Simplify your life in the garden

A few days ago, an older fellow I was talking to was very discouraged about his garden. Although I assured him that he was not alone — many people are having gardening problems because of our cold/wet/hot/dry weather this year — he said, "I think I'll just give up on the whole idea; I've been gardening for 40 years, and I'm too old for this."

My immediate reaction was, "No, no, don't do that! Instead, find some easier ways to go about gardening." Gardening is good for us, and I suspect this longtime gardener would miss it terribly if he threw in the trowel.

Aging takes us by surprise. Actually, stuns us is more like it. Eventually, however, we must admit that we can no longer do some garden tasks in the same way, or for as long. Yes, time changes things, including the gardener. So perhaps we can find some ways to change the garden, too.

Start by looking at the flower beds and borders. In general, annuals take more work than perennials. Shopping for annuals takes time. Getting down (and back up again) to plant them in the ground is a daunting task for many. Often, they take more "babying" in the form of watering and protection from pests.

When choosing perennials, though, ask yourself how much care they need. Will they need to be staked? Deadheaded? Cut back to get a second bloom? Dug and divided frequently? Attract pests, including deer? And remember that the greater the variety of plants you have, the more individual care they will need. You might consider replacing some of those annuals and perennials with shrubs, which need much less care. Or choose more vining plants. Vertical gardening, whether in the flower bed or vegetable garden, is easier on the back.

If possible, have more shade garden. Shade-loving plants grow more slowly, and some, like ferns, take virtually no care. Also, look at the possibility of "going natural" — that is, using more native plants, as they require less fussing.

Try to accept a bit more imperfection. Mother Nature doesn't pick up every leaf, and you don't need to, either. Besides, they help make mulch. And speaking of mulch, use it freely to keep down the weeds. It helps conserve water, too.

Have you tried container gardening? It requires some new techniques, but they are easily learned. Plant breeders are developing more varieties suited to containers, and with some thought and study you might want to give some of them a try. At the Grange Co-op, for example, I saw (and tasted) container-grown cucumbers that grow on a small trellis and get no larger than gherkins. Tasty, too!

Containers are not just flower pots, but can be window boxes, tubs, whiskey barrels, plastic garbage cans, or raised beds. The Jackson County Master Gardener kitchen garden at the Oregon State University Research and Extension Center in Central Point has raised beds of various heights, including one that is tended while standing up. Stop by and take a look.

Hire some help, if you can afford it. People tell me, though, that the biggest problem is finding someone who will "do it your way." Keeping a calendar, making lists or referring to your copy of Garden Guide for the Rogue Valley is another way to help make the most of your time and energy. You can buy a copy at most local garden centers.

One more idea is to look into learning about bonsai, alpine plants or other miniatures, as they do not require the physical labor that other plants do.

But don't give up. When my dyed-in-the-wool-gardener mother, at 97, was in a nursing home, she still had some house plants and a hanging basket of blooming flowers outside her window. We are meant to have a close relationship with nature — it nourishes the soul.

Coming up: On Tuesday, Aug. 24, master gardener Peggy Corum will teach a class on "Plant Propagations by Cuttings" at the OSU Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road in Central Point. Class time is 7 to 9 p.m. Cost is $5. Call 541-776-7371 for information.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. E-mail her at

Share This Story