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Working The Garden

What is it about gardening that we love so much? Is it our desire for beauty and color, is it a love of the great outdoors, is it the peace and solitude of a lush garden, or is it simply the fulfillment of working hard and accomplishing something with our hands and muscles?

I have come to the conclusion that it is as much the joy of accomplishing a hard day’s work that draws us into the garden as it is the color and beauty.

Weeding is, of course, the number-one chore for any garden. A good friend of mine, Pat Haragan, a botanist and the author of Weeds of Kentucky and Adjacent States, once said to me, “Weeds are opportunistic plants.” How true—weeds can find the most unusual places to grow and thrive, like in the tiny slits between the bricks on my patio. Sometimes they seem almost impossible to pull and they just keep coming back.

Out of place weeds
The most common definition of a weed is any plant that is out of place. In a cultivated garden space, when we are trying to achieve a certain look or style, one big weed or several small ones can make an otherwise beautiful space messy and unkempt. The more garden space you have, the more opportunity there is for weeds to grow. I can’t stress enough my philosophy: don’t add more gardens if you can’t maintain the ones you have.

Tend existing gardens
I am called to many homes throughout the year to discuss landscaping. Most gardeners are not sure what they want or what they need to do, but they don’t like what they have. Many feel compelled to have more, but don’t know where to begin. In some cases, the dissatisfaction comes from putting the wrong plants in the wrong places, but more than anything it is inadequate maintenance.

Sometimes it requires a lot of labor-intensive work, but most often, it simply requires moving a few plants, straightening out or smoothing out bed lines, adding a little mulch, or doing a little needed pruning. I always work within the parameters of the existing landscape beds first, before adding new areas that will also have to be maintained.

It is good to step back and take an honest look at your landscape every now and then. Are you putting in the work required to keep what you have looking its best, or are you constantly buying more plants and adding new gardens without a plan and neglecting the gardens you already have?

My recommendation is this: recognize and accept your desire to garden, be realistic about the amount of time you have to garden, know your ability to garden, and with all this in mind, plant and maintain your garden accordingly. Don’t be a weekend garden warrior trying to keep up with your neighbors. Garden for yourself, for the love and joy it brings, and for life.

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