Setting the Pace

Setting the Pace
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What a great Spring it has been here in Boise — alternating periods of rain and sun, almost as if Mother Nature knew what the newly emerging and recently planted plants needed for optimal growth. The trees and shrubs are mostly leafed out, and the bumble bees just appeared this week. We are in that perfect period where the weeds have barely emerged and the fall seedheads and stalks are cut down, so I’m kind of caught up, if you don’t count all the projects on this year’s Want To Do list.

During this relative calm, I’ve begun to marshall my strategies for not overdoing it. In case you are also pacing yourself, here are some of the ways I try to prevent becoming overworked and overwhelmed as the gardening season progresses.

When I’m moving a pile of stones, planting a whole lot of something, or faced with an expanse of unwanted plants to remove, I think about ants slowly building their empires a grain of sand at a time.

It helps to set the not-too-daunting goal of making one small improvement to the garden every day, whether that is pulling one weed, grabbing up a handful of a running groundcover and stuffing it into a new spot and watering it in, clipping an errant branch, or placing a pretty rock to best advantage. Like compound interest, these small investments add up, and they will likely add up quicker than one too-large investment of work, followed by a week or more of recovery.

While clearing away dead flowerstalks this Spring, I accidentally pulled up a stem of a cute little sedum, so I took the time to plant it. It’s already growing vigorously. The enormous and delicious plant behind it is perennial sea kale (Crambe maritima).

Expecially during a planting or weeding frenzy, I try to tackle one section of the garden at a time. This makes the work proceed more efficiently and provides visible change as a reward.

Sheet mulching is not merely a way to smother more lawn (though I plan to be doing this for years in my new garden); it can also be an ongoing maintenance strategy that suppresses weeds, builds soil, and reduces work while using up those excess cardboard boxes and leaves. Use it for small areas like the bare spot after transplanting a large perennial or shrub, a place from which a few desirable plants can be removed and the remaining unwanted ones smothered, a holding area in which annuals will be planted later. Perhaps the largest benefit of sheet mulching these sites is that it buys time.

After last fall’s final harvest, I removed my tomato plants and spread oak leaves on the bare sites.  This site will get another tomato this year, and I’ll use the leaves to mulch it.

I am by no means a whirlwind of energy — more a wanderer and ponderer. Yet daydreaming can easily turn to planning, and wandering to analyzing, which results in long and detailed lists. Just the act of reading through one can be exhausting, much less doing the actual work. I have to remind myself to actively appreciate, to hold the “shoulds” at bay while celebrating the “dids.” Taking time to notice and observe the little (and so often ephemeral) things takes me out of myself and deepens my connection with the garden. That act of connecting refreshes and fulfills me.

I keep a couple of comfy lawn chairs at hand and drag them around the garden so I can sit near whatever is blooming or warrants further observation.

Have you found a good way to pace yourself? Let’s hear it!

Posted by

Evelyn Hadden
on April 20, 2016 at 11:29 am, in the category Designs, Tricks, and Schemes, Real Gardens.


    • susan harris
    • 24th September 2016

    Yes indeed. I intend to only weed for 30 minutes at a time. Hard to stop, though.
    When I saw that chair it reminded me of a favorite garden activity that also slows me down – looking at the garden from different perspectives, maybe with an easy-to-move chair like that. And not briefly, either.

    • Lori
    • 31st October 2016

    I struggle with the pace right now because we just moved into our house about a year and a half ago and the landscaping was neglected for 15 years. Trying to narrow down what needs to be done in what order has been the hard part so we don’t have 80 million projects going on at the same time 😀

    • Susan
    • 14th November 2016

    This is helpful. I had foot surgery in January and that has been a setback but as I get older (I am 66) I realize that I just can’t do as much as I used to. I still do a lot but it is so important to pace oneself. It is hard though to see so many things that I want to get done every day and know that I can’t do as many as I used to. Having chairs around or a light one to carry as you recommend is such a good idea!. Thanks for sharing.

    • Joan
    • 14th November 2016

    Pacing is key and makes the work rewarding and enjoyable. I might weed for ten minutes the read for 20 minutes. I keep ice tea and a snack close by and sit under an umbrella to not get overheated.T

    • Nancy Frazier
    • 14th November 2016

    I have never read anything on gardening that matches my own feeling about it as well as this. Even the ever-moving chair is something I do. It is a real effort to quiet the sense of urgency and even desperation to get everything done that should be.
    I think I have smothered all the lawn I can. Has anyone dealt with a septic field. It cannot be planted with trees or deep rooted shrubs. I would love to see a good looking solution. I can’t handle any more flower beds.

    • Sally McGuire
    • 15th November 2016

    Crimson clover might be a good solution for your drain field. Stays green all winter, blooms beautifully in the spring and only needs to be mowed once in the heat of the summer. Bees and deer love it, and we found evidence of a “bear roll” one frosty morning! As for slowing the pace, I’m following dear departed Margot Rochester’s advice: replace high maintenance plants with low maintenance flowering and evergreen shrubs.

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