feeling garden overwhelm? joe lamp’l and i talk about management strategies

WHEN JOE LAMP’L emailed the other day to ask about how I deal with garden overwhelm, I thought: Do I tell him I sometimes just go upstairs with some goat cheddar and a pack of brown rice-tamari-seaweed crackers, and stream BBC procedural dramas?

I had a feeling that was the kind of answer he could come up with himself (though perhaps with a different menu). Hmmmm

I love talking to Joe, the host of the PBS show “Growing a Greener World,” and podcaster at JoeGardener dot com, so of course I said yes, and then I thought: but what is the secret? I have a 2.3-acre garden, and a limited budget for helpers. Plus: I set the bar pretty high and open for visitors’ tours a few times a season, so I cannot just avoid my chores, pretending there are no weeds or deadheads to tend to.

As those of you who have been around awhile know, in July sometime every year, I declare it Throw in the Trowel Week (Month?). I absolutely do get overwhelmed, but after all these years I know that’s part of the deal—during the heroic spring and fall cleanups, and also at the moment when spring is truly done and everything looks like hell. I know that then, or during drought or other high-drama weather stressors, I will feel undone. But I also know from decades of experience that this too shall pass.

As long as you have your list, that is, and know how to manage it—to cherry-pick through it each day or week for the task(s) that really cannot go unattended one more minute, and focus on those and only those.

Otherwise, I stagger around feeling like it’s all just too much (or go hide upstairs).

Other tactics I rely upon include knowing my weeds (you can’t fight back in a timely, effective manner otherwise), and using the right mulch the right way. Plus frankly, I look for reasons why certain areas don’t need such scrupulous, time-intensive attention. It turns out being a little messy can be good for cultivating beneficial insects, birds and more, while also lightening my load.

I hope you will go over to JoeGardener dot com and listen to our complete conversation, with details on all of that and more. And come to think of it maybe sample some of the other chats Joe and I have had, listed below, on podcasts or on his public-television program “Growing a Greener World.’ Like I said, I always enjoy a talk with him.

my past visits with joe lamp’l

  1. Carole Clarin says:

    “Focus on those and only those “. That’s probably what I don’t do! Looking at the lists I make each year, sometimes for each month beginning in April, some items keep reappearing like: test soil! Other tasks always interfere that are not on my list, however, I persist, I keep trying and will continue to do so-your encouragement always helps. Thanks again!

  2. Sue McIver says:

    Don’t we all hit that wall at some point (or many points). One thing that has helped me of late has been to be a bit more detailed with my list so it doesn’t just say “hydrangea” but rather “prune hydrangea” or “move hydrangea to the bed by the garage” . Then when I’m feeling fried at least I don’t have to actually think to accomplish something, the thinkings already done. Glad to hear you’re still connecting with Joe. It was watching one of his shows that brought me to your book and your site. Thanks to both of you.

  3. Dalynn Sours says:

    I definitely have the “throw in the trowel” problem. I look at the amount of work in my relatively small garden & get overwhelmed. So then, nothing gets done & it really does get out of hand. I need to remind myself to “cherry pick” the tasks and look at one at a time rather than the whole mess. Thanks for the encouragement!

  4. Nancy says:

    This totally reinforces a lot of what I’ve been doing for years albeit in a somewhat different way and still thinking “it’s not working” because I still feel so overwhelmed at key times – spring, for sure, and, yes, now -late July, early August, and then again as the garden winds down – and I always feel that I’m never “done,” which, of course, I am not. It’s so helpful to know I’m not alone. Thank you for this.

  5. Heather says:

    As a weed scientist ( yes it’s a thing!) I have to say yes! yes! yes! to knowing your weeds. Besides being fascinating plants, it is definitely helpful to know their life histories in order to manage them better. And managing the weeds in a better way will go a long way in reducing some of the overwhelm.

  6. Sharon B. says:

    I read a story this week about Author Anne Lamott, in which she recounts a story about her brother in one of her books. Age 10 at the time of the story, her brother had waited until the last minute to complete a school assignment cataloging a large number of birds. He was feeling very hopeless when their father intervened. Mr. Lamott encouraged his son to not focus on the large task in front of him, but to instead take the task “bird by bird.”

    So, sometimes it’s useful to think “plant by plant,” instead of seeing a mass of work in the garden as a whole.

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