Early garden resolution: Let go of perfectionism

Making a garden is important to me, so my garden can (occasionally) look okay – or okay enough that someone compliments me on it.

Honey, I think at the time, all I see are the flaws. 

Look at the picture above. Aren’t the tulips lovely? Are you like me, distracted by the stump of the Japanese maple, slowly succumbing to verticillium wilt? Or by the desiccated foliage on the Mahonia? Or are you asking, Stump? Mahonia? Where?

You are witnessing the tragedy of perfectionism. Tragic because, most of the time, it doesn’t stop me from gardening – it stops me from being happy, fully happy with what I create. And it sticks in sharp little guilt needles when a garden task remains undone.

Which reminds me. I still have bulbs to plant.

Guess who came to dinner…

My biggest stumble in the perfectionist field – and this is a true confession that I haven’t spoken aloud to anyone – has been the blogger’s block that has followed my unexpected win of a Gold Medal for digital writing from the soon-to-be-renamed Association for Garden Communicators. Gold Medal? How can I live up to that?! Honestly, it has been a struggle.

But let’s shake off that heavy perfectionist’s mantle. It’s uncomfortable, it’s dragging in the dirt, and tripping us up. Let’s get those bulbs in the ground and those blog posts posted.

In our dad’s words, Anything worth doing is worth doing badly. The perfect is the enemy of the good, the okay, the done and dusted.


  1. We are always most critical of our own work. I didn’t notice the flaws you mentioned but had it been my own garden, I would have been fretting over the crowded placement that had the hostas all but bury the Huechera and some of my painted ferns this year, not to mention the weird space behind my Waterfall Japanese maple, formed because none of the branches in the back survived planting and I now have a one-sided plant!!!

    1. It’s true that unpredictability is part of gardening. Plants don’t read plant tags and often outgrow their allotted space. And bad things can happen to good gardeners. Sorry to hear about your Japanese maple, Traci-Anna. Perhaps with some creative pruning, people will think you made that one-sided waterfall on purpose?

  2. Your picture reminds me of my own front yard in the spring -just a glorious mess of tulips! Then it is somewhat downhill from there. I am a practitioner of your Dad’s advice -tho I didn’t know that! Writer’s block (and any other kind of block) is real, but I think you will be back at it soon, now that you have acknowledged it.
    And I have a small bag of chinodoxia (sp?) to stick in the ground too. Just waiting for warmer day, or a kick in the butt, to do it!

    1. I can be laissez-faire about some things, and can enjoy a tulip for itself alone. Which is a good thing because my dry-shade garden is, like yours maybe, at its best in spring. But when someone compliments the garden I do have to bite my tongue and stop pointing out how wrong they are. And I want to return to more frequent posting soon – there are many things to share. Hope you got your chionodoxas in before this week’s return to winter chill!

  3. Pursue the ways of wabi-sabi and you’ll be happier all round. It’s finding the beauty in imperfection and way easier on the system.

    Like you, I won the GWA Gold a few years ago. And it was undoubtably an honour but it didn’t change my life either – the paparazzi never showed up and the weeds were not impressed;-) My advice is to shake it off and just be/write yourself – that’s what got you there in the first place. (Oh, and keep your pencils and secateurs sharp).

    1. Oh, I never expected paparazzi! But the win did wake the kraken called my inner critic. I think it’s going back to sleep, though. Thanks for your encouragement, Tony. Much appreciated.

  4. Plans are made….beauty happens.Just look at that gorgeous display of autumn leaves on the chair and table. Love your blog and your honesty!

  5. I hear you as I’m in the same boat – what needs to be done/changed often overshadows the beauty that is already there. What I have to do is learn how to “see” my garden in the same way as I would a neighbours or strangers – all tulips and where’s the stump;)

    1. You remind me that, long ago, when I took grief counselling after the death of our mother the therapist told me to learn to be my own loving parent. To hush the unpleasant voice that says bad things, and speak to myself as if I were comforting a child. So those of us who are over-critical of our own work, as Traci-Anna says, should try to tune that inner voice to a kinder, more constructive channel. (Huh. I never thought that replying to blog comments could be as useful as therapy!)

  6. Yes, I need to learn to see my garden as others see it. It never looks that good to me, but when I browse through pictures of June and July in December, it looks a heck of a lot better! Recognizing perfectionism as a problem is the first step toward a solution, but I doubt it’s ever fully conquered.

    1. Perhaps it will come with age, Kathy. And you and I are still spring chickens! When I see all your colchicums, I am very envious.

  7. “Things are defined by the definition you give them”- There’s no such thing as perfect. We lived in a imperfect world. And there is a beauty in imperfections. Thank you for this wonderful post! Such a big help.

  8. I’m so very critical of my work and very hard on myself too. It makes enjoying what I’ve accomplished hard. Reading too many articles about garden design usually sends me into a bit of a tither, fearing I’ve done it all wrong. But, when anyone else visits, the only things I hear are positive and affirmatory. I need to focus on the latter!

  9. There’s a plant collector analogy here, from the words of that esteemed, late scribe, Henry Mitchell (The Essential Earthman). More or less it went… “I was sad that I had no loropetalum, then I met a man with no snowdrop”. Be easy with yourself. Let others enjoy, those with no snowdrops.

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