Friday, 7 February 2014

5 ways to overcome garden inertia

Having a garden is supposed to be a good thing. But all too often, it can become a source of bewilderment, guilt and even stress, particularly for first time buyers and those juggling the pressures of work with young families. The majority of the garden media spreads before us lavish images of beautiful, perfectly manicured plots – aspirational, certainly, but seemingly unattainable and remote. Even those helpful articles with titles like “10 things to do in your garden this month” – clearly intended to offer sound, step-by-step help and advice – can often seem to be giving you ten more reasons to beat yourself up for your lack of achievement. The knowledge that over two million homes in the UK are without a garden probably only increases the guilt, rather than reminding us how lucky we are to have a garden of our own. We should be doing better with the resources which we’re so fortunate to have. Faced with a yawning chasm between what our garden could be and the reality of what it is, who can blame us for falling into a state of denial, and closing the door to our outside room, particularly in winter. But anyone who's tried this approach will tell you that there's a catch. The more we put off taking action, the more there is to be done. You think you can get away with ignoring your garden in winter. By May, it’s a monster.

If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. It’s something I increasingly encounter; if I’m honest, I even feel this way myself from time to time. If someone for whom gardening is both passion and profession can feel this way, you should know you’re in good company.

Practical advice

Which is all very well, but what do you do if you find yourself in a similar situation? Here are five ways in which you can overcome your inertia, and being to gain some traction in the garden.

1. Take baby steps

Waiting until you just can’t stand it any more, and then rushing about the garden like a whirlwind might get a lot done in one morning, but it’s hardly a sustainable way of keeping on top of things. For a less ‘pressure cooker’ approach you need to incorporate small, manageable tasks into a your weekly routine and, in that way, you’ll start to create a long-term strategy that will soon pay dividends and have you feeling more relaxed about the garden. Laetitia Maklouf (author of The Virgin Gardener and Sweet Peas for Summer ) uses her daughter’s hula hoop to define a small area which she clears whenever she has a moment in the day, concentrating solely on the area bounded by the bright pink edge. It’s a really practical illustration of how a ‘little-but-often’ approach can go a long way.

2. Work in zones

Tackling the whole garden in one go can seem an overwhelming prospect. But what if you were to split it into smaller areas, each of which you could treat like a mini project? This would allow you to assign a timescale to each discrete zone, making the prospect of tackling the entire space far less daunting, as you’ll no longer feel it needs to be accomplished in an instant transformation. “Never take on the whole garden at once,” writes Alys Fowler in The Thrifty Gardener . “Start from the back door and work outwards.” This approach also has the benefit of ensuring that you always have something cheerful to look out at from your window, rather than having to peer down to the end of the garden to see the point at which chaos gives way to order.

3. Get tidying

This one sounds incredibly obvious, but it makes such an immediate difference. When we’re suffering from garden inertia, it’s often the case that our outside space can become a little...cluttered. Particularly true for those renovating a new house, when you soon find out that the garden can absorb a huge amount of stuff that you really don't want to be looking at all the time. And it’s true, gardens are great storage areas, but really... that’s what sheds are for. That pile of bits and bobs you've been meaning to take to the dump? Nine o’clock, this Saturday morning – make a date and just do it.

4. Use Freecycle 

For large, and not so large stuff that you really don't want any more. It’s amazing what people will gladly take off your hands, from old bricks, hardcore, wooden palettes to larger garden buildings. Several friends have spared themselves the effort of having to dismantle and dispose of a greenhouse that’s in need of some TLC by advertising it on freecycle, whereupon they’ve been inundated with people only too keen to take it off their hands. So, find your local freecycle group, and join up. The only hard bit is deciding which of the many responses you receive will be the lucky winner of your old shed.

5. Throw a party

It can’t be denied that sometimes there is just too much to be done without help. I’m a firm believer that that’s what friends are for. It’s hard to overstate the good will generated by a group of like minded folk coming together with one common aim, and if you can provide food and drink in exchange for an afternoon of your friends’ labour, I guarantee that you will achieve a huge amount in the time, while creating an occasion to look back on with fondness. Surely one of the very best things about a garden is that it is a space in which happy memories are created. If the weather’s up to it (and it should be if you’re asking a load of people to come over and work outside), a barbecue is ideal for this. Just make sure the gentlemen in the party concentrate on gardening, rather than fire making. Ugg*.

Have you come up with strategies of your own for overcoming inertia in the garden? Leave a comment below or tweet @growgardencare.

*A shameless instance of outrageous gender stereotyping. But not necessarily inaccurate for all that.