Neil Sperry

Need to cut back on gardening responsibilities? Here are some tips to make it easier.

A great garden in a small space

Jake and Sharyn Schaffer's patio garden in San Luis Obispo makes the most of the small landscaping space.
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Jake and Sharyn Schaffer's patio garden in San Luis Obispo makes the most of the small landscaping space.

That tray was more than I could carry back then when I was a kid going through the line with my folks at Hotard’s Cafeteria in Bryan. They had all of my favorite (great!) foods that Mom never cooked, and I seemed to pick up more than a boy could ever eat.

Dad never seemed to notice. John Hotard and I have laughed about that the several times that we’ve visited since we both went on to do other things with our lives. But I had dreams back then. And big eyes. And arms just long enough to reach all those great foods.

I went on to garden (and to talk and write and about it for a living). And I’ve always had those same kinds of dreams – I’ve gardened to excess. Daylilies? 500 varieties. Haworthias? 400 varieties. Aloes? 90 of those.

Santa Claus chocolate molds so I could pour and paint Santas. Hundreds of them. Carving tools so I could carve and paint Santas. Sure. Gourds so I could design and paint Santas? Scores. Mom’s old Singer so I could quilt and build standing Santas. I have dozens of jackets ready to go.

Antique clocks. Antique radios. Wife. One wife. One loving wife who has put up with all of my nonsense for now 52 years and hopefully many more to come.

So when I write about learning to cut back on gardening responsibilities, I do so from a position of experience. You learn that some tasks like digging trenches and moving boulders just aren’t as easy as they were when you were 30.

You learn that grandkids are more fun than pulling weeds in the heat. So that’s why I’ve learned to alter my gardening lifestyle to fit where I am today. Here are my suggestions that have worked for me. Don’t be surprised if you find that these will work perfectly for gardeners of all ages. They might work for you.

Some tips toward easier gardening …

  • Plant only the best-adapted types of plants. Let others experiment with new plants, or if you want to experiment yourself, at least do so on a limited basis.
  • Have a plan for your plantings. You’ve been around long enough to know that striking out without driving directions or a good GPS guide is a great way to get lost.
  • Don’t be afraid to scale the size of that plan down to a manageable level. When I was in college I had a room, no, a windowsill on which I could garden. I spent Sundays combing through garden centers dreaming of what a nerdy plant geek would do when he got out of school. And now we all know. But I’ve also abandoned three gardens that were just more than I could maintain in recent years. They’re back in turfgrass. It was just time to move things closer in. I don’t regret it. I’m glad I don’t have to worry about getting way out there to water and weed.
  • Do your homework ahead of time. Know what plants are going to do best in your city and in your specific situation. Don’t buy on impulse. Use your smart phone to see how others have liked that plant in your locale. Better yet, find the nursery owner or manager (hopefully you’re in an independent retail garden center) and ask him or her, “Am I about to make a mistake if I buy this plant?” Get that person involved. Give them part ownership in your decision. That moves any of us to a new position of honesty. If I see you pulling around a wax myrtle or a bald cypress I’m not going to stop you and tell you that I’ve put them on my own personal “Never again, Neil” list, but if you ask me what I think about them, I most certainly will.
  • Invest in quality. Look for healthy, vigorous plants. I’d rather pay a few dollars more for a plant that is robust than to buy some weakling that is likely to die in its first weeks in my garden. And buy tools and supplies that will hold up for years. They’ll make your life immensely easier.
  • Keep things simple. Tasteful, uncomplicated garden designs are much easier to maintain. They’re also charming. We lose sight of the fact that the landscape is the “frame” to the picture (your house), and that it should augment, not overwhelm the star of the show.
  • Use color wisely. Annual flowers and foliage are often the lowest-care way of perking up a garden. That’s because they will be colorful for months in a row. Perennials bloom for a couple of weeks, then they go dormant for the following 50 weeks, so that requires that you have many kinds of perennials blooming in succession. Flowering shrubs are the same way. Use large pots of annuals to highlight color near entryways and on patios. They’re easier to change out and move around as you need to.
  • Get to know your plants by name. That’s the only way you’ll be able to anticipate their needs and predict any problems they might encounter. Knowing a plant’s name will let you quickly research any outbreak you start to see you can quickly step to its rescue.
  • If you hire help to install or repair your sprinklers or work on your trees, ask for credentials and references. Use the best, even if they cost a little more. You’ll never regret getting help from the best in the business.

You can hear Neil Sperry on KLIF 570AM on Saturday afternoons 1-3 pm and on WBAP 820AM Sunday mornings 8-10 am. Join him at www.neilsperry.com and follow him on Facebook.

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