When Your Garden Isn’t Going Right…

The most common reason I’m called in as a garden coach is that the person I’m meeting with needs an outside perspective. It’s really, really hard to evaluate our homes and gardens from a logical, clear place in our minds and hearts. Sometimes, we’ve had arguments with our spouse or kids about what we’ll do when. Often there have been friends and professionals who gave advice that almost fit, but…

You still felt that crazy tangle of feelings in your mind and heart about what you should do. Not clarity. Not certainty.

So what happens? You really want to be outside and in the garden. You want to look outside and feel that everything in your domain is settled and thriving. There’s a small part of you that feels unfinished and wrong, that this part of your home isn’t reflecting your spirit and being what it should (whatever that may be).

Occasionally you think – well, I know we won’t build a sunroom or deck here. I can plant a few things. But because your heart isn’t aligned with your head, you don’t fully invest. You don’t have confidence that you’ll keep things alive, that it will be beautiful, that this is it.

And things fail.

I’m here to tell you that it’s OK. More than that, it’s common.

Everybody disagrees with their spouse about whether they’ll put a deck or sunroom or hot tub here, or there. These are often mythical sunrooms that do not ever happen. Nobody has the money and time to put in exactly the garden they want, in the timeframe they want, and then to maintain it like they want. Everybody’s garden has imperfect spots. And barring an OCD-like mental illness, they likely always will.

If I can help you be sure of one thing, this would be it:

Your garden is not permanent. It is not perfect.

Also… You are not permanent. You are not perfect.

But the things you do today will blossom, if you trust the process enough to put in the groundwork. Fix the soil, focus on one area at a time. Do not aim for perfection in the garden or in the plan, because it doesn’t exist.

There is no plant that stays 6′ tall, blooms year-round, and goes with that terrifically ugly statue your kids made that you will never, ever get rid of. This is a blessing. It means that whatever you plant will be OK.

You can appreciate it when it looks great, and try to overlook its lack of grace when it doesn’t.

Something will always look out of place, or need pruning, or maybe even a compassionate trip to the compost heap, if it really isn’t working out.

And that’s what gardening is. It’s getting OK with the fact that our lives have limits. We won’t accomplish everything. All we can do is live for today, enjoy what beauty we can create, and try to leave things a bit better than they started.

If this post resonated with you, you might enjoy this article on how to “see” your garden clearly and figure out what to do next.

10 responses to “When Your Garden Isn’t Going Right…”

  1. Thanks for this post! I’ve realized I tend to try for perfection in my gardens (would rather have a clean flower bed rather than a clean house…) & this year has been a challenging one for sure with a cold, wet spring, dry-dry-dry summer & instructions from the deer.

    But rather than focussing on the failures, disasters & incomplete landscaping, I’ve been surprised by what has survived, thrived & started to come into it’s own.

    The evolution of the gardens – not only mine, but my other neurotic gardening friends out here – is refreshing. Brings life into better perspective.

  2. All so true! I had a really frustrating year with the garden. Things got overgrown in some areas, eaten to bits by deer in others and I just didn’t have the time to dedicate to it so it’s a mess. But you’re right … no garden is perfect. Ever. They evolve and say so much about the gardener. OK, so this year my garden is saying, “I’ve been neglected” but well, that’s the story of this summer.

    All of these things about gardening that make us go crazy are the same reasons why gardening is a lifelong activity (like few others are). The garden and the gardener are always changing, adapting, evolving.

  3. Gen, Truer words have never been spoken! No one’s garden is perfect, or permanent, nor should it be. Where would the fun be in that?

    I’m wondering, if like me, you have a hard time being your own garden coach? I seem to have such trouble at times ‘seeing’ my own garden but I don’t have trouble with my clients’ gardens. We just took down a dead tree in our garden and my husband wants me to lay out the line for the new bed but I can’t ‘see’ it yet. I keep telling myself to detach and look at the area objectively but I’m still having issues. Is it me or do you feel like that sometimes too??

  4. Michelle, you totally nailed it – the evolution of gardens IS refreshing. Isn’t it a joy to see what works and focus on doing more of it? I’ve killed a few things that were a bit, ahem, aspirational for my climate, but then a few other things that I wasn’t sure would work have become crazy boisterous in my home garden.

    Erin, with all the indoor work you’ve been doing this summer I’m completely shocked you’ve even gotten outside to look at it!!
    And you’re so right about it being a lifelong activity in a way that other passions and hobbies aren’t. Thank goodness, too, as the garden my 17-year-old self would have planted was gaudy as all hell, the garden my 25-year old self planted was a bit restrained and formal, and I’m sure when I’m 40 I’ll look back at my current garden and remember all the things I’ve ripped out or outgrown in some way… Life’s full of changes.

    Debbie, YES YES YES. Oh my gosh, it has been so hard to separate my designer self from my own self when looking at my own garden. I keep thinking I should plant for winter interest, but then I’m all – “but I see Winter Heathers and Hellebores every day! I want my tropicals and cutting flowers and crazy wild lushness that I’ll have to hack at to keep under control and that will be a big boring nothing in the winter!”.

    And then Trevor and I don’t always agree on what plants and elements will go where, and then I stall out on doing stuff because an unmade decision’s standing in my way…

    I think I’ve drawn out thirty bed plans for my own garden… and so far I’ve just barely gotten in a backbone planting of trees and shrubs. Still haven’t manned up and made a decision about bed lines. It comes so naturally when I design for other people!

    Seriously, it’s given me so much sympathy for the gardeners who buy stuff before figuring out where to put it, or who can’t stop with the Annie’s Annuals addiction, or who can’t commit to where they’re sticking something. It’s so much different when you’re considering your own space.

  5. Wow, Gen! Beautifully written – realistic yet inspiring. I, too, am constantly telling people to ‘slow down’ and take a breath, re-assuring them that everything will be okay and look beautiful. Sometimes all people need is a voice of reason, giving them confidence to plow forth….your clients are lucky to hear your voice and have your arm around their shoulders!

    • Thanks Rebecca. I wish you were in my area, I’d love to hire you for a consultation to get over the “my garden is different” syndrome me and Debbie both seem to suffer from occasionally!! LOL.

      Liz, thanks for stopping by, I just love that quote!!

  6. One thing I learned at school was that plants die. Get over it. I had a friend that said the only difference between someone who is good with plants and one who is not, is the first one knows when to get rid of the plant that’s dying.

  7. this is very encouraging! i made a design for my yard, and at times i am frustrated/stressed that it isn’t done and some aspects aren’t working out. yes, it is ok that it isn’t perfect. 🙂 thanks!

  8. Gina, thank you so much for your kind words. I’m glad I could be of some help! We’ve all been there, even gardeners who have magazine-perfect gardens.