When we moved into our home I inherited a spectacular perennial garden, the kind people walking or driving by would stop and admire, the size and scope of which could keep a small florist in business.
It was the pride and joy of the master gardener who lived there before us — and if I am being honest, the bane of my existence. As arguably the crowning jewel (as far as gardens go) of the neighborhood, it was something I felt a certain pressure to maintain or at least not totally destroy with my inexperience.
And I wasn’t optimistic given my track record with houseplants.
I was an at-home mom with two babies at the time — the previous owner was retired, and from the looks of it gardening was her sole hobby. I knew I was at a disadvantage given my limited free time, but I was a perfectionist by nature and therefore hyper-averse to failure.
So the first couple years it wasn’t unusual to see me outside before dawn, spending an hour or two weeding and deadheading several times a week.
Eventually, this arrangement got old; my garden was not a source of enjoyment. I actually resented it!
So I reconsidered my perfectionist tendencies and decided it was time that I accept a good enough garden. It was either that or wave the white flag and bring in a few tons of rock or other xeriscape materials. Instead, I only devoted the time and effort I felt like giving and, get this, my garden has never looked better!
Here’s what I did to get some time and, really, a little of my sanity back.
1. Let it grow
Let your plants express themselves…if they are feeling lazy, let them flop over. If they feel like spreading their seed and sprouting little babies, let them (within reason). I found that plants, like many things in life, do better when you let them be.
2. No more nitpicky deadheading
Wait till blooms are almost entirely spent and then sheer off with hedge clippers. My plants are hardy enough that there’s been no widespread plant revolt to this method. I always get another phase of blooms; maybe not as showy, but another bloom nonetheless.
3. Mix in some annuals
Plop some in at the beginning of the season for color and interest where you have holes or late-season bloomers.
4. Trade divided plants with neighbors
This gives my garden a rather “freewheeling” quality but I like the variety and the color clashing that inevitably results.
5. Buy end-of-season or “oops/near-death” plants
Your success rate matters less when something’s 70% off; plus it’s fun to see what comes back to life or what surprises bloom the following season. (I only started doing this after my husband and I had a “come to Jesus” about my spending at my favorite garden center.)
6. Choose long-term bloomers
For the least amount of maintenance and maximum enjoyment choose plants that are long-term bloomers or are beautiful when not in bloom too. My favorites are Russian sage, ice plant, lavender, black-eyed Susan, and grasses like feather reed/Karl Foerster.
7. Let some plants breathe, pack others in
Not every plant likes to feel crowded but others don’t mind. The less open soil you have the less weeding you’ll have to do!
I could have easily laid down sod, river rock, some concrete or some awful creeping juniper ground cover rather than to find a way to preserve what’s really a wonderful gift from the previous owner. I am glad I stuck with it, that I learned what I needed to. And the extra benefit I received isn’t lost on me — that in letting go I grew a little bit with my garden too.