Plant Palette

Plant Palette

Slow... Gardening Ahead

Photo of Jennifer Schultz Nelson

Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture

Modern life shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. If anything, modern conveniences allow us to pack more activity into each day, usually in the form of "multitasking". Science tells us that the brain can only perform one task at a time effectively, but still our modern sensibilities tell us we are not productive citizens unless we are doing five things at once!

If we're not careful, this frenzied multitasking mindset can infringe on our gardens, the very place we are supposed to find peace and connect with nature. This time of year it is easy to look at our gardens and see the work that needs to be done rather than the wonder of life emerging after the cold winter. Gardening author Felder Rushing has coined a new phrase to encourage a more relaxed approach to gardening, called "slow gardening".

He tells us that "slow gardening isn't lazy or passive gardening—it actually involves doing more stuff, carefully selected to be productive without senseless, repetitive chores." Slow gardening invites us to appreciate the rhythm of the seasons, choose plants most appropriate for local conditions, and to sit back and actually ENJOY our gardens.

A rule of thumb for slow gardening is to think in terms of gardening for the "long haul" and finding ways to ways to "take it easy" in your garden. How can you make your garden less like work and more like a chance to take a break from the treadmill of modern life?

Consider how you plant and maintain your garden. Rather than cramming as much activity as humanly possible into the all too brief weekend, what if you spread your gardening out, doing a little each day? Imagine how it would feel to have time to enjoy and observe your garden rather than reducing it to another item checked off your 'to-do' list.

I've found that working alongside children in the garden is a great way to look at your garden in a new way, especially when you are explaining what you are doing in the garden, or why you are doing it. On more than one occasion answering questions from my young neighbors has made me realize that some of my activities in the garden are a product of my own perfectionism and not really necessary. Maybe plants don't have to look perfect to be beautiful.

Another key concept of slow gardening is "right plant, right place". In other words, choose pest- and disease-resistant plants that are well adapted to local climate and soils. This might mean planting more native plants, but this concept also includes planting new varieties bred to require little maintenance. A natural result of selecting plants well adapted to local conditions is less use of pesticides. Less use of pesticides may lead to more birds and butterflies visiting your garden.

Slow gardening also encourages us to plant food crops in our gardens. This doesn't necessarily mean creating a large vegetable garden. Peppers or tomatoes planted in a sunny flower garden, some herbs outside the kitchen door, or a pot of lettuce on the patio all count. Although in today's modern global society produce is available year-round in supermarkets, this produce will never taste as good as what grows in your own backyard. Try it and see.

Macon County Conservation District and the University of Illinois Extension Office invite you to slow down for an hour and reconnect to nature through a series of three gardening classes being offered, beginning Saturday, April 24, 2010 at the Festival of Spring. For more information, check out or call (217) 423-7708.

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