overwhelmed? don't throw in the trowel!

AFTER A STEAMY ROUND OF EDGING, watering, weeding, mowing, mulching, I typed this on Facebook yesterday: “In a word: overwhelmed! Bringing the garden back to some semblance of order as spring turns to summer is always a challenge.” Several dozen of you commiserated, and then I recalled: It happens every year. About this time I always want to throw in the trowel and mow the garden down, frustrated that it’s not “perfect” or “all done,” but an ongoing puzzle with rough edges. This vintage essay from 1990 proves how long I’ve been bumping into this calendar moment, and nudges me to ease up and remember: Gardening is a process. Maybe I should be more like Jack, above, and just go legs up when things get too sticky?



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  1. Judi F says:

    I know what you mean, and this year I’ve been away and the Queen Anne’s Lace is up to my eyes!

    The cat looks cute and comfy, but I must comment on that beautiful rug – love it!

    Peace and Patience, Judi

  2. Sue says:

    What a relief to know I’m not the only gardener who feels this way! Remind me not to let the mulch pile fester on the driveway til late June/July next year. Gardening is one of those pursuits where it’s more about the journey than the destination. At least that’s what I tell myself.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Judi. The rug is a little throw rug beneath my chair from Dash and Albert called (get this) Cat’s Paw.

      Hi, Sue. Journey not destination — I must remember that! :) Thank you!

  3. Lynn says:

    Oh, how timely! I was in despair yesterday, looking at my long perennial beds, which right now look like an idiot has been planting things at random and then letting them run rampant. I guess I go through this every year as well. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. sheila says:

    You have certainly read my thoughts. As I showed a friend around my herb and flower garden yesterday, I lamented over this and that… climatis taking over the center herb beds. Better transplant next year. My radishes disappointing. My tomatoes not growing fast enough. Where did all the weeds come from, I had it all perfect a few weeks ago and now I am in panic mode. Time to reseed stuff. Never mind planting cleome next year. Things that always deliver, my basil, tarragon, sage, oregano, arugula, sunflowers, nasturtium, Russian sage…. so what am I complaining about!
    Thanks for commiserating!!!! and listening to me vent.

  5. Johanna says:

    I’m so glad to discover that my 95 degree, 70% humidity “week off” fell on Throw in the Trowel Week! Off to the library for me, then on the air-cooled living room couch for the day!!! Hip HIp Hooray!

  6. I came back from vacation to a “jungle” and had not touched it for a month until last night. It seems like every year about this time when I try to tame the jungle, I get a very itchy rash from Virginia Creeper or poison ivy or other vines that creep in from the woods surrounding my gardens. I am not very motivated this year to “tame” the jungle!

    1. margaret says:

      Nice to have all of you to share the “moment” with. :) Watch out, Dawn, for all that irritating stuff (and nice to see you here!).

  7. igardendaily says:

    Ahhh…I can so relate! If I wasn’t gone most of the last 6 weeks traveling around with my family I suppose by garden would be more the way I like. Can I complain about that though?

    I keep telling my husband that you can’t have a garden without a garden keeper! (That’s me but I’m never home long enough.)

  8. Leah says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I went back and re-read your essay, “Declaring It Throw in the Towel Week”. I felt such relief/release afterward! With our 100 degree and high 90’s here in N. VA. for several days already and more to come, I was becoming very exhausted trying to keep up with all the weeding, watering, deadheading, trimming etc. and STILL trying to get in those last few annuals that had to be put off in order to make a week-long unscheduled trip. I love the way you think, your style of writing and especially the way you phrase things. You somehow express just the way I feel (and I’d bet many, many others as well)!.

    1. margaret says:

      You are welcome, Leah. I always forget to let myself “off the hook” and it doesn’t help to be so rough on myself and the garden. You are very kind to say what you did, and I appreciate it. Now out to edge another bed, tee hee hee…

  9. Kristina says:

    My garden right now brings to mind a phrase I read recently in MS Living: “the dog’s breakfast,” which is British slang for “a complete mess.” But my friend said, no, it looks like a cottage garden. I’m going with B. :-)

  10. Marianne zimberg says:

    I just gave a new acquaintance a tour around my garden and said more than once, ” I am trying to figure out this spot, I am reorganizing this, I left this milkweed for the monarch larva but have to move it in the autumn”. My daughter once said to me before I took her partner around the garden, “Don’t point out all you think is wrong!” I should have remembered her words! You are right, gardening is a process.

  11. Gloria says:

    Hmm, seams like Renaissance Unity’s … Daily Inspiration for 7/2/2012
    “Your mind is a garden, your thoughts are the seeds, the harvest can be either flowers or weeds.”~Author Unknown
    I plant seeds of love and nourish them with laughter and joy.
    Dear God,
    Everything has a time and a purpose—all things come in their season.
    Teach us how to plant carefully and tend lovingly.
    Teach us to watch and wait with clarity of purpose.
    With patience and care, the seeds we sow will sprout and grow.
    Peace, love, joy, serenity and abundance are the crop we plant and the harvest we reap. So it is. Renaissance Unity
    Take a moment to meditate, enjoy a glass of lavender lemonade (sometimes I put a little Lemoncello in mine) and then relax and enjoy the gardens!
    Release the need to do it right, there is no right…enjoy the journey/the processthat is the way to go! Just when I think I have it right, I remember if I am not in the garden, Mother Nature is! For what it is worth, when I am overwhelmed, I travel YOUR web site and drool! You’ve got it right ? right? Gloria

  12. You! Always so timely! I had just picked up a good old Guy Finley book on (what else?) “letting go.” So what’s waiting for me in the computer, that precious “letting go” pose of your preciuos Jack. If you think your blog is just for gardeners, I’m here to tell the difference! And I love Gloria’s post! It’s ” All Good Margaret”, all good! Thank you, Daisy.

  13. Glenda says:

    Oh, yeah! I came into the house yesterday and burst into tears. When my husband asked what’s wrong, I replied,”I’m overwhelmed”! Had to fly cross country last week because my dad was dying. Did the memorial service, put my mom in an assisted living home, cleaned out part of the house and came home to a garden “run amuck”. 2 hard days of working ( and replacing a few things) and I’m doing better. Could it be there was more going on in my mind besides gardening?!

  14. Linda says:

    Yup. That’s what pets are for . . . to teach us to be more human.

    Our gardens are far from perfect and they’ll never be finished. Around here I only move stuff in the spring and fall when it’s cool. The rest of the time, I think about where to move stuff.

    I’m a lazy gardener. I like to spend far more time looking at the gardens and enjoying them, (and in the case of the veggies, eating them,) than I do working in them. I do whatever I can to keep things as low-maintenance as possible. Even so, there’s plenty to do.

    Still, when working in the gardens I mostly go to that Zen place where I get to hang out with the flowers and the bees and get completely absorbed in my own little piece of heaven.

    Can’t say I never stress about it, but mostly I just enjoy it in all its imperfection.

  15. Tori Matton says:

    Was feeling the same way last week, and just made myself sick one day dragging hoses here and there and spraying, pruning, crushing Japanese beetles, etc. Etc. And bemoaning what I had and hadn’t done. So I threw my back out (whatever that means) and a freak storm has deprived us of electricity for 3 days and counting. Sooo I’ve just said to heck with it, checked into a hotel, gotten a mani-pedi, scheduled a facial and massage, and catching up on my reading. Maybe absence will make my heart grow fonder! Good to hear I’m not alone.

  16. Luanne Rimel says:

    I live in St. Louis, Missouri, where the temps have been 100 degrees for a week now – things are frying that have never fried before. Herbs love it, hydrangeas and hostas, not so much. But I am an artist (and an optimist sometimes) and I have always said what I love most about gardening is that it is the only thing I have found that where you can fail at many levels and then get another chance to succeed every year. This is the time of year I begin to say, “I will plant this over there next year”.

  17. I was just thinking the same thing the other day. I went out in the garden after tropical storm Debbie was finished to see how all survived. Plants were leaning over everywhere. From all the rain the garden looked overgrown and overwelming. You are right gardening is a process it will never be perfect!

  18. Kat's mom says:

    Just happy to have found a kindred group
    in gardenhood. I’ve been waking up early on weekends to trump over the weeds. Last weekend, I dragged my family to see a garden instead of the endless weeding. We saw the latest section of High Line in NYC. The flowers are beautiful! Why is our garden not as lush? I was ready to give up. But reading your post and the comments re-energized me. Plus comments from friends how they like our garden. I have to remind myself that summer is when I always feel like the time I felt like giving up on our garden.

    Cheers to gardenhood!

    Kat’s mom

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Kat’s Mom. Cheers, indeed. The Hihl Line probably has an irrigation system — something I sorely need! :)

      Hi, Luanne. Yes, there is always next year, heaven willing. Good thinking! Nice to see you both and all the other voices here.

  19. Carolyn says:

    i olf wish i were a cat. all that lazing around without a care in the world….ahhhh people to do my every wish and command. let me in…let me out…feed me…hold me……no thank you not now he says…i need another nap. o the life of a feline. looks like jack has it down to a T.. :)

  20. Gardenwitch says:

    I remember the good advice you gave in your first book about always seeing what is wrong in the garden but it was good to be reminded of it. My garden was baked , then blown down by that freakish storm last Friday and now is getting pounde by thunderstorms each afternoon. Yet 2weeks ago when I had my master gardener meeting here everyone raved about how beautiful it was and how could I possibly keep up with it all. We are certainly our own worse crictics! So now i will go out early in the morning to do some watering and lite maintenance then retire into the house with a good book and a tall iced drink, take a nap and dream of next years perfect garden!!

  21. Susan says:

    Have been reading your blog for a while now and enjoy it no end!
    Have tried the egg shells around the hostas to discourage
    the slugs…..we’ll see if it works…
    Love all the banter about the gardens and it’s nice to know I have
    partners in planting out there. Everytime I go out I end at a garden
    center and buy a new one……I can’t help myself…….it’s addicting!!!

  22. Dahlink says:

    We just got our power back on the 4th of July, having lost it the previous Friday when a monster storm snapped huge old trees all over Baltimore and beyond. The garden is the least of my worries right now, even though the weatherman says to expect temperatures in triple digits today and through the weekend. Our garden suddenly looks very different with a big chunk of an old maple missing and big branches piled up in one corner of our yard. I am admiring the new airy look of the tree. We were very worried about our pond with no power to run the waterfall and filter the water, but the fish and frogs all seem to have survived.
    One bonus is that we rediscovered how pleasant the side porch of the house is on a hot day. If there is a breeze, it’s cooler there than almost anywhere else.

  23. Brian G. says:

    My place is a disaster from the hail storm a couple of weeks ago. The tomatoes are a beaten-down mess but they are putting out new growth so I have hope. Otherwise I will continue to mow and water and hope for the best (and rain, of course). On the up side the garlic is already ripe for harvest. So early.

  24. martha says:

    Jack’s relaxed sprawl is a marvelous compliment to his and Margaret’s lives together. Cats do not demonstrate such contentment except in a happy household–a security that even daunting garden tasks not change. The bliss of digging in the dirt carries forward–for both.

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