Grand Simplification: Know thyself

Gardeners spend hours pouring over seed and nursery catalogues, looking at books, thinking about colours, bloom times, soil conditions. They might even consider plant succession through the seasons, foliage shapes and textures, winter interest.

One thing they often don’t consider: the gardener.

When I first stuck my spade into the soil in this garden, I was 35 years old. There’s a big difference between the life and times of a 35-year-old and a 57-year-old gardener. Energy. Optimism. Experience.

Not to suggest I had more of them all back then. I trained for my first marathon at age 50. That eats up a lot of time. Our three kids were younger then, too. In fact, one of them hadn’t been conceived yet. I learned that kids don’t always need less attention as they reach their teens…

All this is to say that the gardener, his or her life, how much of it can be devoted to the garden, and doing what; how the garden and gardener can best cohabit: all these things too often get forgotten.

I suspect that many garden failures, amongst which I include what is or isn’t happening in my own front yard, come about because someone has bitten off more than they can chew. They’ve fallen in love with the abstract, forgetting that what they’ve dreamt will ask something real.

Weeding a garden is like walking a dog. Adding mulch and compost is like feeding or grooming. They must be done. If you don’t want to do them, you must find alternatives.

The thing that we gardeners need to know best is ourselves. What do we want from our garden, and what are we prepared to do to get it? Self analysis is as important as soil analysis. Why do we often leave it as an afterthought?

As small as it is, my garden is too complex and demanding for the busy life I have. That’s my personal epiphany. Now, what am I to do about it? That’s my challenge, should I choose to accept it.


  1. Helen, "age" is one reason, I am trying to simplify my garden (although it might not look simple). This will be a retirement home and I am trying to plan. The lawn and hedge trimming can be hired out to a garden maintenance firm when I am no longer able to do it. The Lime Walk-trim hedge,trees, mulch-done. The Serviceberry Alee-bit of pruning, mulch-done. The Kitchen Garden, raised beds so you can do as little or as much as you want. The Flora Glade, planting a mix of trees and shrubs with groundcovers at the base, hopefully will just be a bit of weeding and pruning (should be able to hire that out as well) apply mulch to bare spots-done. I hope that this is not just wishful thinking and is works out in the end. The only way to know is, wait!

  2. The best I can do is plant in island beds that the 70 y.o. Mr. Laneley can mow around with ease without taking out too many plants, mulch with the pine straw that's falling anyhow and has to go somewhere, and be prepared for the little bulldozer to take it all out after I fall on my ancient face in the garden, one day.

    Plant succession and year-round fragrance is my goal, achieved by forcing hyacinths for the coldest days of winter. The rest of the year, I strive for succeeding plants to out-distance weeds.

  3. As we say in Tennesse, "I hayere that!". Each day I look at the garden, sigh and know that it is too much. But the funny thing is, those chores always wait for us to get around to them, or fix themselves by replanting something else. It might have been a weed at one time, like those white asters, but are now welcome friends. 🙂

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