Why Easy Gardening Advice Is So Wrong

Let me deal with the question first. Is gardening hard? Hell yeah. Having a great garden is serious physical work. The data below will give you some sense of this. But easy gardening? Now there’s a bunch of …..

Rough Equivalents of Different Forms of Exercise.

  • Resting value of 0
  • Watering lawn or garden; standing or walking, sitting, knitting, sewing have a relative value of 1.5 over resting.
  • Walking and shopping have a value of 2.3
  • Applying fertilizer (walking), mowing lawn (riding mower) value 2.5
  • Carrying or stacking wood; clearing land; digging sandbox; laying sod 5.0
  • Playing softball or baseball, general; bicycling (stationary), general 5.0
  • Shoveling snow (by hand shoveling); mowing lawn (walk, hand mower); Gardening w/heavy power tools has a value of 6.0
  • Aerobics and swimming carry the same 6.0 value.

Is There A Way To Really Do Easy Gardening

Here are three ways to make gardening as easy as possible.

  • Put a four-inch layer of organic mulch down all over your garden. This will reduce weeding by at least 90%.
  • Only plant shrubs and evergreens. No flowers.
  • If you must have flowers, plant annuals exclusively. No perennials.

Doug, You’re Raising a Lot of Questions Here.

That’s my job. To get you thinking about real gardening. Not the gimmicky stuff you read about on the Net.

My guess is you’re asking about why I say don’t grow perennials if you want to garden easily. Think about the following.

  • Annuals do not require heavy digging and dividing after several years. Plant them in the spring and pull them out in the fall
  • Annuals tend to bloom for much longer times than perennials.
  • Annuals require far less maintenance during the season – being more a plant and forget kind of gardening.
  • If an annual is damaged by insects, it bounces back quicker than a perennial. Some perennials don’t recover to regrow new leaves if the originals are damaged.

But Doug, You Grow A Ton of Perennials

And I call myself a gardener too. But the more perennials I add to my garden, the harder I have to work to maintain them. Even if I mulch like crazy (I do) or grow as many low-maintenance plants as I can.

Are You Saying Those Books About Easy Gardening Are…

Let me finish that thought for you. The three tips for easy gardening are above. Anything else is simply window-dressing or bumpf.

There is no shortcut to having a good garden. It takes work to do this stuff. A good garden doesn’t exist on a few minutes a week (unless it’s using the three rules above)

It takes a lot of work to learn how to garden. It takes hours actually spent in the garden so you can recognize a sick plant without even having to think about it. To recognize insects you want to have in your garden from those you don’t. To know when it’s necessary to control those you don’t (not very often frankly).

It takes years to figure out what works or doesn’t work in your garden, in your neighbourhood soil, in your climate, in your region of the world.

Yes, you can shortcut this by taking courses and talking to good gardeners but to really understand, to really know, it’s going to take hard-earned experience on your knees in the garden.

But I Don’t Want To Spend Years Learning How To Garden – I Want It Now

Tough. I’ve said this before. Gardening is the slowest of the performing arts. You won’t learn to paint in a single course or play the piano after a few lessons. Why would you expect to garden without practice?

Gardening Is Like Any Other Hobby

The good news is you can garden easily by following the three easy rules at the beginning of this post.
The bad news is as soon as you stray away from those three rules by adding “just this one plant” is when you start adding work (but extra rewards) to your garden adventure.

You decide how much work you’re going to do in your garden and how important gardening is to you.
But never for one minute believe marketers when they tell you this (insert tool, plant, fertilizer, Internet miracle cure, brand new discovery) will make your garden easier.

So yes, gardening can be hard work – both physical and mental.

And yes, gardening can be a tough skill to learn beyond the basic level. Learning it will take time and effort.

And those who describe it as anything else are working to sell stuff.

My Final Thought On Easy Gardening

I started gardening to make a living and found something far better, far more profound.

I don’t garden because it’s easy. I garden because it makes me feel good.

I garden for the physical adventure of it all – it makes me feel good to work hard in the garden (even though I’ll complain like crazy how sore I am.)

I found a way to contact nature and life. I found a way to be in daily contact with real beauty in a living form.

I found something that would reach out, grab me out of my daily concerns and make me take the time to appreciate something outside of myself.

And yeah, often those things are the hardest things to find in our modern life. But they are some of the most valuable to have in your life.

It may not be easy as the books and marketers say to have a great garden, but it’s worth it.

Agree or disagree with what I just said? Tell me in the comments below.

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22 thoughts on “Why Easy Gardening Advice Is So Wrong”

  1. For for many years,I had numerous house plants.As many as 50 or 60 at a time. In about 2000 I began to entertain thje thought that I might be able to learn and grow plants in my yard,As you say it has taken years of reading and trial and error to get where i am now,but all the work has been worth the rewards.I can not even say how many times a

  2. A friend in Anacortes WA has titled his way of gardening “Chaos”… but his yard has its own beauty. My own gardening efforts are pretty haphazard, as I’m a compulsive composter and have had to concentrate on soil building in all my gardens. When I move on, which I always do, I can only hope that the person who tends that little bit of Mother Nature’s property will respect and cherish it.
    Doug sez:
    I garden for the physical adventure of it all – it makes me feel good to work hard in the garden (even though I’ll complain like crazy how sore I am.)
    I found a way to contact nature and life. I found a way to be in daily contact with real beauty in a living form.
    I found something that would reach out, grab me out of my daily concerns and make me take the time to appreciate something outside of myself.
    How could anyone say it better?
    I’ve had to leave more gardens than most folks have grown…Missoula, Buffalo, England, Hawaii, Chesapeake Bay…I can only hope my efforts to improve the soil, etc., have not been in vain, that someone took up where I left off. I know all 5 of my children inherited that desire to “contact with Nature and Life”, as Doug puts it. And they are passing on to their children the wonders of worms, composting, etc.
    So…Happy Gardening, everyone!

  3. (for some reason I did not get to finish my comment so I will continue here) day I stand and stre out my back door just to soak up the view of my garden(only ornamentals).It soothes my soul. I know I still have much to learn but I will always enjoy the work and learning.So I agree with every word you said> I have also read and heard in the past couple of years that there are bacteria in the soil that act as antidepressants.That is part of why it is so therapeutic,but the work itself is also very important to our well being.

  4. Very good post Doug! Gardening is full of challenges both physical and mental and only with practice do we achieve competence. Every year in the garden is a new challenge and there may be “easy” things involved but as a whole package it can be a lot of work.

  5. Thanks for starting my day with a chuckle, ( small patch wondering where the xxx you’ve been) and a new sense & deeper appreciation for my 22 years of gardening mistakes. Hope you recover fully. I remember what my Dad said. If you’re going to pay all that$, you might as well do what the doctor says. Blessings!

  6. Yes, totally agree. Gardening has taught me patience, which in turn automatically teaches me appreciation. Best activity going.
    Keep your knees dirty.
    Joe Mota

  7. Mulch – who wants to look at mulch 365 days a year.
    Evergreens and shrubs need pruning/trimming. Too many easy gardeners neglects once-a-year pruning and have overgrown plants that obstruct their walks and block the view from their windows,
    Annuals most likely need weekly watering throughout the season
    What about mowing one’s lawn?

  8. Doug, I have been following your site since day one. Your devotion towards gardening is contagious and uplifting. You are an INSPIRATION to so many, As I speak with many other gardeners who also sing your praises, guessing Not a one of us has stepped up to say THANK YOU for all you do and write about. We are your Groupies.
    Like you I also have had to leave many secret gardens behind to move on to another. Hoping with each that I left an indelible mark for beauty amongst and within many small communities gardens that stood in empty abandoned plots in the city of Philadelphia, PA. Now the PHS has picked up where I left off establishing really big projects that their crew could only do as opposed to myself now at the ripe old age of 65.
    The point is if you tend to, weed, till, the land & nurture it they will come. People seek the quiet the smells and sensory overload that gardens bring to our senses. I consider the experience of gardening and all that I leave behind as my contribution to our spirituality that only our original ancestors knew and thrived on.
    My Favorite aspect of gardening though is the fact that we can all relate to the stress and grind of day to day living working etc. What gardening offers me is the knowledge that if I make a mistake ( often ) that plants are the most forgiving living things. They don’t yell at you, they won’t shame you, or embarrass you, they either adapt to what you have done or they simply fade away and that evens leaves me with yet another lesson learned.
    A second close favorite aspect of gardening few realize are all the physical benefits, my body gets in the long run. I am outside in the fresh air in the full sun getting all the Vitamin D one could use, I also strongly agree with the current findings of the hidden nutrients the dirt contains to help our Physical well being as well as the mental benefits. Like you I can easily spend 8 to 10 hours non-stop gardening only to stop and finally sit, as I realize I can’t get up from being so sore, yet so internally at peace mind body and soul.
    So as I wrap up my long winded post, I pray for your fast and speedy recovery, so we “groupies’ can follow you onto your next exploration. Thank you all for allowing this gas bag her two cents. See you in the weeds.

  9. Good stuff…agree with every word and couldn’t have expressed it nearly as well.
    I wish I could say that I have been able to pass on that intense love of gardening but so far it appears to have stopped with me. Such a shame. But who knows, maybe a grandkid will pick it up at some point. I was in my mid-twenties before the bug bit. They have a ways to go.

  10. Great post! I find my gardening time so rewarding … and I know I slowed down as we all eventually do. I love to walk out and explore the garden for harvest, insects, evidence of visiting squirrels when a peanut plant pops up and more. Dead-heading or cutting flowers for a vase in the flower beds. Watering pots from the rain barrels and using the hose on garden and hill beds!
    And, yes…Doug, I hear others echoing my thoughts of the value of all you do for us.

  11. … and there is another form of gardening where your learnings and labours actually feed more than your psyche: veggie and fruit gardening. Time to go and pick today’s bounty: beans, tomatoes, lettuce, blueberries, cucumbers, and dig a few carrots! Oh, and the colourful ‘Rainbow’ swiss chard, nestled in among the blue fall asters, can do with harvesting a few leaves

  12. Well, the right tool can make *some parts* of gardening easier. A hand tool with a good grip, a shovel with a long enough handle, can make some pain go away. (oh, and annuals need deadheading)
    Other than that, I’m with you. I love my perennials.

  13. I just love the cycle of nature year to year. Since we have numerous critters who think a feast has been provided for them, it has been quite a learning experience to plant what they don’t or don’t eat. The garden would not be considered a show place nor ‘tour worthy’ but my reasons for gardening is more for the learning and joy of seeing things come back ( or maybe not!) and spread.
    Thanks so much for this Facebook option!

  14. Glad you’re finding it worthwhile. 🙂 Makes some kinds of sharing (links etc) so much easier. But all serious content and advice is clearly staying here.

  15. I like everything you write about and all the photos. I have learned so much from you! Keep up the great work!!!
    What a great job you do! Thanks for everything.

  16. My heart always sinks when I hear people say they want a “low maintenance” garden. If you don’t want to engage with the plants and atmosphere of a garden, live in an apartment, or home with not much outside space. It’s a bit like saying you want the best food, but are only prepared to microwave frozen meals.

  17. Hi Doug, my philosophy is very much like yours….
    I have a bad back but need to move around to keep it supple so I’ve always looked at gardeings as a great “out of doors” sport – FREE ! No membership fees to pay. No air-conditioned (or not!) gym and no struggling out of my gym gear to fight for the showers 🙂 PLUS I get to see some lovely plants and compliments on my balcony or terrace or garden designs and planting

  18. Hi Doug!
    What a pleasure to meet you, a kindred soul. I agree with almost all your advice. It’s hard work, and it does hurt (in a good way). But now that winter is bearing down, I’ll plant the garlic and enjoy all the veggies in my freezer and packed in the shed.
    I garden in Wyoming at 7,100 feet with a 60-day growing season, where frost can come during any summer month. So it’s grand when I get a good vegetable harvest: peas, potatoes, swiss chard, carrots, collards, cabbage, raspberries, beets, strawberries, and lettuce.
    Yes! One must mulch! And use long-handled tools as much as possible (I love my scuffle hoe), and of course amend, amend, amend the soil.
    I use traditional, gravity-fed ditches between raised beds that I carefully rake straight and level. Watching the water SSSS down through the rows is a primal balm. Every spring I thrill to see the seeds rise up and grow.
    As for perennials, I say if it will grow here, let it! Rugosa roses welcome here. Between the deer, moose, pronghorn, rabbits, voles and the weather, you might not have time for annuals, though I confess to a weakness for violets and marigolds.
    Thanks so much! Best, Linda

  19. Dear Doug,

    I would love to show you some of my gardens. Where may I do this? Thank you so very much for your time and consideration.

    Marie Keough

  20. Marie – unfortunately, I do not have a way for readers to upload images to this website. I believe readers can upload to Facebook but I haven’t checked those systems in some time.

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