Hartley Magazine

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Tips for Easier Summer Gardening—When tasks are huge, go small

A grape arbor can provide the perfect antidote to overwhelm with small summer pastimes, like pinning up stray vines, and discovering ripening fruit

Each year, at some moment in the gardening season, I’m overwhelmed by what needs to be done. The weeds are burgeoning, the midday heat limits my garden time, and every border or bed demands attention. But I have a work-around for overwhelm.

The secret? I think small. I choose one area, one tiny area, and focus on that. I dive in to make that part exactly the way I want it. And when the weeds call out? I don’t stress (much). I return to that small place that’s satisfying. After all, I’ll get a chance to tackle other tasks in the fall, and winter will knock the whole garden down again—even the weeds.

Velcro garden tape easily supports growing tomato vines.

You can do this too. If you’re feeling that seasonal garden stress, pick a pint-sized project that you’ve been putting off because there are all those OTHER chores. Do that undertaking first. The trick here is to look for an activity that will result in a rewarding change. Maybe it’s spending a morning bringing order to your greenhouse. Or planting beans with your kids. Or it could be training tomato plants to a structure.

I usually turn my tomatoes loose to grow in wire cages, but this year, I thought I’d try tomatoes espaliered to bamboo poles. The initial setup wasn’t hard and didn’t take a lot of time. Now it’s so much fun to visit them in the early morning to see how they’ve grown. Sometimes the stems appear to elongate by inches overnight. The easy tip here—I attach the new growth with Velcro garden tape. It’s soft and strong, easily cut, and reusable year after year. Old pieces can be stuck to each other for the perfect length. I keep a roll of tape near the tomatoes with scissors handy.

Refurbishing this water fountain is a small task with big rewards. (Glass art – Barbara Sanderson)

I also reconstructed a small water feature with a fountain that has held a permanent spot on our deck for many years. The large container was leaking. I took the contents out, sprayed the inside of the pot with a sealant, and put it all back together with a new pump and a timer that turns it off at night—much less attractive to our raccoons. I returned the water sedges (Carex morrowii ‘Variegata’) to the edges of the container—along with a tiny, but very loud, green frog. The tip here for easy-care water features—add plants, marginal or floating. They will out-compete green algae and keep the water clear. The burbling fountain gives me (and the green frog) so much enjoyment, far outweighing the small effort I put into it.

So, what doable task could you focus on that would bring you great rewards? It’s about finding what you love, and what you can deal with easily. Let’s not weed right now.