In my life there are many things I “have” to do, and many things I do in support of other people’s agendas, so there is seldom time for me to do exactly what I want to do. I have lived this way for most of my life, so I often have a very difficult time even knowing what I want to do anymore. Every decision unconsciously includes the calculus of how it will affect the other people in my life. My garden is the only place where this is very clearly not the case. We don’t need a garden, I WANT a garden. I know that the garden enhances everyone’s lives in this household, but it is truly a luxury. To have both the time and the money to spend on plants which are kept solely for their interest and beauty is beyond the reach of most of the people on this planet. I sometimes feel guilty about this, when the time and money I spend could help somebody else who is in dire straits of some kind. However, I know from all my garden-less years that the emotional impoverishment I would experience if I gave it up is simply not worth it. I also need pleasure and joy, and my garden gives those to me (also despair, and heartbreak, and an aching back, but these are other posts).
As a result of my gardening being an entirely discretionary activity (except for how frustrated I would feel if I didn’t garden) I have always therefore treated gardening as a free-for-all activity. I do all…most…some of my mandatory chores, and then I go out in the garden as free as the breeze. I am unfettered by the to-do lists, goals either long or short term, or any of the shoulds or musts that dictate the rest of my day. There are two consequences of having my gardening time this unstructured. First of all, I behave like a three-year-old. I carom from one activity to another doing whatever catches my eye in the moment. Like a toddler I leave a wake of tools, pots, plants which have been uprooted to make way for something else, and abandoned garments and gloves. Secondly, and as a direct result, I often don’t get as much done as I would like. My garden has felt kind of stalled out for the last two years and I want it to move forward better, because I will then enjoy it a lot more. In the back of my mind I have been thinking that I need to get better organized, but then I go out each day and just bounce around.
My high-school class recently had a reunion (yes, it was big number) which was held at a classmate’s house. Suzy has generously hosted our reunions for a number of years, and one of the treats of going to her house is that she has a really lovely, obviously beloved garden. This has been a difficult year to schedule garden work because of the incessant rain, and she said that it made getting the garden prepped for the party a lot more difficult. She started working on the garden six weeks before the event, dashing out between showers, and put some plant into containers rather than the ground because the soil was so soggy. And, she said that she really disciplined herself to work systematically “because if you don’t have a plan nothing gets done”. So, she took each bed in turn, completed everything it needed (planting, unplanting, weeding mulching), and then moved on to the next. Bingo! The words I needed to hear at the time I needed to hear them. Thank you, Suzy, for a lovely reunion party, and some very timely gardening advice, all in one convenient event.
The upshot of this for me is that I am going to finish (well, as finished as anything is in living systems) the unfinished north bed. This bed has been in process for a number if years. I have built up the hideously compacted clay soil with the addition of lots of organic material. Most of the larger trees have been planted, although it still needs two more, one coniferous and one deciduous. The edges have all been planted, and re-planted, repeatedly. However, there has been a no-man’s land in the center of this very large triangle that I have never gotten under control. It is unplanted, full of weeds, unmulched, and because it is the center of the bed all the good plants in the bed are viewed against it as a very distracting backdrop. It is also an excellent source of weed material to encroach on the planted parts of the bed.
My goal is to have this bed cleaned up and fully planted (more attainable then “finished”). So my actions need to focus on these goals. First, I need to completely weed the bed, then add any additional soil and organic material as needed. Next I will lay out all the plants, rather than add them one at a time, before I plant them. I will wait to mulch until the entire area is planted. Clearly, I will not be able to do all of this in a single gardening session so I will have to return to these tasks repeatedly until they are completed
Working in this systematic way is a huge change for me in the garden. I know it will feel really uncomfortable at first, so I will have to just push through that feeling. As with so many things, I am sure I will get used to it if I give it enough time. And I bet that getting this bed planted and tidy will make me so happy that it will be worth it.