For the Beginner: When Your Garden is Too Much Work

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My garden was too much work! How can I make it easier?

Answer: Now that you’ve put away your gardening tools, take some time to think back over the summer and evaluate how well your herb garden fits your life.

A beginner sometimes makes the mistake of planting too ambitious a garden out of sheer enthusiasm. It’s easy to want to grow so many new plants that you go a little overboard. The result can be a garden that demands more time than you have to give it, a garden that nags you instead of delighting you. If that’s the case, take off the rose-colored glasses.

Have a realistic look at how well your garden did and how well you did in keeping up with it. The joy of gardening isn’t found only in the results–the beauty, fragrance, and harvest for your kitchen; the “work” is a pleasure, too–the weeding, watering, feeding, pruning, deadheading, and otherwise caring for these plants. Garden maintenance only becomes a chore when there’s more to do than you have the time for in your life.

If hiring a gardener isn’t an option, this might be a time to think about changes that can save time and effort in future gardening seasons. Here are a few simple suggestions.

• Did you spend too much time dragging around hoses and trying to keep up with the watering? Turn a critical eye to how you’ve grouped your plants together. Perhaps you didn’t consider water needs when you were planting so frantically last spring, or maybe you didn’t know how much water certain plants would need when you planted them. Planning now for a bit of rearranging next spring can make watering easier in the long run.

Did you plant basil next to oregano and wonder why they didn’t thrive? Plants such as basil and peppermint want plenty of water, so group them together and as close as possible to the water source. Don’t put them in a far corner where you can overlook them. Plants such as oregano and many other Mediterranean herbs (lavender, rosemary, sage, and thyme, to name a few) are quite drought-tolerant and, in fact, will sometimes sprawl and flop when given too much water. These can be grouped together in a far corner, where a little inattention probably won’t hurt.

You might find that transplanting just a few herbs to more logical locations will make quite a difference when it comes to watering the garden. And there may be some plants that just aren’t suited to your climate and take too much work; compost them or give them away. Why try to grow watercress in a desert?

• Do you have easy access to all parts of your garden? This can be an important time-saver for the carefree gardener, so it’s worth evaluating. Sometimes by the end of the season a gardener has trouble even reaching some plants at the back of the garden without trampling the others. You need to be able to get to all of your plants not just for easy harvests, but also for easy maintenance.

Think about your pathways and whether they are wide enough for you and your tools, even a wheelbarrow. Wider paths make the garden easier to care for. If you need to make them wider, this job can be tackled before the gardening season even starts.

• Know your plants, and remember that adage about an ounce of prevention when it comes to garden chores. An example of a little job that can save you from a big job is deadheading, or cutting off spent flowers. Seeds generally follow flowers, and if the flowers are left on the plant, those seeds can be broadcast by the wind all through the garden, including places you don’t want them. In the case of a prolific self-seeder, weeding out all of those unwanted seedlings can be quite a chore. So make a habit next year of deadheading; it’s a time-saver.

The same can be said of pruning for many plants. It takes less time to keep a plant shapely and the right size than to deal with the problems of letting it get too big.

Have fun in your garden!

Kathleen Halloran, former editor of The Herb Companion, is a freelance writer living in Las Vegas.