Welcome to my zone 9a habitat garden near Houston, Texas.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Twelve secrets of happiness in the garden

I enjoy reading other garden blogs, and one that I never miss when there is a new post up is Carol's May Dreams Gardens.  Carol gardens in Indiana, in a zone 5 garden that is very different from my experience near the Gulf Coast here in zone 8b, but, as well as being a talented gardener, she is an imaginative and creative writer and her posts almost always contain something of universal appeal - something that can be applied to any garden anywhere.

Recently, Carol has been writing about achieving happiness in the garden.  She has (so far) discovered twelve secrets to happiness in garden.  These secrets have been revealed to her by her garden familiars, fairies, rabbits, and the like.

I have been meditating on Carol's secrets and thinking how they apply to me in this very challenging time in my garden.  Is it even possible to achieve happiness in the garden in these severe drought conditions with trees and other plants dying of thirst all around me and meteorologists periodically predicting that this may be a multi-year drought?  Do the secrets of achieving happiness have something to teach me about thriving in these conditions?  Let's consider each of the twelve.

Grow the plants you love.  This seems so obvious.  Why would you ever plant something you didn't love?  But people sometimes do, for all kinds of reasons. They plant without really considering the qualities or the needs of the plants and then both the gardener and the plant wind up miserable.  Better to spend some time getting to know the plant and only plant those things which you absolutely know you are going to love and be willing to care for.  Both you and the plant will be happier.

Size the garden for the resources you have.  One of the biggest mistakes made by new gardeners is trying to do too much at first.  Start small and don't take on more than you have the time, energy, and financial resources to care for. You can always expand.  And you probably will, because you will be so happy with your success in a small plot that you will want more.

Buy good tools.  Cheap tools are seldom a bargain.  "You get what you pay for" is never more true than in regard to garden tools.  Spend a little more and get the very best you can afford.  You won't be sorry.  These tools are your friends and allies in creating your garden.  You want them to be dependable.

Respect Mother Nature.  Always.  Be aware and knowledgeable of the environment in which your garden exists and do nothing - nothing! - to harm it. Get to know and make friends with the creatures that inhabit your garden. Respect the cycles of the seasons and the climate.  If Nature sends you drought, or flood, or wind, heat or cold, adjust your plans accordingly.  Bend yourself to Nature's ways; don't attempt to bend Nature to yours.

Share your garden.  There is no greater pleasure for a gardener than to have others appreciate one's efforts, either through an actual visit to the garden or a virtual visit by way of one's blog.  And, of course, best of all is being able to share plants with other gardeners.  Passalong plants are the ultimate in sharing!

Plan your garden.  Here's where a lot of gardeners, including myself, fail.  Over the 20+ years that I have lived in this house and garden, the garden has grown a bit like Topsy, without much planning at all.  For most of those years, I was working full-time and raising a family and the garden was an afterthought.  It didn't get my best efforts.  I just didn't have much energy left for it.  It's only in recent years that I've been able to devote myself to it.  If I had it all to do over again - and had all the money in the world - I would do better.  As it is, to achieve happiness, I just have to forgive myself for the past, realizing that I did the best I could do at the time, and try to plan better in the future.

Feed your soil.  After all, it's the basis of everything.  An unhappy soil makes for an unhappy garden and an unsuccessful gardener.

Strive for balance.  Balance in the garden is an important concept.  A garden that "fits" in the greater habitat of which it is a part is one that blends perfectly with the elements of Nature.  It balances between the wild world and the cultivated world of humans and offers a seamless transition between the two.

Ask for help.  Don't be shy about seeking assistance, whether it is advice or strong muscles that are needed.

Change your garden if you don't like it.  This is an important one and one that I sometimes struggle with.  I tend to leave things much too long because I once thought they were a good idea and I feel guilty about moving or removing them. Don't be that gardener!  Rip them out!  A plant or a garden feature that is not pleasing to you needs to go.  Life is too short to live with something that gives you heartburn every time you look at it.

Try new plants.  They might not work, but if you love them, or think you do, give them a chance.  They might just turn out to be the great love of your life.

Plant for the future.  I find that I'm thinking more and more about the future.  I want my garden to still be here when I'm gone.  I want it to be an easy-care garden that no one will be tempted to rip out.  Most of all, I want there to be plenty of trees.  As I look around my neighborhood at all the dying trees here, I have this irresistible urge to plant more trees.  True, our lot already has many big trees because one of the first things we did when we moved here was to plant trees to give us shade on the burning hot, bare yard.  But surely there are still spots around the yard where I can tuck in another small understory tree.  I've already bought a pomegranate to plant this fall and I'm thinking about other small fruit or flowering trees for which I might be able to find space.  Trees, after all, are the future.

Yes, I think Carol has done it again.  She has given us universal truths that are as applicable in Southeast Texas, or indeed Southeast Asia, as in Indianapolis.  If I could only keep these twelve truths in mind and apply them, I think it might finally be possible to achieve perfect happiness in my garden.  Thank you, Carol!


  1. Carol does write a wonderful blog! I share your grieving heart. It's difficult to see all the dead/dying trees and not feel somewhat discouraged. Thank goodness we gardeners are a resilient lot! Of all the lessons, the one I'm most convicted of lately is the soil amending. For many years I just neglected the reality of healthy soil so I've been making a more serious effort to amend as I go now. It's a daunting task but a little effort throughout the gardening season is already paying off.

  2. Soil really is the beginning of everything, Cat, and I think most of us tend to not give it enough attention. Like you, I'm making an effort to improve my soil and give it the organic amendments that it needs. As a result, I'm hoping to see much improvement in the health of my plants in future.