Porch Chat: How to Tend Your Imaginary Garden

It’s a little bit chilly this evening, but with a jacket, a hat, and some gloves, it’s pleasant enough to sit on the porch and enjoy the crispness in the air.

These crisp fall days are numbered. Rain is expected to arrive later tonight and temperatures will be dropping steadily through the weekend. We’ll probably have a killing frost by Monday morning here at May Dreams Gardens.

Then it’s officially over for this season.

What then? What do we do after we’ve cleaned up the garden?

We start thinking about and tending our imaginary gardens, of course.

Imaginary gardens? Oh, yes, there are eight people who took the recent garden blogging survey who said that their favorite kind of gardening is “imaginary”.

If that’s the only kind of gardening they do, that’s a little worrisome. But if it’s just one of many types of gardening they do, then they are in good company, because don’t we all tend an imaginary garden, based on the kind of garden we hope to have someday?

For example, I have an herb garden I’d like to have someday that's just imaginary right now.

It’s a wonderful garden full of interesting herbs, brick-lined paths, and just enough sunlight for the herbs to grow, under the dappled shade of nearby trees. The trees are mostly fruit trees, but there is never any rotten fruit on the ground. You can just reach up anytime, grab a perfect piece of fruit off a perfect tree and eat it right there in the garden. There’s also a bench or two tucked in here and there that invite you to sit a spell and take in the scents and watch the bees amongst the flowers.

And I imagine what my current garden would be like if it was weed free and had a bit more shade in general, preferably dabbled shade. While I’m imagining it, I need more roses and lots of Delphiniums, too.

There are some clear differences in tending an imaginary garden versus a real garden. For example, with imaginary gardens, you miss out on some of the good things about real gardening, like getting dirty and sweaty, using gardening tools like pruners and hoes, occasionally getting stung, and ending the day exhausted.

But it’s nice to sometimes sit up on the porch and tend your imaginary garden, too.

How do you tend an imaginary garden? I don’t know how you tend your imaginary garden, but here’s what I do.

Read gardening magazines. I mostly buy gardening magazines for the pictures. I know the gardens are staged and full of impractical suggestions, and some include plants that wouldn’t grow in my climate, but they are still good sources of ideas for my imaginary garden, and my real garden, too.

Read gardening books. I like gardening books written by gardeners like Henry Mitchell and Elizabeth Lawrence, especially, but I don’t limit myself in any way, it seems, when it comes to buying gardening books.

Look at every garden you pass by and note what attracts you to it or what repels you and makes you want to run the other way, as the case may be. Well, you don’t have to look at literally every garden, but you’ll notice most of them anyway, because you’re a gardener. Believe me, non-gardeners don’t seem to notice gardens and plants like gardeners do. I’ve asked them if they do, and they don’t.

Read gardening blogs. Of course! There are lots of good gardening blogs with lots of good ideas for your own garden, imaginary or not!

Read seed and plant catalogs. You can find out about all kinds of new and interesting plants by reading through catalogs from good seed companies and nurseries.

Think about other things. Yes, sometimes you should think about something other than gardening, if you can, and let the imaginary garden go. Give the gardening half of your brain a rest. Before you know it, though, you’ll end up thinking of something new for your imaginary garden, maybe your real garden, too.

I'm very much in favor of allowing yourself the time to tend your imaginary garden, but don’t forget to tend the real one, too. Because believe me, you can hide the weeds in your imaginary garden; you can’t hide them in your real garden.

Here are the rest of the survey results for the question “My favorite kind of gardening is”…

57% - Flowers
6% - Indoor plants (What? Oh, wait, I did say “favorite”…)
31% - Vegetables
8% - Imaginary
25% - Landscapes
15% - Other

The most common comments for “Other” included herbs and native plants, but two respondents wrote in “vignettes’.

(The reason the survey results don't add up to 100% is because people were allowed to pick more than one favorite kind of gardening, because it's hard to choose sometimes, isn’t it?)

Goodness, I’ve done all the talking tonight and just went on and on! I’ll let you talk now. What does your favorite imaginary garden look like?


  1. I often fall asleep in the winter thinking about imaginary garden plans ... or about how bulbs I've planted will look.

  2. Hey, if we didn't have our imaginary gardens, a lot of us would get pretty bummed in the winter!

  3. Long ago when we lived in an apartment I used to imagine having my own yard to plant things; down here my real garden needs me all year- no time for an imaginary one, Carol!

    On your survey I was one of the "vignettes" - am and quite pleased there were two of us who gave that answer!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  4. Do these imaginary gardens require much maintenance? And do they have an aroma?........

  5. Carol, I think your survey has been great but only you could ask such good questions and write the 'report' up so well - Thank you.

    I love my imaginary gardens, borders and plants, they change all the time, sometimes they are within my garden! But actual gardening comes first - I just wish I had more time to garden. I also use magazines, books and now blogs for ideas, I am lucky to visit lots of gardens while on holiday, so without my imaginary gardens I wouldn't have anywhere for all the ideas.

    Great post, best wishes Sylvia (England)

  6. I am leaving a fellow gardenblogger's garden this morning (Fairegarden) with a car full of goodies both dug and purchased...my imaginings kept me up last night wondering where in the garden was all this bounty going to go and before Monday when we might get a frost. Gail

  7. The winter time allows us time to plan out the imaginary gardens in our head. Garden magazines & seed catalogs keep me going through the down season. It's exciting to think about the possibilities for the next season.

  8. Good morning Carol, in my imaginary garden, tropical plants can go in the ground without being winter killed, and the temperature never, ever gets higher than 85 or lower than 45, Veggies grow in the shade in my imaginary garden. In my imaginary garden, there's an endless supply of compost, there's always enough rain, and there's all manner of beneficial insects. The bunnies and squirrels respectfully keep their distance in my imaginary garden!

  9. My imaginary garden sprawls over an acreage that overlooks the sea. It is tall and tangled and bright, with neatly kept paths that zigzag from my weathered cottage. It is full of the twitter of birds, the tinkle of wind chimes, and the buzz of bees. A natural brook runs through the garden, which I have widened in one spot to accommodate a small waterfall. And it just blooms year after year, all on its own! Then I woke up.......... ;)

  10. That porch looks like a lovely place to sit, even with hat and coat. As to dreaming- mine is more like thinking about how to better the garden I have. I do that by burying my nose in magazines, garden books and going on garden tours.. I don't get much help from gardening programs anymore.

  11. An imaginary garden does not give me a sense of peace that I feel out in my real flower beds, but like most gardeners the books, journals, magazines and planning for next Spring keeps us going through the winter.Imagining the changes that we will make and if that new plant or bulb will add the touches that we wanted. It is all good.

  12. Imaginary friends are the best part of my imaginary gardens.
    They visit from History, Literature, and Loved Ones step down from the Heavens to once again grace the garden.

  13. Oh all of the above! Plus with the imaginary gardening, no need to do weeding, seed saving (they're always available), use fertizer or pesticides, ammend soil, or worry about weather - everything perfect and ready to plant.

  14. I don't imagine I'll ever be able to describe what my imaginary garden looks like until it becomes a reality. And even then, I imagine it'll change again, and again.

  15. I had never realised what it must be like to garden in more extreme climates, and how that would affect gardeners. I do have imaginary gardens as well as a real one, but alas! A Sydney garden never falls asleep under a blanket of snow, so I am used to shoving my imaginary gardens to the back of my mind in order to get on with pulling out kikuyu, etc. There is no time of year when nothing can be planted or weeded! At least I know now why there are so many North American books on indoor plants!

  16. My imaginary garden has lots of rocks, a ruined building of some sort, a huge green house, a small lake, gravel paths, a secret walled garden filled with Roses & Delphiniums, a fantastic (as in fantasy-like) topiary garden with surrealistic elements, and the climate feels somewhere like the Pacific Northwest or England. This is starting to worry me, that it is so detailed. Clearly I spend a lot of time there during the winter.


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