Top Ten Tips for the Tidy Gardener

Compliments of the Untidy Gardener

Now that we are beginning a new gardening year I thought it would be nice to offer the following suggestions. I hope you find them timely and inspirational. Sorry, only two pictures because the garden is still in its underwear and buds are requesting more time to sleep until a warm spring sun nudges them to stretch out and put on their finery. Happy Gardening.

1. Decide on a plan of action for the day.

The plan should be a simple list, such as #1. Distraction; #2. Distraction; #3. Distraction. Do not include more than three distractions. Any more than three distractions and you might get too distracted. You do not have to have a preconceived idea of what any of these distractions may be as they will come to you as if by magic once you step outside and see where the distractions (messes) are.

Here is the value of gardening by distraction: Your spirit is not confined to the items on a list. It is free and unbounded. You will see the world with clarity and your mental and physical stamina will be revitalized and you will find joy in pulling weeds. Trust me.

2. Do not bring more than one gardening tool outside with you at a time.

If you need another tool, put the first one away. This may sound like a frustrating waste of time but consider the aerobic exercise you will get from the aimless walking back and forth and the deep breaths of fresh air you can take now that you are not bent over a garden bed. And your back will thank you, too. (Caution: If you live near a refinery or somebody is crop dusting, be sure to don your N-95 covid-19 mask while walking. You may remove it, of course, when you poke your nose back into the garden.)

Here’s another advantage: At the end of the day you will have the satisfaction of knowing your tools are put safely away and you will not have to wander aimlessly by the light of the moon (because that great new flashlight needs batteries) hunting for tools you can barely remember using.

3. Don’t spend endless hours planning your garden.

Try the willy-nilly method of planting for a change. You will save a lot of time and pencil erasers. Also money, as buying three’s of this or five’s of the other (a must in a properly planned garden) can be expensive. And then stuff dies anyway.

The willy-nilly method can cost almost nothing if you have good friends. Gardeners who know what they are doing are always dividing plants and throwing them out and feeling bad about it. You would be doing them a favor if you begged a few.

4. Plant a hedge.

If willy-nilly gets out of hand, you can hide some of it with a hedge. Hedges make gardens look important. They keep willy-nilly escapees in bounds and make willy-nilly look like a planned garden instead of a perennial bad-hair day.

Now, if you have a couple of plants with flowers (attach fake ones, if necessary, see above) you can tell everyone about your natural butterfly garden. Butterflies rather like willy-nilly gardens as long as they are in the sun (though they prefer real flowers). Be sure you have a hedge trimmer in mind (person, not tool) as hedges should be kept tidy. Willy-nilly hedges will only emphasize the willy-nilliness of a garden.

5. Consider phony flowers.

Hanging baskets and pot gardens are popular these days, but they require water and grooming. And real plants die. You can eliminate all this work if you keep a supply of dollar-store fake flowers on hand. Simply tuck a couple into empty spaces and voila! you have a (partially) living exotic bouquet. As with any flower arrangement, your choices should include round and spikey, short and tall, bold and retiring blooms.

Alternatively, you could start with dollar-store flowers and save time and money (unless a squirrel knocks over a pot or a bird decides to nest in one). For the natural look, avoid fake colors and chartreuse plastic ferns. If you are crafty and going for campy, go for glue, glitter and spangles.

Our fake-flower windowbox after almost two years with no care (except we did have to remove an old wren nest and a couple of pesky weeds that looked too natural). Once the flowers had more petals but some of them blew away

6. Do the quick and easy tasks first.

Leave the hardest and longest for last. This sounds counter-intuitive. Most people want to finish the big, difficult ones first so they can take the easy ones in stride. Do the math and you will understand why I suggest this. Example: You have ten easy tasks, like cut down a row of tulips or plant four marigolds, and so on, and two difficult tasks like edge a two-acre lawn or double-dig a bed.

Wouldn’t it be much more fulfilling to whip through those ten easy tasks and bask in the glow of self-fulfillment than to tackle the two time-consuming, backbreaking, strenuous, toilsome, terrible tasks that you will probably not finish anyway? The trick is not to consider tomorrow, because if you can get ten easy tasks finished by lunch time today you can take a nap in the afternoon and forget about it all.

7. Do not keep records.

Instead of keeping records you should be enjoying your favorite Netflix series. We have probably all been told at one time or other that we should keep records. And sometimes I think, darn, I wish I had a record of where I planted that purple tulip. On the other hand, the tulip bulb probably rotted over winter or the voles ate it. Few people (actually nobody) I know keep records.

If you do keep records, you need to have a dedicated record book (no jottings on the backs of envelops or grocery lists thrown into limbo) that you can find after a reasonable search (no tossing in with piles of magazines or unpaid bills). You also need to remember what you wrote about and how to find your notes, and if, in the end, you actually took those note that you so clearly remember but can’t find. Then you must be able to read your handwriting and hope the page is not so mud-tea-or-coffee-stained that you need a spotlight and a five-power magnifying glass to decipher the text.

We must hold in high esteem those great garden writers who kept excellent records that were legible, too. I wonder if they would have kept such good records if they had been able to subscribe to Netflix. I should add that there are mighty advantages to cultivating your memory instead of keeping records. You will boost your brain power and see the world with greater clarity and your spirit will be revitalized. Oops, I think I said that stuff before.

8. Fill the garden with ornaments.

People love ornaments. They love them more than plants, especially if they are shiny. If you have ornaments around, people will not notice weeds or dying plants. (Presumably you have pulled out the already dead plants.)

Once I was so proud of a plant I had rescued from a vacant lot that didn’t have guard dogs that I had to show it to every visitor. Nobody paid attention to my plant. They all thought that pink flamingo next to it was the best. (Of course, the plant in question (partridge berry) hugged the ground and had leaves the size of a baby’s finger nail, but they could have pretended.)

9. Wear appropriate gardening gear.

This should include sturdy shoes, sturdy pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Pajamas are not advised, even for quick forays, because of the possibility of bringing unintended bugs to bed with you, or more troubling, the idea that you may bring unintended bugs into your bed.

Quality of gear should be prioritized by whether you are working in the front yard or the back yard. Rags are fine for the latter, but smart, color-coordinated outfits are best for the front yard, where dog walkers and joggers, who may also be wearing spiffy outfits will be duly impressed with your stylish duds and your gardening prowess. Spanking white is by far the most dramatic but remember to skip the kneeling or you will ruin the effect. Ditto for bending over.

10. Skip the jargon and loaf in the garden.

Books do not talk like a plant. A plant would never say things like I am drought tolerant. (Personally, I have never met an eastern plant that didn’t love more water than less.) Or, Put me in moist but well drained soil, please.  (Who knows what moist but well drained soil is? Does the plant? Who even has moist but well drained soil?) I do not believe anybody has ever directly asked a question of a plant, and I do not believe plants would answer with those big words we find in books. And, furthermore, I do not believe plants like to be called “plant material.” What does that mean? A pile of hedge trimmings?

This “drought tolerant” camellia ‘Berenice Boddy’ has done well in our garden but it never had cascades of blooms until we had a couple of soggy years

But plants do have great body language. Their leaves simply turn gray or go dull or droop or look sad when they are thirsty, or they get very energetic when they like a spot, moist but well drained soil or not. Maybe our plants would like us better if we just loafed and hung out with them and maybe told them how much we liked them. (Caution: It’s probably best to keep your conversations with plants a secret. If you admit to hearing answers. . .)

11. Avoid sporadic, exuberant weekend gardening that can tear muscles up.

(This is a bonus tip.) Daily gardening sprints will help firm and strengthen muscles and may even help you age backwards, a goal that seems to be promoted by health gurus these days. This may have major ramifications for eighty-year-olds. One genetic study is taking place now on a ninety-five-year-old gentleman who acts like a six-year old and has the stature of a six-year-old. (Which means he has apparently lost 89 years.)

Whether his present height is due to aging backwards or being bent over a hoe in his vegetable garden every day is still under investigation. Note: This gentleman also tops his vegetables with yogurt and wheat germ and practices meditation (or dozes, not yet ascertained) when curled up over his hoe, variables that have not been included in this particular study. Stay tuned. Maybe you, too, could age backwards as you garden.

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15 Responses to Top Ten Tips for the Tidy Gardener

  1. tonytomeo says:

    #5 – No phony flowers. I do not even need real flowers. My garden is utilitarian.
    #7 – Not a problem. I know the seasons for certain chores, but do not document them.
    #8 – No ornaments. I don’t care what others think of my garden.
    #9 – Everything I wear is appropriate for the garden.

    • It sounds like I need a bit of your self-discipline. We’ve had numerous groups visit so I am probably more conscious than most about what a visitor might notice first — though I am often surprised.

      • tonytomeo says:

        For our unrefined landscapes, I must sometimes ask others how they see a particular situation. You must know how that goes. We see it our way, which might be slightly different from how visitors see it.

      • Absolutely! It makes life — and gardening — a surprise each time.

      • tonytomeo says:

        My colleague down south is a landscape designer, so how a garden looks to ‘everyone’ is his business. Everyone loves his work . . . except for me. He can not stand my bland utilitarian garden style.

      • Interesting. Do all his clients want the “exotic,” which often requires lots of maintenance. Do his customers do their own maintenance?

      • tonytomeo says:

        He is in the Los Angles Region, where almost all landscapes are ‘exotic’ to some degree. The natural landscape is quite bleak. Only a few landscapes out in the desert exploit ‘natural’ landscapes that showcase the desert style. Furthermore, his landscapes are ‘extreme’. I mean, they look like jungles, and require a lot of water and maintenance. None of his clients do their own yardwork. In fact, almost no one here does their own yardwork like we used to do. (Even in my own neighborhood in town, neighbors complained that it was inappropriate for me to be seen working in the garden.) You may have seen one of his landscapes if you had ever seen ‘the Osbournes’.

      • That is too bad. They are living on the edge in some kind of la-la land and one day the river will run dry. But it will be tomorrow’s generation that will take the heat (no pun intended).We haven’t seen really bad droughts — yet.

      • tonytomeo says:

        Gardening is not for everyone. There have always been some who are perfectly happy with lifestyles that do not involve gardening. What is weird nowadays is that there are so FEW people in these massive urban areas who enjoy gardening, even in urban areas with homes that have garden space. So many homes in both Los Angeles and San Jose have generous garden space, but almost none of such space is used for gardening. Instead, it is ‘maintained’ by mow, blow and go ‘gardeners’. It does not even look good. It is such a waste of space. San Jose is in the Santa Clara Valley, which was formerly famous for the vast orchards that were there before the urban sprawl.

  2. Karen Rose says:

    Thanks for this timely advice, which was much-needed as I begin to look outside and contemplate all the work waiting just around the bend. I can feel the anxiety building already (which will all go away once I can actually get out there and start!) My biggest problem is writing a list of things to be done and then doing distraction, distraction, distraction. I actually laughed out loud several times; a great way to start the day! Stay well and safe – Spring is almost here…..

    • Thanks for your welcome comments, Karen. It’s been a cold winter for us so I can sympathize with your wanting to get out after a northern winter. The sun is beckoning now.It will for you, too. Have a wonderful spring.

  3. Lisa says:

    I laughed in so many places here–maybe too much recognition of my own approach. Would you consider a standup routine at a gardening event? Take my begonia, please?

  4. Linda says:

    1. I consider distraction essential to gardening, keeps it interesting. 🤓
    2. Garden tools purposely escape and hide, never to be found again. 🙄
    8. Guilty. But tastefully of course. 🤓
    9. Oh dear. 🤭

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