Embrace List Making in the Garden for a Happier Life

I’ve noticed that some gardeners get a little stressed in the spring. It’s no wonder. When we put down our seed catalogs and head outside, it seems like we accelerate from standing still to 60 mph in one day.

After all, spring flowers are blooming, and some have already come and gone! Seeds have to be sown, seedlings have to be thinned, beds need to be raked out, ‘winter interest’ needs to be cut down, and already it seems too late to prune apple trees and goodness, the compost bins need to be cleared out and what are all those weeds over there, and there is some hosta that needs to be divided and in the next few weeks it would really be a good idea to dig up those daylilies that are underperforming because by the time they are ready to bloom it is too shady where they are and by the way, when is it going to rain and is that a late frost in the weather forecast?

And the paint is flaking off the purple bench and would it be better to buy mulch one pick-up load at a time or just have them dump a big load of it on the driveway? Oh my, the crabapple tree is really leafing out. If had a hard freeze or frost now like we did in Spring ’07 that would be very, very bad.

Yes, gardening can sometimes be stressful considering that for many of us it is an all consuming obsession a hobby that is supposed to provide us with a creative outlet, a bit of exercise, and the joy that comes with creating a beautiful space.

Or something like that. (Insert your reason for gardening here)

But when all around us it seems that everything needs to be done right now, it is easy to get overwhelmed and forget half of what we want to do when we do have a gardening WOO (window of opportunity) to get out into the garden and do something.

So we stand there and pick at a few weeds and maybe prune a bit, but don’t feel like we got much done.

The way to get rid of that overwhelming feeling, or at least contain it, is to embrace list making. Then you can focus on just what you are doing in the garden. Everything else will be safe on the lists, so you don’t have to think about them.

Some lists to consider:

Stuff you need to do in the garden but don’t have time to do when you notice it should be done. (Tip: Don’t spend more time putting something on the list than it would take to just do it.)

Seeds you are sowing and when you need to sow them. (Tip: If your list is long enough, use a program like Excel to list the seeds so you can sort them in the order you are going to sow them).

Plants you’d like to get in the future. (Tip: Keep a notebook near your computer so when you read about a plant you’d like to have, you can Google it for more info, and note potential sources. Then if you are ordering from one of those sources, you can check to see if they have any of the plants you want before you close out your order. You can also keep a list like this online. This is especially helpful when you are reading those Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day posts on the 15th of the month.)

Plants you already have. (Tip: If you tend to specialize in a particular type of plant, like roses, hostas, dahlias, or orchids, keeping a list of what you have can be just as important as a list of what you want. This helps avoid coming home from the garden center with a duplicate of a plant you already have growing in your garden that you forgot about).

Blog post ideas (Tip: Write enough about the blog post idea so you can remember what you thought it was going to be about when you do sit down to write it.)

Non-gardening stuff you need to do. (Tip: When you are “in the gardening zone”, you may think of non-gardening stuff you should do. By putting it on a list, you can get it out of your mind and return to gardening thoughts.)

Gardening gifts you’d like to get. (Tip: Your family would appreciate if you didn’t rush out any buy yourself everything you want for the garden. If you keep a list, then when someone asks what you’d like for your birthday or Christmas, you can roll out the big list and let them choose. With a gift list, you are also more likely to get something you really want, not a duplicate of what you have or some funny sign that says “Hoe, Hoe, Hoe, Happy Gardening”.)

Hoes you’d like to get. (Tip: This is an optional list. Even I don’t really have a list of hoes I’d like to have, though I’m always on the lookout for a new hoe that is different than those I’ve already got in my hoe collection).

Embrace list making in the garden for a happier life!


  1. Good morning, Carol.
    "List making" caught my eye in your title. LOVE, LOVE list making... My world could not spin without my lists. AND I am one of those that actually works from the lists I've made. I have a 3 ring binder with tabbed index dividers for tracking my gardening.

    Going down the very thorough and most practical applications of list making you've suggested here gives me comfort to know I'm not alone.

    Even though we garden all year long it can still be overwhelming in the spring. So much needs to be accomplished before the awful summer heat.

    Great suggestions and love your tips.

  2. HA Carol, I see a couple of avid list makers have been the first to comment here. Like Meems, I can't get through life without lists of all kinds. It frees my mind to have those tasks written down or on the computer so I don't have to worry about forgetting them. I do hope you have encouraged some non listers to join us, but I fear it is an inborn thing, that list making. You either are driven to do it, or go through life randomly. :-)

  3. Oh yes Carol. I am a lister. I have all the variouse lists you mentioned and a few more. I have such a long to do chore list that it encompanses two pages. It is such fun to mark those chores off the page. Yep, I sure embrase those lists.

  4. Oh. You mean you don't want a sign that says "Hoe, Hoe, Hoe. Happy Gardening"? I thought it was perfect for you.

  5. I love my lists. My favorite are my printed list of what gets seeded when in the garden. If I didn't have the list I would forget half of them.

  6. Lists. LISTS! I love lists. But I am to the point where I need a list of my lists just to keep track of my..lists. All my lists are making me list to one side.

    Remember, slow and steady in the garden. Try to embrace just sitting out there and painting that bench. All the while, listening to the birds singing, the bees beeing, and the sounds of the neighborhood.

  7. I need to work on my list-making skills. Too often I do miss the WOO, so lists would be a big help.

  8. Love reading about lists as much as making them. Had just finished putting down the names of four yellow-fruiting crabapples to fill a hole in the garden when I turned to your post. Perfect timing!

  9. Reading about your lists of what to buy and WOO's and note-keeping techniques for future blog posts, etc. is fascinating, Carol, but my lists are seldom about what to do in future - mine are mainly a way to keep track of what's already been done in the past.

    All permanent-type plants, perennials, shrubs, bulbs etc. are on a spreadsheet to keep track of whether they came as passalongs or purchases, cost, date of planting & location in the garden. Each year Philo makes maps of the tomato & pepper garden with varieties and sources listed nt, and uses them for reference.

    It's also fun to read the comments on this one!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  10. Carol,

    Without a list I turn into a manaical gardener - running from one tasK to the next. Lists help me stay calm and move sanely from task to task.

    I start my list in MS Word in January. I have headings TO BUY, TO MOVE/DIVIDE, and a by-month TO DO list. I use the previous year's jobs for the monthly to-do list.

    As I complete a task I check it off and add the date completed.

    Thanks for the reminder to check my list. It's helped me get rid of a bad case of winter-gardener's-inertia and I'm heading out to the garden NOW!

  11. I love lists too. My problem is not finishing an item on a list before moving on to another; in other words, nothing gets totally crossed off!

  12. Duh! I make a list for everything except gardening.....I keep saying I am going to but haven't yet....I will be doing just this now!! Thanks

  13. I'm a list maker too. 'To do', and 'what's been done'...not as efficiently as Annie, with a spreadsheet, but that does sound like a good idea.
    I have a WOO now, so I'd better 'move away from the computer now' and get to it!
    Sunshine here this afternoon and the arctic wind has become just a cool breeze! Temp is approx. 54ºF. Yippee!

  14. "When we put down our seed catalogs and head outside, it seems like we accelerate from standing still to 60 mph in one day."

    Great assessment - couldn't have said it better myself!

  15. Carol...I have a tendency to make lists on the backs of envelopes~~ I am not a real list maker...I bet you guessed that;) Somehow things manage to get done in spite of that! Gail

  16. I often make garden lists. Then I promptly ignore them as I get pulled from one unlisted task to another once I'm out there. I'll find the lists days (or weeks or months) later floating around my desk and think, "gee, that was a good plan!" List or no list, I think I develop ADD the minute I step outside the door!

  17. Hi Carol,

    I used to stress out sometimes about the garden, but not as much now, I think because it's more mature and parts don't have as much of an unfinished look as they used to. Claire, that's funny, I make lists too, and then just go outside and do what I think is the highest priority, and those things are never on my list!

    Actually, I try to avoid making lists -- they stress me out! lol If I write something down I feel as though I need to do it right away.

  18. Carol - I embrace, I embrace. I love lists, and have frequently posted my seasonal project lists on my post because I love them so much I want to share them. In fact, you've reminded me that I should post my Spring list that's still percolating in my brain. I'm sure get rid of rabbits is at the top of YOUR list! :-)

  19. This is a very good post, although I have a difficult time making myself do lists. Here, things are pretty self-explanatory. Leaves must be moved out of the garden, shredded or composted and then put back on. :) Then, the roses and daylilies should be fed. Uh-oh, I'm making a list. Thanks for your words of wisdom.~~Dee

  20. I'm a true believer in lists and it really does help organize thoughts (I keep a small spiral notebook with me where ever I go to jot down notes). And I think you're absolutely spot on in terms of springtime gardening because there can be SOO much to do. One thing that I've learned in my very short time gardening is that there's always next year; it has really helped me become a more patient person.


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