Does that photo tell the whole story?
Great photos of well tended gardens can sooth the soul or create despair. Sometimes it seems that everyone’s garden looks great except our own. Is it true or is it an illusion? Let’s start with these facts and questions.
- You don’t tend to see the problems in other people’s projects
- Good looking doesn’t equal productive
- Time doesn’t stand still in a garden
- Where are they on the learning curve?
- Do they have help you don’t know about?
- Do they do anything else besides yard work?
- How much garden do they have?
When it is not your problem
I am currently a little discouraged with my garden, but people who come and see it rave at how great it looks. Why the discrepancy? For one thing, those visitors don’t have any particular expectations. They come, they see, they leave. Unless I
complain enlighten them about my struggles, they leave with a somewhat distorted view of my garden.
Most of them don’t look closely at the plants. They don’t notice the aphids that resulted in me tossing my first broccoli harvest. Worst aphid infestation on the books and in spite of spraying insecticidal soap thoroughly. I reminded myself that in reality it can be replaced by about $10 of store-bought broccoli. Not as rewarding, but we are certainly not going to starve.
How zoomed in is that photo?
Also, my friends don’t tend to notice the weeds, especially from a distance, if there are pretty flowers along the back fence. Why should they care? They don’t have to pull them! Except, I am suspicious that one helpful friend who occasionally pulls a familiar weed in the yard may have weeded out one of my baby Thunbergia vines along the front walk. It can look a bit like bind weed at that stage…
My visitors also don’t usually know what my garden dreams have been. This year my dreams were severely adjusted by travel, a rather long illness during a main spring planting time, and fluctuating real estate ventures. In my mind I know all of this. In my heart, I still want my dream garden.
Garden photos tend to focus on the beauty, which is as expected, but you have to remember what they might leave out. Everyone has areas that are not perfect or plants that are ailing. Even if they have a full time staff, there are weather and soil factors that challenge everyone. Those only make it to photos in articles about problems.
When did that weed grow?
We have all experienced walking through our garden and seeing a huge weed in an area that we thought was well tended. Sometimes a change in lighting also affects how well we see certain weeds or issues. Time is both a blessing and a curse in the garden. Without it, nothing would mature. With it, nothing stays done.
I had a beautiful row of sweet peas earlier this summer. I just ripped out all of the spent plants. They were dry, ugly, and over growing other areas. I need to keep in mind that their blooming stage was a success!
Find the beauty where and WHEN it is. It takes some research, practice, and luck to plant in a way that lets your garden look its best in each phase of the growing season. A lot of people plant for the spring, but forget to plant flowers and shrubs that will look nice during the heat or in the autumn.
Plus, you don’t have to focus on those unexpected or persistent weeds. Yes, notice enough to make a plan and take action, but spend more mental energy on the beauty and success. Like violas in the walkway!
We are all still learning
I have internalized a lot of things about gardening. However, every year is still a challenge. Partly because I try new things that beginning gardeners probably wouldn’t. When we experiment, we are going to have failures. That doesn’t mean the experiment was a bad idea. In fact, branching out can make you a smarter gardener over all. Don’t be too hard on yourself along the way in this more advanced learning process.
Martha Stewart’s garden is perfect
I remember the first time I realized that Martha Stewart had staff to do most, if not all, of her hard labor. There is nothing wrong with having help, and it doesn’t make you less of a gardener if you do. You just need to keep in mind that comparisons about how pristine gardens look might be misleading.
There is also the matter of yard size. Now, I readily admit to having regularly attempted a garden that is beyond the reality of my work potential. I am downsizing my number of garden beds as you read this. If you have also experimented with how large of a garden you can handle, don’t compare it to someone’s postage size plot!
The cycle of overwhelm
If you are discouraged with how your garden is growing, whether it be general upkeep or specific disappointments, beware of letting that badly influence you. There can be a tendency to just give up and then have a huge and much more discouraging mess in a few weeks. In stead, find a focus or an approach that both helps you evaluate and gives you some successes to enjoy.
Here is the approach I have been using the past two years, because making landscaping changes on an acre takes a while! : Strategies for Deciding How Much Garden You Can Manage. I am happy to report that although I sometimes get impatient and sometimes get tempted to plant things where I have decided not to, overall this approach has relieved a lot of stress in my life.
Why do you have a garden, anyway?
As with any project, it is very helpful to know why you are doing things. What is your overall desire? What are the complications? Try asking yourself some of these questions to help put things in perspective and make sure you are not working against yourself:
- What are the main reasons I want a garden?
- How can I further evaluate those reasons?
- How do these reasons compare to other life priorities?
- How much time and money am I willing and able to spend on my garden?
- Do I like to work outside?
- How do my environment and climate affect my gardening goals?
- How can I practically integrate my garden with other aspects of my life, such as exercise or raising children?
- Do I have other goals that might conflict with gardening?
For most of us, gardening is some combination of landscaping options, being active outdoors, and providing some fresh produce during the summer months. If you want it to be more than that, it will take quite a bit of time. If you don’t want it to consume your life, you can still enjoy it. Just find the size and level of interaction that suits you and brings you peace.