Sometimes, You Need To Be The Ant

On my recent post about Garden Attention Distraction Syndrome (GADS), Annie in Austin commented that she liked the “advice to go with the flow, acting less like ants glued to a task and a trail, and more like bumblebees among the hollyhocks, appreciating every blossom.”

What a perfect analogy for GADS. And with her own follow up post, Embrace the GADS, Annie showed us how even when you are bouncing around the garden like a bumblebee amongst the hollyhocks, a lot does get done and new discoveries are made.

After all, even the bumblebee goes back to the hive with pollen at the end of the day.

We rallied. “Embrace the GADS!” Be the bumblebee! Be the Bee. Be.

But now the ants would like to have their say.

Sometimes it’s good, perhaps desirable, to be “glued to a task and a trail” like the ant.

When I rebuilt a retaining wall along the foundation of my house, it was good to be purposeful and ant-like to get the job done. Working quickly and without distraction, I was able to tear out and rebuild the wall in an afternoon.

When MSS at Zanthan Gardens was recently claiming her share of the Christmas tree mulch in Austin, she was being more like the ant than the bumblebee. She wanted to get her share and there were many other ants, I mean gardeners, working that same pile.

And I bet when Pam/digging preps her garden for a reception for the Garden Bloggers Spring Fling, she’ll be more like an ant than a bumblebee.

Yes, sometimes it is good to be the ant, to follow through on the task, to stay on the trail.

If you are more inclined to be like the bumblebee, here are some tips on help you be like an ant, especially when you have a big project to complete in the garden

Visualize and plan your work from start to finish before you get started. If you have a big project to do in the garden, like planting a newly dug flower bed, think through from start to finish what you need to do. This will help remind you of the tools, supplies and plants you’ll need before you even get started.

Take all the tools and supplies you need with you to wherever you are working in the garden. By having your hoes, rakes, shovels, pruners, trowels, and supplies right there, you won’ have to go back and forth to your garden shed or garage, facing temptation along the way to take care of this or that little task. It’s easy to revert to being the bumblebee again when you see a lot of little things to do in the garden.

Keep a supply of gardening essentials on hand. Just like good cooks keep their kitchens well stocked with the basics that go into most recipes (so I’ve heard), gardeners should keep basic supplies on hand, too. By having a stash of potting soil, peat moss, top soil, compost, organic fertilizers, basic clay pots, etc. you won’t have to go to the garden center before you do even the smallest project. This will help you avoid too many GAD$ attacks, which can be damaging to your wallet.

Eliminate distractions you can before you can get started on a big project. It may seem counterproductive at first, but giving in to a little GADS activity before you start a big project can help you focus on that big project. It’s like cleaning off the kitchen counters before you start cooking (so I've heard).

Plan for breaks at key ‘milestones’ of your garden project. You can stay on the ant trail longer if you stay hydrated, rest every once in a while, and make sure to apply sunscreen more than once, especially if you sweat. (Sweat? Oh, yeah, even that fancy gardener in the white dress in my profile picture can work up a good sweat.)

Reward yourself at the end of the project. It’s not good to always be the ant. Be the bumblebee again, or better yet, be like a butterfly. Sit and relax and admire your completed project. Spend time just enjoying your garden.

New poll! Are you mostly an ant, a bumblebee or a butterfly gardener? Participate in the poll on the sidebar to the right.


  1. Yet another stellar post, Carol. You're really on a roll the past couple of weeks, not that I don't enjoy every post you make, of course, because I do! I'm definitely more the bee than the ant...but I'm the same way with my work, writing at six or more articles at the same time. It works for me, but wouldn't for many, I know. (I blame it on being left handed and right-minded..)

  2. Oh dear, Carol, you just gave me a little heart attack. I hadn't thought much past the planning of the GB Spring Fling to the moment when dozens of garden bloggers will actually be IN my garden. Ant work is required, indeed.

  3. I agree with Jodi, you are on a roll. Such good advice, too. Poor Pam, but I'm sure her garden will be wonderful, since it already is now! My family would definitely call me an ant, some of them are what I call 'random', going from one thing to another without completing any. But in the garden, one must always stop to pull a weed or admire a little vignette while on the ant trail.

  4. Having seen Pam's garden, I don't think she has anything to worry about.

    I often feel I am an ant about the wrong things. That is to say, I can get very focused on a certain task, but in the big scheme of things, it's the wrong task to get focused on. I fail to grasp the big picture and set priorities at the beginning of the year

  5. Carol, a great post. I like the survey's that you put with your articles too. It is fun to see what others think of themselves.

    For the most part I bumble around. I can get the entire ant colony worked up and focused if there is a major task at hand.

    Pam doesn't have to worry about anyone being IN her garden. It is gorgeous. You must leave a weed or two so we mortals,err bumble bee gardeners can feel normal. :)

  6. Definitely the ant, Carol but sometimes, the bumblebee.

    Great post !

  7. Never thought of myself in that respect. Actually I enjoy digging in the soil so much that I don't perceive it as work. So a lot of people would probably call me an ant, but I always feel like a bumblebee because everything seems to get done on the way. Of course I'm in the lucky position that the only work that I hate doing in the garden -- lawn mowing -- is happily done by the male members of my family.
    Still, when it comes to desk work, that's where I would need some more ant-like qualities.

  8. Hey, Carol :-)

    Completley off topic here. I see the birds are coming to your feeders now - excellent!

    In celebration of your new found feathered friends I wondered if you would like to share with us here in the UK what birds visit your garden for an hour anytime this weekend :-D

    You can read details of how we do this survey in my post 'Rain brings garden birds' where there is a link to the RSPB. If you fancy joining us please let me know with a comment and I will add a direct link to your post with my results. No probs if you are busy - have a good weekend :-D

  9. Thanks for the shout-out. When I saw all those gardeners crawling over the Christmas tree mulch pile the image that came to mind was certainly ants!

    I wish I could have such ant-like focus the rest of the time. I've tried to come up the concept of a "mini garden project". My idea is to have one small, clearly defined task (weed this bed, transplant this rose) each day that I can stay focused on and finish in order to provide some sense of accomplishment. Then I can potter around the garden in bumble-bee mode with no guilt.

  10. Great guidelines. I start out like an ant and then morph into bumblebee mode once I hit a snag or get frustrated. My husband is the opposite- ant all the way. It's nice to have an ant around when you are a bumblebee.

  11. You made a good list "Carol the Gardening Ant". Keeping the supplies in stock and carrying a tote bucket with the small tools ready allows one to continue working without leaving the premises.

    Philo & I can be quite ant-like when working on a planned project and I can be an ant when working with the Divas of the Dirt.

    But at our four previous houses it seemed that as soon as the garden started to approach the idea I had for it, we moved. So I'm not sure I want to stay on task and finish this one - it's more fun to putter around and enjoy it.

    Annie at the Tranzzzzzplantable Rozzzzze

  12. Jodi, "Left-handed and right-minded", that's clever, and thanks for your 'stellar' compliments, they always make my day.

    Pam/digging, Based on others' comments, and seeing pictures of your garden, I bet you are in pretty good shape.

    Frances, How true, even an ant has to stop and see where they are occasionally, and admire the view.

    Kathy, Good point. Being ant like on something that in the grand scheme of things isn't 'the thing' could be very frustrating.

    Lisa at Greenbow, Great comment and thanks for the compliments

    Carolyn Gail, Oh yes, you are definitely ant-like especially when someone is paying you to re-do their garden. I've seen your posts about that!

    Corrina, Yes, when a gardener gets 'in the zone', whether being an ant or a bumblebee, we sure look intent.

    Shirl, I will definitely look at your post and try to participate this weekend. I think I could find an hour.

    MSS, I think the "mini project' is a great idea. Do something that has to be done, that might not be the most fun, then allow yourself to play a bit in the garden. Great advice!

    Bonnie, Yes the best of intentions. "Something" is always out there trying to take them from us.

    Annie in Auzzztin, Great comment. I wonder, does a gardener every really want their garden to be done or would they rather it always be a work in progress?

    Thanks all for the comments!
    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  13. Carol, another terrific post. I imagine you are an ant in everything you do...storing up well composed blog posts ahead of time, and having a gardening project slated for each week of the season.

    I, on the other hand, am a hopeless bumblebee with almost everything I do.

  14. Another inspirational post! Although I'm frequently a bumblebee, I'm more of a hornet - I attack a task until I kill it, then buzz off to something else.

  15. Mary, I don't think I'm quite as much of an ant as you might think, though when I set my mind to it, I can "ant" with the best of them, and I am my nieces' and nephews' favorite aunt, self proclaimed.

    My blog posts are usually not written in advance. Generally I write them the day I post them, after thinking about the topic during the day. The exception is those gardening geek posts.

    Mr. McGregor's Daughter, A hornet attacking a task? Remind to stay out of your way when you really want to get something done!

    Thanks for the comments!
    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  16. Ha! Love this post!
    Well, if I could BE a bee, I'd love to be the queen bee (I think). I guess I'm a worker bee when I buzz around doing several projects at once because I'm unable to finish any of them until I have all I need. But, once I'm set with everything, I'm an ant. I attack that dirt pile (or that leaf pile, etc) and just go back and forth,until I get the job done. THEN I can play! :-)


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