How to Enjoy Gardening More

, written by Jeremy Dore gb flag

Front vegetable garden

Earlier this year we asked gardeners using our website to tell us what their favourite and worst garden jobs were.  Most found it easy to name planting or weeding but a few people simply wrote that they loved it all.  I envy people who find such pleasure in an activity! Of course what motivates people to garden is usually a very personal thing and varies from a love of the outdoors to a desire for gourmet-style fresh kitchen ingredients. But I have always thought that there must be some common thread with those who ‘get it right’ and just love the whole experience.

It’s easy to identify the things that don’t deliver a good growing experience.  In my opinion there are a few types of gardening that claim to offer it all but actually fail to deliver that sense of satisfaction we strive for:

The Project Gardener: Many TV programs seem to focus on a goal-oriented mentality when showing gardens. It’s also commonly encouraged by magazines and books all promising ways to transform your garden: ‘Build a decking area in a weekend’ or ‘Create a herb-spiral in a day.’ Most DIY centres have large garden areas which are dependent, to a large extent, on the perpetuation of this myth that to be a real gardener you should have a series of successful projects, each providing the satisfaction of a ‘job well done’ before moving on to the next.
Why it doesn’t work: The problem with this approach is that the enjoyment is often postponed to the completion of another big garden ‘upgrade’ leaving little time to appreciate the results. The garden can all too easily feel like just another list of jobs to complete…

The Quick-Fix Gardener: Others want instant pleasure from their gardens – quick fixes are the order of the day to make the garden beautiful and productive with very little work. Garden centres are happy to oblige with plenty of ready-made solutions: 100 plug plants to transform a border, ready-planted hanging baskets and mature plants in huge pots. This approach brings instant gratification - gardens can be transformed adding colour and variety in just an hour or so - and it suits our consumer lifestyles. With the growing interest in edible gardening, even basic vegetables of all descriptions are available in these instant-fix packs.
Hoeing Why it doesn’t work: The problem with this approach is that by removing the challenges we find that gardening, like any other area of life, becomes less meaningful and ultimately less satisfying. Quick fixes don’t give the sense of achievement that we crave and we quickly grow tired of them, going from one gardening fad to another (and spending quite a bit of money in the process!)

The Ambitious Gardener: This is the gardener who has ideals of taking on a huge area to cultivate but can easily become overwhelmed by the extent of the work or problems in their garden. They often end up (after a year or so) resigned to just keeping it looking ‘respectable.’ People who have many other responsibilities or who struggle to find time for gardening often fall into this trap at one time or other, in the end gardening while feeling bad about it or becoming caught in the gap between what they wanted to achieve and what they can just about manage.
Why it doesn’t work: It’s not much fun running to stand still and even then making no lasting progress.

So what is the ideal way to enjoy gardening? As with many areas of life I think it’s all down to balance:
The Balanced Gardener knows that it’s better to tend a small plot well than to take on a garden that’s too big or too demanding for the time available at their stage of life. They have goals and aims in mind but enjoy gently working towards those goals, not postponing the pleasure until the goal is reached. In short, a balanced gardener will:

  1. Choose projects for their garden not just for the end result but because they will enjoy the work involved in getting there.
  2. Take time out to enjoy the garden as it is.
  3. Balance this with some hard work to gain a sense of achievement.

Personally, I tend to focus too much on being a ‘Project Gardener’ and forget to take the time out. At other times I have been an Overwhelmed Gardener but have recently cut back the area I am cultivating precisely to help boost the enjoyment. And it seems to be working so far – a balanced approach is making me a happier gardener and my vegetable plot is returning as a source of pleasure.  I’m not there yet – and certainly can’t say that I enjoy everything (weeding will probably never be a pleasure for me) – but the balance is definitely positive!

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Show Comments


"Gardening is not a 'job' to be fitted in with all the other jobs that busy people have to fit in their lives. My principle is to take pleasure in the little things that I can achieve in the time I allocate to it--even if that only be on one day deciding to tie back the raspberry canes, or look to see if I can pick a bunch of flowers. Little by little but then in a months time and looking back and seeing the difference--I am now keeping a photo library one month at a time of different patches of the allotment to record the difference one short month makes both from the natural growth pattern on nature and the impact that I have made. "
Dee on Friday 4 July 2008
"For me, baby steps are the answer. My garden in South Norfolk is heavy clay and stones, so making headway is slow work. Most of it is fairly rough grass which a semi-retired neighbour mows for me for a very modest sum - I can then concentrate on cultivating my small "potager" of 4 rectangular beds outside my kitchen door - I can even pull up a few weeds whilst waiting for the kettle to boil! I have grand plans, and a whole shelf of gardening books...but what I have is rewarding and productive enough for now."
Carole on Friday 4 July 2008
"Dee, Yes - exactly that - if gardening starts to feel like a 'job' to be fitted in then there's somethng wrong... hence this article. Both you and Carole mention that it's noticing the changes and small steps that can be done that are rewards in themselves and I suppose it's appreciating these that is the key. A photo library is a great idea - a friend of mine once kept a book of changes for their garden and it was wonderful to look back on."
Jeremy Dore on Saturday 5 July 2008
"I believe I fit into the Ambitious Gardener who early in the year thought right, I will do something with the raised bed (7m long by 1.1m wide) this year. Pulled out all the rubbish and enough large stones to rebuild Hadrians wall. I planted veg with the help of a couple of books and my neighbour. Having surprised myself and my husband, mainly myself, I decided to get an allotment. Whoops, even though they are only giving away half plots due to the demand,it now seems a rather large task, however I made this bed (excuse the pun) and it's for me lie in it. I will tackle it a bit at a time and hopefully have some of it ready for winter veg and all of it ready for next year!"
Maggie on Sunday 13 July 2008
"Yes, when I first got a half-allotment it was over-ambitious and gardening became less pleasurable. I would highly recommend getting some sheet cardboard (weighed down with bricks) or permeable black plastic sheet for all the spaces you can't reasonably tackle yet, so that at least the weeds are kept in check while you tackle it bit-by-bit."
Jeremy Dore on Monday 14 July 2008
"Attempted to dig the plot on Friday, I think your idea is a good one. Will start looking for cardboard. Another plot holder suggested glyphosate. Not too sure about using chemicals. "
Maggie Parker on Sunday 20 July 2008
"I'm from the USA (Minnesota). We live on a 240 acre farm. We have raised beds, but they are purely for intensive gardening, not for lack of space. We also have a traditional garden for our sweet corn, melons, pumpkins, squash, and potatoes. We have 14 raised beds close to our house and fire pit and shade tree. Our pleasure is working in each raised bed, and then taking a break (admiring and planning). My husband enjoys planting, I enjoy weeding and thinning. Then when the vegies are ready, my husband likes to pick and prepare them and I preserve them. I'ts ateam effort. It brings us together."
Linda Beach on Saturday 7 March 2009

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