Achieving Happiness in Your Garden: The Second Secret

One early spring day a few years ago, I was sitting in my favorite spot by the window lazily browsing through some very old issues of Horticulture magazine. I came to own these magazines when someone I once worked with paid one dollar for a big box of them at an auction and then gave me all the issues from 1959.

As I casually flipped through the pages, I happened upon the classified advertising in the back of the August 1959 issue and began to read some of the ads. Lloyd Kyler of South Whitney, Indiana was advertising “Red Gold Hybrid Earthworms” for soil improvement. You could get 500 of them for four dollars, or a thousand for seven dollars.

You could also buy 40 surplus iris “mixed some pinks” for five dollars, post paid from Seville Iris Gardens of Statesville, North Carolina. If you wanted them labeled it would cost an additional five cents each. Or for just fifty cents you could get a catalog of hardy violets with recipes from the Vista Violet Farm in Vista, California, and they would deduct fifty cents from your first order.

And then I saw something in very tiny print sandwiched between the headings “Rare Plants, Trees and Shrubs” and “Terrarium Supplies” that I thought said “Secrets”. I could not make out the very tiny print even with my glasses on, so I got out a magnifying glass. Peering through it, I realized that I had just discovered the second secret to achieving happiness in your garden.

Size your garden for the resources you have.

Of course! Reading this was like a smack in the head, like discovering an overgrown zucchini hiding under the oversized squash leaves.

To be happy in our gardens we should have a garden that is a size that we can manage with the time, money, and help we have!

Does this mean we are all now destined to have small gardens? Absolutely not! It means that we need to do a little planning and a little saving, and not be afraid to ask for, or pay for help in the garden when needed.

There are all kinds of books written on the subject of “low maintenance” gardens, which many gardeners refuse to look at because they say they enjoy all the maintenance they have to do in their garden. But don’t be too quick to judge! Spending an entire weekend on the maintenance of your garden may seem like heaven on earth, but if it is week after week after week, and you still have more to do, it may soon seem more like drudgery on earth. Books like “The New Low-Maintenance Garden” by Valerie Easton (Timber Press, $19.95)* are full of ideas to reduce the time spent on the routine and not so routine garden maintenance tasks we all face. Incorporating these ideas into how you garden could mean you can have a larger garden overall.

There are also some aspects of gardening that could take hours or weeks or months to do if we try to do them on our own. Yet sometimes we decide to try to do them anyway and then end up too exhausted to enjoy what we’ve accomplished. Or worse, we realize half way through whatever it is we are doing that we can not possibly finish the job on our own. We leave it half done while we try to figure out “now what”. For these big jobs, we should save up to hire others to help, or find some friends and family to help.

This second secret to achieving happiness in our gardens may mean that we don’t have that big garden of our dreams right away. It may mean that we decide to leave an area planted with lawn until we have the time and resources to plant the garden we want to have there. Or it could mean that we confine our garden to a smaller space that we can enjoy, where we can find happiness.

Reading this secret over and over, I realized it would not be easy to follow and could perhaps be controversial. We are so eager as gardeners to dig up everything and just start planting! But at the same time I knew this second secret was right.

Size your garden for the resources you have.

And you’ll be happier with the overall results.


Thank you to everyone who posted about their blooms for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. I've visited a few posts and will visit more throughout the weekend. January seems to have been a challenging month for many gardeners, but everyone is ready to perservere and stick with it until spring!


*(The New Low Maintenance Garden was sent to me to review by Timber Press. I have not yet reviewed it.)


Dear Carol, what good advice! This is one of your best posts. That's a happy secret indeed (I say this as I'm planning and building an American potager outside my kitchen door. That is hysterical.~~Dee
Darla said…
This is a great timely post for all of us gardeners waiting out winter! Thanks.
Gail said…
Carol, I wish this wonderful piece of wisdom had come my way when I started this garden 24 years ago! I am so trying to make it easier for my aging body to manage;) gail
Liz said…
I think that is why so many people have lawn rather than's too much land for them to deal with.
I feel I have the opposite problem as far as size, but I do get help with some garden projects, such as digging out the Yew hedge and digging up large chunks of concrete. I wouldn't be able to do that by myself, and I wouldn't be happy to just leave it.
Anonymous said…
Your site, stumbled upon by chance, appealed to me instantly, not least for the very good advice that you give.

I think myself very fortunate in having J., my long standing gardener/handyman, particularly as I live in London where help is so difficult to come by. Without him many of my own dreams would remain just that.

I am very new to blogging and have only recently started my own writings - it is already becoming addictive.
Noel Morata said…

sigh, i think i'm one of those that overdid it with grandiose plans and now i'm stuck in the mud, it will be an ongoing post on my potager garden that i'm hardscaping with rocks and boy is it hard work, but at least good posting material

thanks for helping to put this in perspective, i've just been thinking about this lately.
Cyndy said…
Really good advice - I know because it's so hard to follow! Every spring it's "no new beds, no new projects" every fall it's "what have I done?" I resolve to listen this year :)
Amy said…
Having just discovered your blog, I'm enchanted with the 5 Secrets...Number 1 validated my rationale for not getting rid of what other people might think of as "weeds." I love a survivor especially if I deem it attractive.

The second secret confirms that editing can be a good thing in my garden. Because I tended hundreds of roses for years at our nursery (we're now "retired"), I only have 9 rose bushes now in my garden, and I'm happy to say I just finished pruning all of them an hour ago. Our garden is way to big, so we find ourselves either removing or moving plants that have grown too big or are just not vital anymore. Thankfully our health is good and gardening is a great way to maintain it!
This is something of utmost importance because you can't be happy if you can't take care of what you have.
Jane Doe said…
Wonderful advice that should be taken seriously. I view size your gardens for your resources in many ways, from the amount of time available to the amount of money available. You've given me much food for thought with your first two secrets.
Dear Carol,

This is some of the best advice I have come across in some time. The part about willing to be patient as we develop the garden we have in such a way that it can become low maintenance is of paramount importance.

It took me a long time to come to grips with this principle as I learned to garden. The way we have been developing the stroll garden is the perfect example of applying this principle. You really do have to be willing to give up the complete picture and work in phases if you want to truly stay within your resources, both material and physical.

I forgot to apply this principle when I addressed the bermuda grass problem out by the root cellar gardens, and now I have a half excavated place with a bunch of huge rocks strewn about. This is one that I abandoned after I began it because it became so daunting. However, in the early spring it will be the perfect thing to work on, as long as everything dries out enough that I can deal with that amazing clay soil that is out there.

I'm looking forward to your next secret. Hope you will be able to stop by and visit the Havens sometime. We have a lot going on but we love visitors.
lotusleaf said…
The advice given are very practical. As gardeners, we plant impulsively and sometimes don't have the time or help to maintain the garden. Sizing the garden according to our resources is the best advice.
Kathy said…
This is very good advice that I wish I had followed. Of course at the time I thought I could handle all of the garden I had dug, but have discovered the hard way that it is too much for me. But I really don't want to give any of it up, so I just renovate one section at a time.
Kimberly said…
You're so right! I never thought of success in this way, but it's true! Even the best gardener can fail if the garden is too overwhelming! Great insight!
Kat said…
Excellent gardening advice. In fact, the same advice could work for life in general. Imagine how much less stressful life would be if we consistently lived within our means/resources?
Rose said…
Excellent advice, Carol, and one I wasn't expecting from someone who seems to have endless energy for gardening. But it's so true. It is also, believe it or not, the only gardening advice my husband gives me, along with rolling his eyes every time I propose digging up more lawn. Very timely, too, as I have been checking out all kinds of books on design and dreaming of turning a huge spot of lawn into a garden. Maybe I'll take baby steps.
Anonymous said…
Low maintenance is my mantra....I only have a few plants worthy of the extra maintenance. I know that does not sound very gardener like, but I want to enjoy the view & spend time with family & friends. There are many low maintenance plants that pack a punch of interest.