Monday, August 22, 2011

My Secret Love Chore

Barbara: When I say “secret”, the irony here is that I mean it’s a secret from ME. Yes, it’s true, we can and do (all the time) keep secrets from ourselves.

Here’s mine: I believe with every fiber of my being that I hate gardening. In the warm weather months, I dread it with a passion. But then when the season absolutely obligates me to don the garden booties and latex gloves (no comment), I find myself on bended knee professing my undying love to the back-breaking, shoulder-numbing but sensually beautiful and Zen-like peacefulness that is gardening.

One of the reasons we bought our home (besides the virtual steal of a price and its proximity to our daughters’ schools) was for its larger than average garden and its stunning 400-year-old copper beach. 

But when we celebrated the prospect of our new large garden, it was because we imagined days spent lounging in its splendour, maybe reading, maybe hosting intimate gatherings over rosé and antipasto. We didn’t picture hours spent mowing, edging, trimming, and seeding (Phil’s jobs), or composting and mulching 6 cubic yards of shit (actual shit, mind you, and btw, our shared job), or weeding, deadheading, planting and transplanting, and pest and pestilence surveying (my jobs). You see, there is no lounging with book or libation without plenty of—it sounds so benign, doesn’t it?––gardening.

But here’s the gist. I grumble and groan, I procrastinate (like, really a lot), I even whine, and then eventually I get to it. In the fourteen years I’ve gardened here and the five years I gardened at our other home (which is where I cut my teeth), I’ve never missed a season. And, if you want to do the math, yes, that 19 years with at least seven major gardening “events” throughout each season (by that I mean things like spring cleanup and prep, summer weeding sessions (I’m not a “weed once a week” type), fall bulb-planting and bed cleanup, etc), it works out to a minimum total of 133 times in my life where I have worked myself into a froth of foreboding only to find myself in a lovely, wonderful meditative trance as I prune and weed, dig and shovel, pat and tweak. It seems that no matter how many times I think I loathe it, I discover and rediscover how much I actually love it. Oh! and it loves me back.

My garden is lush and green and happy. Unlike my attempts at indoor gardening—which invariably ends with rotting leaves, dying stems, and non-existent flowers––outdoor gardening fairly swoons at my attentions.

My garden doesn’t care that I have spent more hours begrudging it than appreciating it. It just grows along with or without me, and then radiates beauty and peace and acceptance when I finally show up to pay my respects.

Deb: Barb has the most beautiful garden. She designed it like a pro and it looks lush and wonderful. I know Barb very very well so I was shocked when I read this. To look at her garden you would never know she didn’t adore gardening.

I am afraid that I will do little to make this post interesting by giving a different point of view. I too hate it. Or at least I hate the big jobs. The spring/fall cleanup and mulch, the backbreaking planting. But what I do love is the maintenance, and I have found the key that works for me. I simply don’t make it an event like “oh I have to find a day this week to weed and deadhead.” Instead, I come out in the garden almost every day, even for fifteen minutes and I do these things in a leisurely manner. Wow, has it made a difference in my gardening life. I find that this way, it is never daunting.

In fact, it is a philosophy I try to adapt to everything in my life. To borrow a concept from one of my fave authors, Anne Lamott, I just try to take it “Bird by Bird”. I don’t let it get too big and then I can’t be overwhelmed by it. I am just an amateur gardener, but each year I learn more and I glory in my successes and take my failures on the chin. I take photos of everything so I can review what worked and what didn’t, and I borrow ideas from my friends’ gardens. My indoor gardening has come a long way too. I stopped being afraid of killing plants and started just giving them a little lovin’. They used to have a Wanted poster of me in plant stores. I was a leafy serial killer. But I continue to grow with my garden and, as a result, it cuts me some slack. Now if I could just get the dogs to stop peeing on my impatiens.


  1. Both of your Gardens look very pretty.they both look like a place where you could just sit and chill and be relaxed. Growing up my grandfather always had a little garden with my grandmother . We had flowers of all kind and my favorite was this huge tree that we had. It was really pretty and pink and it provided shade Which was the best. Years ago my grandparents had to cut it down because of a storm that we had but they still have there garden and sit it everyday.

  2. Lovely gardens. I keep killing most of my plants. I have a small container garden o our patio. Nothing is looking too good right now. I will plan a few replacements for fall.

  3. What beautiful gardens!!! I've never really had a green thumb myself...but that's ok. :/

  4. Lovely gardens, indeed. I have a lovely garden also fully maintained by my wonderful, talented gardener. He rakes, plants and takes care of everything twice a week. I always have a project for him and my garden (all drought resistant0 looks lovely all year. It is a small price to pay so I have time to sit and enjoy it and read my books or sit outside and use my laptop.

  5. That is a lovely post and both your gardens are so beautiful. Nature doesn't ask for much and thrives on a little attention and love. what a good lesson for all of us. hope you both sit a lot in those lovely places you have helped create. Thanks for a beautiful post.

  6. Thanks, guys. Madge, as you can imagine I often dream of having that gardener's help, but it looks like my forced therapy will continue for a while!

  7. It's too bad that neither of you really like gardening because yours are absolutely beautiful!!!!! My mom would be really jealous!

  8. Unless you really love gardening you can't have yards like this. So I know you love doing all of it.

  9. My mother always has the most beautiful rose bushes and flower beds on her block, and grew piles of delicious vegetables, so I'd always believed that she must love gardening. I was heartbroken when, a couple of years ago, she told me that she hated it! She simply thought that she had to do it because she had a big yard. Now, thanks to your post, I have some hope that maybe my mom isn't so miserable as I'd thought. Maybe she secretly loves gardening, too, and is just keeping the secret from herself.

  10. Your yards are so beautiful. I think you both care about your surroundings enough to want to keep them beautiful, and, though you may not love gardening, the end product is worth the effort.


    We're lucky we have grass. Swing sets, sandboxes, picnic tables... All the trampling took its toll on the ground beneath them. Flowers come in plastic containers from garden shops and are transplanted into cement/concrete pots, vases, or statues. The front of the house looks pretty and the backyard is now for the grandchildren.

  11. Our garden has transformed a lot over the years based on family needs. It feels like just yesterday that we bought bags and bags of pea gravel for the swing set. Now the swing set is gone and the gravel has been raked into a meditation area. But grandkids might change everything!

    Boomgono, I'm going to guess that your mom is probably a secret gardening-lover :) (PS love your site!)

  12. I love the beauty of a garden and the peacefulness that can be found there. Both of you have such lovely gardens! But, I'm in the same boat. I do not like gardening - never have. I have to force myself to occasionally weed and water my garden - and that's about all I do for my plants. After that it's survival of the fittest out there.
    However, once I've made myself trudge outside and begin, I actually don't mind it. In fact, I find myself looking for more places that need work when I have finished my tasks. Maybe I do have a secret love of gardening after all!

  13. The garden, like a crying baby, rewards your attention long after you've finished tending to its needs. It would be "fine" without you, but the pictures show how grateful it really is. That zen-like feeling of connection is your half of the conversation.

  14. A garden can be overwhelming, as it (and all its little friends!) will grow with or without you ... for which I'm grateful and irritated at the same time.

    I go out with my stirrup hoe for 10 minutes between every hour spent in the office. The 10 minutes is easy, and I'm never ready to quit when the time is up. It leaves me wanting more, almost every time (unless it's hothothot in the sun, as it has been lately here in Saskatchewan).

    The trick to enjoyment is getting it to a manageable size and condition, and then being an efficient helpmate to the plants. They appreciate it and seem to let you know, by being stunningly beautiful.

    Your garden photos are gorgeous.

  15. I didn't have internet there for a bit, but am now catching up. How I love all your observations. Kate, I definitely felt like you would relate to this. I've see the pics :) Ashleigh, I love the poetry of your lines there. And Tomine, sounds like we're garden soul sisters!

  16. I always enjoyed going over and helping someone else with their garden. Spent the summer mowing the yard for my "adopted folks." But when it comes to dealing with my own yard I am the Queen of Procrastination. There's always something else that's much more important. My new place is almost all dirt and no grass. I so want the lush beautiful yard and garden, but since it's a rental place and I'll be moving in a year, I've decided that I just don't want to put the time and money in and let someone else reap the rewards. But your garden looks amazing!! Totally worth all the hard work!

  17. Ruth! I hear ya -- it is a lot of work and definitely $$, so probably not yet worth it. But I see a lush garden in your future. I really really do :)


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