Thursday, July 24, 2014

Nancy J. Ondra: Three Tips for Keeping Up with Garden Chores

Here in New England, flower gardens are thick with blooms, early tomatoes are starting to blush, greens are lush, garlic is nearly ready for harvesting, and oh, the berries! But how to keep up with it all when time is tight? Author and gardener Nancy J. Ondra has three simple methods for maximizing efficiency and enjoyment in summer garden maintenance.

Once the flurry and excitement of spring planting is past, it can be challenging to keep up with the less-than-thrilling parts of gardening: routine chores such as grooming your flower borders, harvesting veggies, and weeding everything. A couple of tricks can make it easier to get motivated, though, and possibly even turn tasks that you’d rather avoid into enjoyable excuses for “me time” in your garden. Let’s look at a few simple garden tricks.

Keep your tools close. If you have to go hunting through the garage or shed every time you need to get some gardening done, you’re wasting valuable outside time. Buy an inexpensive bucket, add your garden shears, gloves, and whatever tools you prefer for weeding, and keep your kit in a spot where you can grab it and go out to the garden whenever you have a few minutes to spare. Use the bucket to gather the weeds or trimmings, then dump them into your compost bin when you’re done. Replace the tools in the bucket, and put it back so everything’s right at hand for your next work session.

Flower garden maintenance is easier when you have your tools at the ready.
Photo © Nancy J. Ondra

If you grow a lot of veggies, consider making a separate kit for handy harvesting. A bucket can work well here too, but my favorite container for this is a Tubtrug Colander from Gardener’s Supply Company, because the slotted sides make it easy to wash and drain the collected veggies before you bring them into the kitchen. Add a digging knife or hand fork for loosening the soil for root crops, as well as clippers for fruiting crops and an old pair of fabric shears or kitchen scissors for easily gathering greens.

Harvest and wash your vegetables in one simple step with a garden colander.
Photo © Nancy J. Ondra

Make it an event. Instead of dreading garden tasks, turn the time into a treat. If you enjoy companionship, maybe you can lure a friend or neighbor over for a speed-weeding or harvesting session with a cup of coffee and the promise of juicy gossip. If your life tends to be noisy and hectic, use the quiet time to meditate while doing routine tasks, or just enjoy the peace. Or, load your iPod with your favorite music or an audiobook. You’ll be surprised how much work you can get done while you listen to a chapter or two, and you’ll look forward to getting back outside for the next one.

Before: the dreaded unweeded border
Photo © Nancy J. Ondra

Turn your back on your work. Gardeners tend to be very generous with plants and seeds, but their good advice can be even more valuable than tangible things. One of the most useful tricks in my maintenance arsenal came from an experienced gardener many years ago, when I was just getting started. Her advice was to “back into your work”: in other words, orient yourself so you are always looking at what you’ve already accomplished. Instead of looking down the whole length of a border that needs to be dug, mulched, or weeded (as shown above), turn your back on the unfinished part and enjoy the view of what you’ve already accomplished (as in the photo below). Keep backing up as you work, and before you know it, you’ll be done. It’s such a simple thing, but if you give it a try, I think you’ll find it as useful as I have!

After: Free of weeds
Photo © Nancy J. Ondra
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Nancy J. Ondra is a garden writer and editor who owned and operated a small rare-plant nursery for six years. She is the author or co-author of a dozen gardening books, including Five-Plant Gardens,  Foliage (winner of the 2008 Book Award from the American Horticultural Society), The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer (winner of a 2006 Silver Award from the Garden Writers Association), The Perennial Care Manual, Fallscaping, and Grasses. She currently gardens in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and blogs at

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