Themes and Resolutions

"Glenham Arbor" by Henry Peeters, click to buy at
"Glenham Arbor" by Henry Peeters, illustrating the concept of clearly defined boundaries - a vision of orderly garden loveliness. I should hang it on the wall of my workspace to help me visualize garden utopias. (Click to buy at

Questions for you: Do you have a strategy for keeping up with your garden tasks? Do you make resolutions for your garden? And if so, it’s already the end of January – how are those resolutions working for you?

Last year, I was big into strategies and resolutions. I was determined, motivated, and all about results. I made long lists of resolutions, refined them into measureable goals, and sorted them according to my personal, professional, and gardening lives, which all have a tendency to blur.  “Blurring,” I realized, is simply a lack of focus. So I listened to motivation time-management podcasts, broke the goals into tasks, assigned them time slots in my week, and reported results in a calendar. I even purchased a timer to keep myself on track and played a little “race the timer” game when I did housework to prevent myself from getting sidetracked on the Internet. I made myself accountable.

Organic Vegetable Garden, Vashon Island, WA, by Aaron McCoy (click to buy at
The perfect garden. Who are these people, anyway? Turns out, they're my neighbors! The photo of this organic garden on Vashon Island, WA, was taken by Aaron McCoy. I really want to meet these people and see how they do it. (Click to buy at

I also defined a “theme” for my garden to help keep me focused. Theme gardens are common in the horticultural world, although they often don’t make sense to me, because they are often based on color or utility (such as a moon garden or a tea garden), rather than light, soil, and water requirements. This is not that kind of theme. This theme is based on something you want to accomplish – a “theme for success,” kind of like a mission and vision statement of a gardening strategy. Kind of like a resolution.

Ok. So true confession here: my theme last year was “Establish Boundaries.” Sounds simple enough. Notice the way it begins with an imperative (command form) verb. I figured if I could just establish boundaries around the many garden plots, I could control the creep of quack grass and other weeds, which were joining forces in an underground plot to take over the world. I described this idea to a counselor friend of mine (I wasn’t lying on the couch at the time…although perhaps I should have been). She smiled and nodded with understanding. “I like it,” she said.

scruffy boundaries
Ok - here's an example of a space we're dealing with - I started with admittedly somewhat scruffy boundaries, but at least you saw the difference between dog, grass, and dirt! (sorry, no rainbows)

I kept this whole resolution routine up for several months, and yes, the results were impressive.

And then things got kind of chaotic, as they always do when the weather warms, and I realized I was spending a whole lot of time turning my life into some kind of executive project management exercise, and I threw the whole idea in the compost bin. Seriously, did I leave the corporate world to become my own little corporate tyrant? Apparently so. These are deep-rooted habits.

The weeds and grasses grew with a vengeance in the long, cold spring, just to prove to me who was in charge. Meanwhile, my tender flowers and even my sturdy garlic flailed in the wind. My simple motto, “Establish Boundaries,” proved to be not so simple to implement. And later that year, as I harvested one moldy bulb after another, I had to admit that when it comes to backyard farming, there are a whole lot of things that are not in my control.

Gustav Klimpt's "Farm Garden with Sunflowers" (1905) (click to buy at
Are there borders in this garden? I think not. In fact, it's rather blurred. I think Gustav Klimt had it right (painted in 1905). (Click to buy at

And so, this year, in the spirit of learning from my mistakes, I decided that I needed to take a long, hard look at what worked and what didn’t in 2010.  “Establish Boundaries” sounded like the optimum theme when I made it. Now it is quite obvious that it was all about my unrealistic need for control. World domination. A frivolous endeavor at best.

Perhaps this year requires a gentler approach. “Appreciate diversity.” “Work with nature, not against it.” “Let go and let live” (or rather, in Paul McCartney’s words, “Live and let die”).

I did not bother making garden resolutions this year. Oh sure, I might make a to-do list now and then; however, not in the sense of time management, but rather because my memory isn’t quite what it used to be. Besides, I really like checking off little boxes.

The real difference is that this year, I will be working from a vision of peace and harmony rather than one of a stressed-out control freak (this is starting to sound like a resolution). Either way, I think I’ll get just as much done – I’ll just do it at my own speed and switch tasks when I feel like it. Of course, I realize it’s only the end of January.

As for a mission statement, here is something I wrote earlier that seemed rather profound at the time:

“This year’s garden will support biodiversity and a multitude of ecological functions, build soil rather than take from soil, minimize watering requirements, take advantage of our region’s natural amenities/peculiarities, thrive with minimal effort from me, provide food & habitat to humans and wildlife along with an assortment of other useful products, and at the same time, provide a retreat for relaxation and enjoyment.”

"Informal Garden" by Lynn Keddle, click to buy at
Still NOT my garden - but we can dream, eh? ("Informal Garden" by Lynn Keddle) (Click to buy at

Ok. Maybe a little wordy, but it sure beats “Establish Boundaries.” Jeesh. What was I thinking?

I have pruning to do – in my orchard, in my writing, in my life. I’ll get to it in due time. No ticking timers, thank you.

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