what we do when we garden

I’ve been rearranging the garden as usual– the garden activity I’m sure I spend most time doing. No wonder the plants grow so slowly and sometimes give up and die of exhaustion and confusion. But I continually rearrange in order to maintain serenity and balance. To make the garden look natural, not contrived.

Today, as I urgently rearranged, I started thinking about the range of activities we gardeners do, and what this says about our garden priorities and values.

Garden activities that come to mind are – in no particular order – watering, weeding, planting, transplanting, buying, swapping, sitting, cleaning, sweeping, pesticide spraying, removing pests by hand, picking or harvesting, pruning, thinking, planning, reading garden – related books or catalogues, using other media, blogging, dreaming, making compost, spreading compost, cooking garden produce, eating garden produce, visiting other gardens, gardening groups, gardening education. Mowing the lawn. Listening. Watching. Taking photos.

For my mother in law, watering, sweeping and cleaning are the most important activities she does in her garden. For my friend David, it is planting, nurturing, harvesting, preparing and eating the fruit and vegetables he grows with such passion and committment.

I only water newly planted or transplanted plants to give them a sporting chance of survival. Then they are on their own as far as non- sky water goes. Garden cleaning has no meaning for me. I love the look of swept paths that show the shape of the garden. I don’t sweep regularly but if I have trimmed, weeded and rearranged a section, sweeping finishes it nicely.

I never spray – insects like aphids in the roses might temporarily affect the look of the buds but when the weather changes they tend to disappear. I have no lawn left to mow. I try to blog when it’s too dark to garden. I pick stuff for the kitchen – parsley and mint mostly.

Compost is probably the second most time consuming activity after rearranging, maybe a dead heat with weeding. Before I spread the compost I use a rake to loosen the top soil. I love weeding and making and spreading compost. It is an opportunity for close inspection of what is growing and living on, above and under the surface. I listen to and watch birds, dragonflies, butterflies, worms, spiders and beetles.

I may continually rearrange the plants in an effort to get the look ‘right’ but the most important thing is to create and maintain a healthy ecosystem as diverse as possible in my suburban garden.


  1. Huh.., things that we do when we garden. When a tiny weed becomes so glaring that we rush and pull it out. When rainfall pour heavily, we rush into the house and worry like hell, will the little seedlings survive the night and not get drown.. all in all, we play around with hope and anticipation, and in the end we do understand, that fate is also an important element....

  2. Dear Catmint, As you may imagine, I am with your mother on this as being part of the cleaning and sweeping brigade. Or, rather, the directing of the cleaning and sweeping as J, my long suffering gardener/handyman would testify. Top of my list would be newly raked gravel which I find sets everything off so beautifully, closely followed by dead heading which I find terribly therapeutic!!

  3. Talking did you include that? I enjoy talking to and listening to other gardeners especially when they visit my garden.

    I am afraid many of the jobs like sweeping are rarely found time for but watering is a high priority at present as we have had no proper rain for weeks and weeks and the vegetables especially are not as good as usual.

  4. I never water either. MOstly as I am not there to do it, but I am of the sink or swim method myself.

  5. Does that make women better gardeners because they can multitask?

    The woman applying for a job in a Florida lemon grove seemed way too qualified for the job. "Look Miss," said the foreman, "have you any actual experience in picking lemons?" "Well, as a matter if fact, yes!" she replied. "I've been divorced three times."

  6. great post! Though I have an iffy relationship with insects, I do enjoy up close inspections from time to time. I use water from my rain barrel when I think to and have time to. It's often slow slow slow to fill each watering can with the little spigot, and I often think it would be MUCH easier, but I've found I enjoy the time inspecting plants while I wait for the watering can to fill. If it weren't for that, I'm not sure I would have much time to spend up close simply examining plants.

  7. Catmint, your photos are beautiful! Hmmm... I think my favorite thing to do when I garden is see who's out there. That is what tempts me into the backyard before breakfast - looking for a flower, butterfly, fruit, four-legger that was not there last night when I came in... Your blog is lovely.

  8. I was surprised to read "spraying pesticides" and was glad to see that you don't. I would have to add "picking off bugs" because that's my IPM (Integrated Pest Management!) Also, I've decided to only move to create more space so who ever grows vigorously usually ends up staying, and the littler ones near by get crowded...then moved. Nice thoughts.

  9. wow, you are making good use of that camera, catmint: some beautiful photos here.

    It is so interesting to consider what activities each gardener considers paramount! I once knew a guy who loved doing all the digging, bed-making and soil-building - but not so much the plants part. I keep looking for a guy like this, as I appreciate good soil but would far rather read a lot of books and catalogues and plant interesting plants and stare at them to see how they do. As for cleaning and sweeping: I'll have to read up on those!

  10. I spend a lot of time thinking about rearranging the garden but very little time doing it - probably because it needs such a radical rearrangement that I don't know where to start. Perhaps putting it in writing might be a good way to get the ball rolling!

  11. Thank you dear cyberfriends for your comments.

    Dear Bangchik, I love your comment. I agree with you that we do what we can but we cannot control - at best we can influence - fate.

    Dear Edith, I like raked gravel and dead heading but weeding and transplanting take priority.

    Hi Joanne, I didn't include talking and I also forgot arranging garden ornaments like bird baths (I just moved one of mine - it didn't mind because it had no roots)

    Hi Deborah, yes - it is surprising how many plants are perfectly happy not being watered.

    Hi Hermes, thanks for giving me a chuckle!

    Hi Wendy, close inspections, not being in a hurry, inefficiency, those are the things that make gardening blissful.

    Hi Zoe, I'm so pleased you like my blog. I do that too - check it out to see what's new.

    Hi CG, I share your IPM technique (great description!!!), I just thought I'd put in pesticide use because lots of people still think they're at war with insects. But it's not to condone it.

    Hi Pomona, you need to borrow Edith Hope's man J! Unfortunately he lives on a different continent!

    EG, Writing might be a good way to start. But maybe the time is not right for rearranging for you just now. It does take time and energy. Sometimes I do it a lot and sometimes I just leave it as it is for ages.

    Cheers, catmint

  12. Does your transplanting not disturb the wildlife you want to attract?

  13. Diana, thank you for your challenging and stimulating question!!! I'm afraid my actions aiming to create lovely garden pictures do sometimes conflict with my desire to nurture wildlife. The things I transplant are usually small, but I am aware hard pruning can destroy the protective shelter for insects and other wildlife. cheers, catmint

  14. Hi Catmint, Great post.

    I spend a lot of time watering because I've got a lot of thirsty containers and I like my tiny patches of lawn to stay green. Our summers are deathly dry.

    Other than that I spend a lot of time these days embellishing...finding places for those newfound or repurposed garden art pieces just begging for prominence within the overall landscape.

    Also as my garden and I have both aged, I try to just BE. Drink in the beauty and serenity, observe the flying critters, the breeze the sound of my windchime... just enjoy because in a few short months it will be gone once again.


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