Busy blackbird

When I interviewed for my last job, the panel asked me how I would cope in a situation where there was more work on my desk than I had time to do. The theoretical answers to that question are easy – prioritise, ask for help, get stuck in. When you’re faced with an overwhelming situation then it’s easy to forget the theory and to spend more time worrying about how you’re going to get everything done than doing anything useful.

Spring is the time of year when gardeners go from being frustrated that the weather isn’t good enough for gardening to being overwhelmed at the amount of work that needs to be done – which can happen in about 15 seconds. It’s easy to feel that you’ve lost control of the garden and that you won’t get it back until nature starts to slow down again in the autumn.

Busy bee

Spring is such a busy time, there will always be as much work to be done in the garden as you can find time for. So how do you deal with garden overwhelm? Here are some suggestions – if you’re struggling to keep up then use the ones that work for you and compost the rest!

  • Accept. Take a deep breath and accept that you can’t do everything. Have a cup of tea and sit and enjoy your garden.
  • Take time out. Go out, have some fun, pamper yourself. Take your mind off the To Do list and come back feeling refreshed. Make hay while the sun shines 🙂
  • Give time away. Research shows that doing things to help other people makes us feel more time rich.
  • Ask for help. A work party of friends may help you tackle the digging/ weeding in return for a picnic or a pizza, or a share of the surplus harvest later in the year. A helping hand from your family can make the work seem more fun, even if it’s still endless.
  • Prioritise. If it’s hot, then watering is probably most important, to maintain what you already have. Or it might be seed sowing, or transplanting. What’s most important for the plants at the moment? For you? Think ahead for a few weeks – what would you most miss if it didn’t grow?
  • Tackle. Write a To Do list of 10 items, the first things that come into your head. Stop at 10. Pick one item – the quickest, the most important or the most fun – and do that. It’s a start. Get out of overwhelm and into action.
  • Simplify. Are there ways to make like easier? Can you afford to buy in some young plants so that you can reduce your time on the sowing/ thinning/ potting on and planting out treadmill? Do you have an area you can plant with perennials, which need less work, and at different times of the year? Can you transition to a No Dig system? Could you put in raised beds, invest in a watering system or use larger containers? Work smarter, not harder. Gwenfar’s Garden blog is well worth a read for it’s concept of ‘Spoonie Veg‘, a way of explaining how much effort a takes plant to grow. Julieanne blogs about gardening with ME, but her advice is relevant to everyone who has more on their To Do list than they can manage 🙂
  • Scale down, postpone. Are you trying to do too much? Have you raised more plants than you have space for? Could you sheet mulch that weedy patch and come back to it next year? Reevaluate your goals for the garden this year, and see which could wait. The nice thing about gardening is that there’s almost always next year to look forward to.
  • Cut back elsewhere. Leave the housework. Cut back on socialising. Spend less time in front of the telly. Where is your time leaking away, and can you claim some of it back? It’s not forever, you’re not making irreversible changes to your lifestyle, you’re just concentrating on the garden for a few weeks. What else can wait?

Still water

Although I didn’t write that list in any kind of order, I think the most important one came out on top. My garden is important to me, but it’s only one of the things that makes demands on my time, and I very rarely feel that I can make it my top priority.

And so, as I said recently, my new garden is designed with overwhelm in mind – the hard landscaping cuts down on the amount of ‘work’ the garden needs, and I can easily shut down some of the garden if it’s getting too much. The garden isn’t finished, but the design is already doing its job and allowing me to concentrate on the things that are important and which I enjoy, with the ultimate goal of having a beautiful and productive outdoor space.

I have to accept that I can’t grow everything I want to grow this year, or any year. Gardening with time and space constraints is something we all face, to a greater or lesser extent, but it’s those constraints that fuel creativity and make our achievements so much more meaningful.

So how do you deal with garden overwhelm?

Beauty: the antidote to garden overwhelm