The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Sharing Gardener's Frustrations

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator
slmason@illinois.edu

February is here. Regardless of what Punxsutawney Phil says spring will eventually be here. Before we get distracted by shiny green things, February is the perfect time to reflect on past challenges and gleefully anticipate future makeovers. Gardeners are eternal optimists. The plant isn't half dead: It's half alive. We always think our next garden season will be better. Last year I must admit I threw in the trowel early and moved on to dreaming of this season.

I've talked to many gardeners over the years. A few common threads of frustration unravel their otherwise positive garden experience.

Shining a light on the frustrating side of gardening may help you find your way to a rewarding garden experience or at least you will not feel alone in your misery. Remember there is a heart to gardening. You will learn through your mistakes and unfortunately some plants will die in the process. Just work quickly to hide your errors in the compost pile.

First of all, learn to love your yard; even those quirky shady areas, wet spots, and areas where the tree roots stick out. Certainly some changes can be made short of a bulldozer, but resolve now to quit fighting what is there. Work with what you have. Remember in this ball game, Mother Nature bats last.

I often hear the lamentations of the sunless. Shade blankets their garden each summer and yet the sun-loving plants call to them like the Sirens beckoning Odysseus into the rocks. Well, about the time August rolls around I wish I had more shade in my garden. Granted many fruits and vegetables grow better in full sun, but with a little experimentation in partially shaded areas you may find blueberries and many leafy vegetables do just fine. Plus, there are hundreds of plants that grow well in the shade including some delightful new cultivars of coralbells, lungwort, and hosta. Get to know them.

I also hear the groans of the clay people. Clay soils are a challenge, not a curse. Clay soils stay wet longer than loamy soils and when they do dry, they are difficult to wet. Clay is also more subject to compaction from traffic. Clay soils are easily abused, with a yard of bricks as the outcome.

However, clay does not mean you can't have a beautiful garden. There are many places in the U.S. where clay is all they have and they still have glorious gardens. Plant selection is particularly important as well as paying attention to the land topography. Whenever you get the chance, add compost. If you are a clay person, get to know every form of organic matter possible to add to your garden. Compost is a dear friend to the clay people.

Remember gardens evolve. They will not look exactly like you planned. As you plant you will make changes. Each year it will look different, whether you want it to or not. Some things will do well and others will languish. Garden design will constantly frustrate you if you expect it to be exactly like designing your living room. As much as we carefully select and plant our gardens, remember "gardens happen". Just imagine the couch getting bigger every year as it overtakes the end table.

Maintenance can make or break a garden. Be realistic about the time you have for maintenance. This one has always been my downfall. A beautiful design with great plant selection can quickly fall apart if it isn't maintained. Consider lower maintenance groundcovers and shrubs and reducing garden size. Garden maintenance is great therapy, but no one wants to be in the doctor's office all day.

Mulch, mulch, mulch with wood chips or compost. It reduces weeding, watering, soil temperatures in summer, and adds organic matter.

Vow to enjoy your garden this year!

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