An Autumn Gardener’s Motto

Only work in the garden until …

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY TIM FOLEY

Goodness, the vegetable garden is finally—well almost, if truth be told—put to bed for another year. It is the exact same thing I’ve been doing for years: piling on top of the raised beds scads of mulched leaves, turning that over and leaving it rough, and then piling more leaves on top. It’s kind of a lazy man’s form of lasagna composting, but it works for me—I guess because I’m on the lazy side of the gardening seesaw.

Farmer chilling in the garden

In the Spring, I add compost and occasionally cow manure and turn it again, and then I’m ready for another growing season. But this year it just seemed to take me longer. No, wait, it definitely did take me longer. Kathy, my wife/boss, said I was getting too old for all that hard work. I countered that the hard work kept me younger. I suppose it could be a little of both. After all, I turn 75 in a little over a month.

Why do I insist on doing things the same way I did 30 or 40 years ago?

I imagine I should plan on chores taking just a little longer, actually—there is nothing wrong with taking more time.

Is there?

There is no rule governing how much time I should devote to a particular task.

Is there?

Why do I insist on doing things the same way I did 30 or 40 years ago? Do I simply resist the idea that I am aging? My bones do seem to ache a bit more, which I often notice when I get up from bed or a chair. But a little grunt seems to help. I’ve also developed arthritis in my right wrist. I used to get steroid shots, which worked at first. But my last shot, let’s see, the beneficial effects lasted—oh, about five minutes. An unpleasant surgery is now planned.

Maybe I should focus on taking less time—at a time. I should heed the maxim I made for myself 20 years ago: “Only work in the garden until it becomes work.” I created this dictum during a Spring cleanup. After getting lazy over the Winter months and then getting hyped about the gardening season, I’d start my clean-up the first part of March and toil until it was done in only a few days—like there was a big reason it had to be done so quickly. A year or two of that gardening marathon and I began to dread the whole process. I didn’t want anything to take away my love of gardening and the lovely earthy smell of the soil, so I came up with my motto.

With it in mind, Spring clean-up now takes me about a month from start to finish; not necessarily because I have that many plants, but because I only work until it becomes work. When it does, I rest, have a beer, or partake in some other leisurely pursuit. I might only work an hour, perhaps three, but whenever I hit the “wall”—I walk away. I might come back later in the day; it may be tomorrow or even the next. But I know I’ll never dread gardening again.

As a landscape designer, I created another version of my motto for my clients. If they tell me they are concerned about maintenance, I tell them, spend thirty minutes in the garden first thing every morning, and you’ll never have a maintenance issue. Plus it’s a great way to start the day!

Alas, not every yard project can be broken into 30-minute pieces. Indeed, yet another big Autumn project was on the horizon: Winterizing our patio. I hate this job the most as it gets more difficult every year. After I install a frame of two-by-fours for support, I wrap our thirty-by-eighteen-foot redwood patio with six-mil plastic. We, like most homeowners in America or quite possibly the entire world, don’t have enough storage space for pots, outdoor furniture, etc. It’s just easier for us to leave everything on the patio than trying to find somewhere else to store it for the Winter. The rest of the backyard is landscaped with gardens and destination retreats, so no, I don’t have a place for another shed. Last year, it took me two days working about four hours each day to finish the Big Wrap.

This year, my wife/boss said, “Why don’t you enlist Ben to help you?”

Ben is a really handy neighbor in his thirties. Why not, I thought, and when asked, he didn’t hesitate to help. We did the whole project in two hours! Although, I did have to pay him a Bud Light. I had one, too. I guess at my age, any time you can delegate or arrange assistance—more power to you. I must thank the wife/boss for that one, too. She should be in a safety and time management position somewhere. Heavens, I believe she already is.

I digress. As I recall, I have to get back to my raised vegetable beds. I still have about half of them to turn over and spread leaves over the top. Even if I am 75, I don’t imagine it will take me more than 30 minutes.

If it does, I know what to do.

You do, too, right?


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