It’s okay to clear the garden and start again

Around this time each year, with the heat of summer sending the lettuce to seed and sending us indoors, I usually fall out of love with gardening. I don’t feel like cooking, so the herbs go unharvested. The lettuce, spinach, and other greens bolt, going bitter and sending up more flowers than I can pinch off.

Having neglected to harvest as much as I could have, I tell myself I’ll just let them go to seed so that I can collect and replant those seeds. But then the garden becomes dry, overgrown, and scraggly, and slugs and other pests decimate the leaves. Only the tomatoes keep me interested throughout the season. If I’m lucky, I remember the rest of the garden in time to plant lettuce and peas for the fall.

This year, I’m trying something different. Seeds are inexpensive and plentiful. Instead of waiting for my lettuce to go to seed, I’ll simply pull them up and start new plants. This keeps the garden feeling more orderly, and gives me more sprouting to enjoy and look forward to. Maybe I’ll even walk to the florist at the corner and buy more seedlings to take advantage of the warmth and sun. Maybe beets or zucchini? I’m clearing a few squares at a time so that I can stagger the planting and keep things manageable. Perhaps the rest of the lettuce and the peas will have fully developed their seeds by the time I get around to pulling them up. I think this will be better than waiting for the whole box to finish. At least I’ll always have something on the go.

Someday, when I’m more of a gardener–perhaps when I have heirloom variants that are hard to find and easy to enjoy–I’ll look into saving seeds again. In the meantime, I’m still working on developing that summer-long habit of gardening, and I enjoy the exciting days of sprouting.

Where else in my life am I letting things go to seed unnecessarily? What else would benefit from pulling things up and starting fresh? Sewing, perhaps. I have a lot of scraps and patterns I haven’t looked at or used. Writing, too – lots of snippets and outlines that I haven’t fleshed out. Sometimes it’s good to clear things out and start again (perhaps with a smaller goal, perhaps with more deliberate attention). That way, the remnants of past decisions don’t weigh down enthusiasm.

How about your garden? How about your life?

  • Michelle Ockers

    I recently started a vegetable garden. I live in Sydney so it’s winter here. It just started raining as I write this which delights me as I won’t need to water the garden tomorrow. Many years ago someone close to me said ” You plant a lot of things” – true, but then I don’t always look after them properly and they due, so I have to start again. I lose focus if I am working on too many projects at once. Prioritisation, focus, and seeing things through are lifelong learnings for me. I recently gave away my fish tank so I would have more time to water the garden. This made me happy. I enjoy reading your blog Sacha – thank you for writing. Michelle

    • You’re welcome! I plant few things compared to the variety I can find in shops, but even that variety can be hard to take care of. =) Still, it’s fun getting lots of practice in seeing things through in the garden!

  • Timothy Kenny

    Hey, I just put up my first course on uDemy about creative genius and it reminded me about our interview…I was re-listening to it and looking over what you’ve been up to and I saw this one on gardening.

    I went for more simple this year. I too the bed that was most in the shade and let it lie fallow since it was the one that got the least sunlight. I also accidentally let all my spinach go to see (half a bed’s worth) but otherwise all the plants are going great.

    I’m focusing this year on structuring the growth of the plants more. Instead of just letting them grow wildly in every direction, I’ve got lots of stakes set up and twine going back and forth to structure the climbing vines onto (picture is month old so the twine isn’t up yet).

    I also learned from on of my gardening mentors/next door neighbors that I was WAAY overwatering my squash and pumpkins (closest bed), which was the cause of this white fungus that was eating at all the leaves last year. It had started coming back again this year and once I stopped watering every day the fungus stopped growing and hasn’t been a problem since. I now only water once a week because we get enough rain to keep them all going fine. And when I do water now instead of watering from the top down and getting the leaves wet, which spreads diseases, I just water the soil underneath so the roots can get it.

    When I look at my motivations now, it’s all about very simple feedback loops. My brain only “learns” to enjoy things if I associate more pleasure to it, and every time I force myself to do something it actually hurts my chances of staying with it long term.

    I am growing one new plant this year, the bed behind the squash/pumpkins, which are climbing green beans. The funny thing about them is that they grow so fast they have already reached the top level of the 5 foot poles you see there. I couldn’t find any taller stakes so I tried to continue growing them DOWN the opposite side. It’s been working to an extent, but I came out this morning and I found this one vine which I had taken off it’s normal path to get it to grow downwards, AWAY from the sun, and it had actually uncoiled like 2 or 3 feet of it’s green climbing limb so that it could undo all my training and go back up towards the sun.

    I think the sun is like following your muse or intuition or your natural curiosity. And adding the arbitrary training on top can end up creating this mangled growth limb that just tangles on itself. Another one of the bean vines snapped when I was trying to re-train it, so it just stopped growing vertically and has a stump. But what I learned from my gardening mentor is that this type of pruning is actually good for the plant because it tells it to stop focusing on endless growth of new step and leaves and instead start putting out flowers and bear fruit.

    Over the past year I spent a lot of time building systems so that I can prune off projects when I lose the motivation and then come back exactly where I left off months or even years later and not have lots anything because everything is so well organized now. The systems and organization give me total freedom to switch around and not feel guilty about pruning because in the end I’m not losing anything by pruning that project and putting it away for later.

    • That looks like a promising vegetable bed! =)

      My gardening role model/crush is Mrs. Wong, a woman up the street who has a front yard garden teeming with vegetables and who gives us tips (and the occasional seedlings, yay!). She gets full sun though, so I don’t feel too bad about my struggles in part-shade.

      If you slant your poles in something like a teepee shape and then add horizontal poles connecting them, your beans can grow along the horizontal too. If you weave your supports together, you can get more stuff growing up the middle as well. I don’t do this because I squirrel-proof my vegetables by growing them in a large cage (so my vines just tend to go along the top of the cage), but Mrs. Wong always has PVC-and-twig contraptions mid-summer. =)

      I had the first ripe blueberry from our front yard bushes this week: a tiny explosion of flavour. It reminded me of your story about trying to plant enough blueberry bushes to fill a pie. ;)

      I’ve been reflecting a lot on philosophy these days, having decided to use some of my leisure time to experiment with Aristotle’s ideas on how you can live a good life. =) I keep a light hand on my interests, not forcing myself down one path or another. As you’ve found, forcing yourself doesn’t help. Easier to wrap things up nicely and focus on what’s in season.

      I’m slowly learning to prune, too. (Oddly enough, I got better at that in life before I worked up the nerve to do it in gardening.) I cut back the lavender, and they’re much neater now that they don’t have to grow around dried branches. We have some twiggy shrubs that grow a little exuberantly; now I think of them as free stakes. I pinch flowers off basil and trim the leaves, and they grow back even bushier. Someday I might even learn to thin seedlings! ;) Nature is funny.

      I’m all for keeping things sorted out so that you can leave projects and come back whenever you want. =) I usually do this by taking lots of notes on my blog. Comments on old posts are great for showing me other people’s interests and nudging me to check if it’s a good time to come back. I also leave the occasional task for assistants to crunch away on while I’m focusing on other things. What kinds of systems do you have in place?

      • Timothy Kenny

        The two most important ones both involved coming up with an ontology or taxonomy of all the different documents I have and more generally the different areas of my life that those documents and files relate to. I studied lots of different systems other people use, like to organize their house or family documents and combined the best parts of all of them to create a system that was best suited for me, but also gave me room to expand in the future without falling apart.

        Then came the business ontology. That was the most difficult. The systems out there separate business into 5-10 categories or more, and that’s way too much for me. I broke it down into 3. Innovation, Marketing, and Operations. Everything can fit into one of those 3 categories. Then there are differences in companies based on what they make and how they sell it.

        For example, I don’t have supply chain or physical products to transport so I don’t have those categories. But the great thing about the project was it forced me to break down my entire business into a flow chart like system, and figure out what categories and sub-categories and templates and folder directory skeletons would work for each part and so they could scale over time.

        I’ve realized that my brain will always have just a very small amount of RAM, I think of it like my old laptop that I use now for doing writing (and no internet) that can only handle opening 3 or 4 tabs in chrome before it starts to slow to a crawl, and no matter what I do I will have to find a way to simplify and organize things so that I can manage whatever I build with that very small amount of multi-tasking ability.

        The second part was I had to mirror this system (with some alterations) to the physical world. I keep as much in 3 ring binders as possible, but I’ve recently started using these roughly 1 foot cubed carboard boxes to store everything in my office and it makes staying organized a lot easier.

        The force of entropy that used to constantly cause piles to build and disorder to form is replaced by a perfectly clean desk every day. I keep a spreadsheet with what is in each box and a label on the front and I don’t have to even see all the junk that is inside them.

        I realized that one of the biggest issues was the friction that occurred every time I had something and just didn’t know where to put it. If I didn’t close the loop it would add a little bit of stress and those little pieces built up over time because somewhere in the back of my head I was trying to keep track of all the stuff.

        There are still small pockets of disorder but every week I chip away at it, and I can see what the final result will be like because I figured out the overall system first.

        One of the challenges with such a large system is just remembering all the different parts of it and how it’s organized. I haven’t perfected that part of it yet but XYplorer has a good function for spitting out a directory tree which could be printed or possibly turned into a mindmap or graph of some sort. I think you can do that in Google sheet charts if you set up the data right.

        • Systems are awesome. Thanks for sharing yours, and good luck with making your map!