Planning for Pleasure in the Garden

By Jesse Eastman

In the past I’ve written about the importance of developing a detailed plan prior to the start of the gardening season – measure your beds, track sunlight, review your carefully compiled notes from the previous season, etc. Here’s the thing about all that: I was wrong. This detail-oriented approach is just one way to plan, but that doesn’t make it right. Don’t get me wrong, charts and diagrams are a great method, but only if that’s the way you want to do it. Gardening should make you happy.

When I was a student at Rivendell Elementary School, a great deal of emphasis was placed on “individualized” learning. This approach recognizes the importance of discovering each child’s learning style and adapts his or her educational program to fit. This allows each child to be successful in his or her own unique way. Similarly, a garden plan should be adapted to fit the gardener’s unique style, and success should be measured by each individual gardener.

Perhaps meticulous note-taking and a tape measurer are your weapons of choice in the garden. You look at the space available, consider past successes and failures, and break down the yard into sections to be analyzed and optimized like a high-performance vehicle. The idea of winging it makes you shake your head and feel sorry for those scatter-brained gardeners whose approach you might consider to be cavalier. If this you, embrace the comprehensive approach, and while you’re at it, develop contingency plans in case of bad weather or unforeseen pest problems. Your desire for order will thank you.

If, on the other hand, the suggestion of a meticulous and measured methodology sends you into a fit of anxiety, you might prefer a more “freehand” approach. Maybe there is a certain peony you’ve seen, and you want it in your yard. A more fastidious gardener might say “too bad there’s no space in my yard for that peony,” but not you. You will gladly accept the challenge, pruning a tree branch to allow more light, removing a tired daylily, and ultimately finding a way to squeeze that plant you’ve always wanted into your landscape.

Even still, this might be seem like a very organized approach compared to what you’re comfortable with. Your approach might be more…primal. You feel the need to plant something, but don’t have any strong idea what that something should be. You shop impulsively and ride the winds of fate like a leaf in the breeze. Sure, you might suffer some devastating failures, but you’ll also experience some dizzying successes that would leave more data-driven gardeners scratching their heads, wondering how on earth you managed to grow that plant in that spot.

For me, gardening is about enjoying and celebrating life. I fall somewhere in between the strict planner and the freehand gardener. I like knowing what to expect and I love optimizing my landscape, but I realize there are certain things I can’t live without and I will bend over backwards to find a way to make them thrive. This is the approach that brings me the most pleasure, but that that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect fit for anyone else. Some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever encountered are works of chance and folly (after all, nature is a tinkerer, not a designer). Therefore, I offer you a full and unconditional retraction of my suggestion that the best way to garden is with graph paper and a ruler. The best way to garden is the way that makes you happy, and you are the only person who knows what that looks like!

Originally published May 5, 2015

Originally published on March 4th, 2019.