ideal, but you don’t have to restrict yourself to these; there are plenty of summer and autumn bulbs to try too.

However, not all kinds of bulbs are suitable, so leave out any that need to be lifted and stored from one year to the next, or require a lot of care to keep them looking attractive.

Samll trees, shrubs and perennials also make good additions to amenity planting schemes, providing structure and form, and requiring little care once established. Choose shrubs that look attractive and retain a nice shape without too much attention, examples include hebe and camellia.

Magnolia x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’
Malus ‘Golden Hornet’ (variegated)
Prunus Shôgetsu’
Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’

Aucuba japonica
Camellia x williamsii
Choisya ternata
Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

Berberis thunbergii
Box, Buxus sempervirens
Dwarf box, Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’
Lonicera nitida
Thuja plicata

Alchemilla mollis
Anemone hupehensis
Catmint, Nepeta
Geraniums such as Rozanne
Stipa tenuissima

Dry Shade
Cyclamen hederifolium
Euonymus (variegated)
Luzula sylvatica
Vinca minor

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