How to turn a patio into a green oasis | Gardening advice

Someone recently asked me: “How do you get the motivation to do all those jobs you hate in the garden?” As a person who increasingly can’t find the motivation to do anything other than gardening, I had to think long and hard about how to answer this question. I know that in horticultural media there’s often talk of gardening as if it is some kind of outdoor tidying up, with our “jobs for the week” and “top 10 hacks” – but things don’t have to be this way.

If you don’t like doing something in the garden, you just need to change it. Life is too short to spend on your hands and knees weeding between the gaps of patio slabs, when you could be enjoying the miracles of the natural world in the fresh air, especially since two weeks later you’ll have to do it all again. So here’s how to do away with that job for ever.

The gaps between patio slabs naturally gather moisture and nutrients, providing a perfect habitat for shallow-rooted species that love full sun and good drainage. This means that, if you’re not hand weeding, you will be permanently tied into dosing it with weedkiller or natural alternatives like vinegar or boiling water, which are as ineffective as they are impractical. However, by simply filling this ecological niche with ornamental species you like the look of, you can work with nature rather than fighting a futile battle against it. This way you elbow out the weeds and beautify what would otherwise be dull, grey space.

Purple creeping thyme
Purple prose: creeping thyme offers good ground cover. Photograph: Tetiana Chemerys/Alamy

What you need are plants that will cope with poor, shallow soils and will be low-growing enough not to trip over, while withstanding the constant trampling they will be subjected to in this habitat. This might be quite a tall order, but there are some great candidates that really fit the bill. One perfect example is the creeping thyme, Thymus praecox, which will grow as little as 1cm tall, thrives in full sun and will kick out a living carpet of purple-pink flowers all summer long. It’s a total bee magnet, too.

If you want a calmer, green alternative, lawn chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile ‘Treneague’, is a sterile cultivar that never flowers, but instead spreads like a fluffy moss to fill every crevice with ferny, emerald leaves. Both of these species come with the wonderful side-effect of emitting a herbal aroma when trodden on, to fill air with the scent of a Mediterranean holiday. For shadier spots, Corsican mint, Mentha requienii, will do much the same. With tiny leaves on plants which hug the ground, they are only recognisable as a mint at all from their powerful fragrance. Even in the deepest shade, the moisture-loving mind-your-own-business, Soleirolia soleirolii, will flood even the smallest cracks with lush green.

These hard-working plants provide everything from colour to scent, and wildlife benefit in exchange for very little maintenance, thus freeing you from the perpetual drudgery of weeding. It’s amazing to me that they aren’t planted as standard every time a patio is installed.

Follow James on Twitter @Botanygeek