I'm a lazy gardener who loves a beautiful garden. I have a gardening friend who enjoys working hours in her garden every day, weeding and deadheading. I don't have that passion, I just want the flowers. My time is limited and I dislike the tedium of daily maintenance as much as I hate a neglected garden.
My answer is to balance the drudgery work with an acceptable level of disorder. As a lazy gardener, I know that garden perfection is a fleeting thing, no matter how much labor is devoted to achieving it. A maintenance-free garden doesn't exist, but there are ways to reduce the work. One key to less work is planning. Keep notes of what you do and check your notes next fall. They will tell how you spent your time and let you plan changes for next season.
How much work is enough differs for every gardener. Find what works for you. My garden work happens in spurts. With the excitement of a spring's arrival, weekends in the garden are anticipated events, with daily tours to see "what's up." During the busy summer months, no more than four hours a week suffices between two or three of all-day efforts. Towards the end of summer work tapers off and ends with a couple days of fall cleanup. Much of that four hours is just touring the garden and plucking out weeds here and there.
There are several major maintenance areas in yards and gardens. Lawn area is the most demanding. Don't over fertilize your lawn. More fertilizer means more mowing. Get your soil tested and follow the test's recommendations. The money you save in fertilizer and time applying it covers the cost of the test. If you need to water, water deeply once a week. Keep up with mowing. Good lawn maintenance reduces labor.
Another way to save labor is to cut down on lawn size. Shrub beds, patios, decks, mulched areas, flower beds and groundcover cut down on mowing, plus add interest to your yard. In lawn-free areas, weed barriers and mulch reduce work. The most drastic solution is no lawn, but may not be possible. Most city and suburban home sites usually require at least a front lawn.
Plants requiring special care and gardens that need excessive weeding, staking, dead-heading, watering, or other care contribute to the work load. Hybrid tea roses are notoriously labor intensive. If you cannot live without roses, replace high-maintenance varieties with low-maintenance types, such as shrub roses.
Select plants known for their hardiness, and group them by their growing needs. Easy to grow plants, grown under the right conditions, provide beautiful results. A little research in garden books will tell you all you need to know.
There are solutions for reducing the amount of garden labor, time better spent relaxing in the beauty created by your efforts.