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The hardest part of gardening (for me)


After you garden for awhile, you start to get a pretty good idea of what kind of gardener you are. Your style and approach to garden tasks becomes pretty clear.

And after two decades of gardening in some form, I think my weak point is clear: restraint.

As much as I know that restraint is good, that it leads to manageable, well-designed gardens with focus and purpose, I have a hard time achieving it. A rapidly expanding seed collection (by the way, the point is not to collect them, it’s to grow them and yet I’d need a botanical garden to grow everything I have) is a visible reminder even in winter of what’s happening in my garden.

But the thousands of seeds in careful dry, cool storage in my basement are not my main lack-of-restraint pain point. It’s the plants.

I love them.

I love them all.

And I want to grow them all.

Unfortunately that is not a recipe for good garden design.

Against all reason, I’m creating a new garden area along the driveway extending to the road. How I got here is a long story that, like a lot of my gardening projects, involves the removal of a large tree (emerald ash borer … again). But I’m  facing this new, large project with both trepidation and excitement. 

new garden
The new garden will be in area to the left of the driveway in this photo all the way from the driveway edge, past the small stream that runs through the area. For reference, you can see the vegetable garden on the far left edge of the photo and the screening garden I did a couple years ago to the right.

I’ve been working on it, either in my head or, for well over a month now, on paper, and for awhile I fooled myself into thinking that this new area with a naturalist planting area (with a twist; I always have a twist) would be easy to select plants for because of the specific site conditions and requirements.

I need plants for everything from full sun to shade and a lot of in between. Soil conditions will vary from average to riparian to dry shade. Everything must be easy care (the term low maintenance is so misleading, but you get the idea). And, above all: It has to be deer resistant.

Hakonechloa macra
Hakonechloa macra is an all-star plant. It looks great even in winter here.

I currently have a list of plants that would be enough to fill the Lurie Garden (and in fact, many grow there), and although this is a large gardening project for a home garden, there is no shoehorn that could fit these all in. 

Here’s just a sampling of the list, which has been pared down multiple times.

Edited to add: Rather than paring down this list, I’ve come back to edit this post just hours after it went up to ADD a few plants I forgot. I’m officially going backwards. Additions are in bold.


  • Astilbe chinensis ‘Visions’
  • Athyrium ‘Ghost’ (fern)
  • Calamintha nepetta ssp nepeta
  • Nepeta ‘Cat’s Pajamas’
  • White echinacea
  • Tiarella ‘Cutting Edge’
  • Epimedium (possibly ‘Pretty in Pink’)
  • Geranium macrorhizum
  • Actea
  • Sanguisorba
  • Pulmonaria
  • Eryngium yuccifolium (rattlesnake master)
  • Acontinum (monk’s hood)
  • Echinops ritro
  • Lobelia
  • Thalictrum
  • Veronicastrum virginicum
  • Pycananthemum muticum
  • Joe pye weed (which used to be Eupatorium but now it’s Eutrochium)
  • Alchemilla mollis
  • Achillea
  • Liatris spicata ‘Blazing Star’
  • Asclepias tuberosa
  • Stachys officinalis ‘Summer Romance’
  • Spigella marilandica (Indian pinks)
  • Baptisa (so many to choose from)
  • Echinacea pallida
  • Persicaria amplexicaulus ‘Golden Arrow’
  • Penstemon digitalis (possibly ‘Blackbeard’)
  • Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’


  • Sporobolus heterolepis ‘Tara’
  • Hakonechloa macra
  • Carex
  • Schizachyrium ‘Standing Ovation’
  • Bouteloua gracilis
  • Molinia caerulea ‘Transparent’


  • Cornus mas
  • Hypericum
  • Some shrubby evergreens, possibly a mugo pine
  • Ilex verticillata (winterberry)


Obviously that’s not going to work. So, there’s a lot of work to do here and I know it’s not right because I’m not settled about it. When I get a design (such as my sketches/plans are) right, I almost immediately know that the big work is done. 

For right now, I’m letting it marinate a little. Or maybe I’m mourning the loss of all the great plants I won’t be able to plant. I’ll get over it. But I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for those left behind.


I talked a little bit about my (obviously imperfect) design process and a bit more in this video.

26 Responses

  1. All of these comments make me nod my head and say “yup, that’s me.” I am all of you! Restraint has never been my strong point, and you’d think at 62, I’d understand it could be a good thing! ? I’m as many of you mentioned, beginning to understand I just can’t do it all anymore. I WANT to, but even my stacks and stacks… and stacks of seeds are beginning to overwhelm me. I have such high hopes in January and February… and then, they actually arrive and I panic. So, tomorrow, instead of planting them in seed starters… as I should have done in February or March, I’m going to throw them all in a bucket, add some sand, stir them around really well, and toss them into my flowerbeds. What comes up was meant to be, and what doesn’t… Well. Who am I kidding. I won’t know what didn’t come up because I won’t be able to find the seed packets for reference. LOLOL. GARDEN ON!

  2. A problem we all have. Let me know if you find a treatment. Looking at the plants I have already ordered, all the seeds I am starting this weekend, and a yard that already has no lawn I wonder where will I put them all. But I will find a place and offer many of my seed started plants to friends and family. With the world gone mad the garden is the only place I truly want to be.

  3. LOL… I tend not to worry about my “garden design”. I grow what I like. Most landscape designers would look at my yard and cringe… simply because it doesn’t mesh with what is popular these days. From all the compliments I receive from passersby I have to assume my garden is pleasing to the eye and not a god forsaken mess!!

  4. I loved the video. Watched the whole thing. So much info and personality. I am going to replace a bunch of Hostas with Epimediums and Hellebores, both of which I think take less maintenance than Hostas. I agree with the woman in her 70s. Now that I am in that decade, my ideas are still big but my energy is not what it was.

  5. Erin, I’m planting a fern new to me, Godzilla, which will hopefully live up to its name 3’x3’, at least. Maybe a space filler for your shady areas.
    I applaud your ambition to get the new garden in. I’m now going on 40+ years of gardening and know what others are saying. I used to be at it all day, now a few hours at a time. So get this big one in…we’ll be cheering you on!

  6. I worry about the same thing. I turned 62 in November and I keep adding more plants and flower beds. I have always gardened, but now I think about it 24-7, and I want to plant everything too. I blame this on you, Laura and Yulia. Ha I have never been so inspired. Thank you so much for all the inspiring videos and sharing your experiences. I’m starting seeds indoors this year for the first time.
    I say go ahead and plant what you want. The more plants, the less weeds. Right?

  7. Restraint when it comes to plants is not a trait I have either. My problem is that I want one of everything…when groupings of three or five of one kind would be a better choice and have a stronger impact. Unfortunately, my mom has even less restraint and three years ago we combined households and gardens – although we both have our distinct spaces in each – and she is getting older but still has big projects in mind. I worry that it will be more than we (or worse, someday just me) can maintain. Oh well, until then…more plants! 🙂

  8. YES!!! I have exactly the same problem: so many plants, so little space. As for your list, I highly recommend the Indian Pinks, the Baptisia (they’re all good!), and the Penstemon digitalis.

  9. I put in Aralia Sun King late in the season last year and the deer got after it pretty badly. I can’t remember if you have it somewhere else already or not. Our neighbors have it close to the house and it seems ok but they mowed mine down.

  10. Word to the wise…reality check here. Add 10 to 15 years to your current age. How many hours a week will you really truly be working in your gardens? 15 years ago I could easily work 6 plus hours a day maintaining my beautiful garden. Now, at 71, I can work @ 2 hours…take a 30 minute break, maybe 2 more hours.of work…depending on exactly what work I’m doing. That’s my current reality. I’ve been retired for a long time. That means more time to dream big, buy big, plant big. Now, trying to maintain all of this (on about 3:5 acres) is becoming a challenge. Still love it all, want to make changes, additions. But, at this time I’m having to make some changes. This year I had to hire out spreading 30 plus cubic yards of mulch to the younger body of my pool guy. And, the d-In-law I had who helped in the vegetable garden is no more. So. Just think about your future self and how much is going to be too much.

    1. This is a great point, Diane and as I look back on what I accomplished in my garden 10 years ago and realize how long it would take me now, I know what you are saying. The good news with this garden is that it’s significantly lower maintenance than any of the garden areas I currently have. Not no maintenance to be sure, but once established it shouldn’t require as much time as many other areas.

    2. So smart! I revamped several perennial beds last fall. Designed in the early 2000s, they were 15 years old. It was a huge undertaking, but at 65, I decided to get it done while I was able. They WONT be redesigned by me 15 years from now, when I’m 80 ( if I’m still alive!)

    3. Oh so true! I’m 74 and still take care ofost of my gardens. But I don’t have a watering system other than me moving the sprayer. But I still dream and go to the garden center and come home trying to find a spot!

    4. Absolutely! A useful heads up. At 78 I can testify to the limits age enforces upon a body, considering creaky, arthritic knees, shoulders, wrists and hands. I garden with the help of dear friends’ younger selves. In addition to answering their questions about plants, I gain the joy of their energy and laughter. I am happier for their help and fellowship.

  11. My Hypericum did not survive. ( Western Suburb of Chicago.) I know that they used to have it at the Chicago Botanic Garden by the big waterfall, or they did. Maybe try and see how it does for you, but not devote many of them, in case of tragedy! Joe pye weed gets huge! Everything sounds great! Good luck, can’t wait to see how it goes! And grows!
    I’m going to try the spigella this year also, I have heard it needs some fungus or something in the soil, but I’m going to try it anyway. I saw this neat 4K relaxation video on you tube that featured a nature walk that it was flowering amongst other wildflowers, I think the walk was out west. The walk was 4 hours long, so I kept going back to it whenever I was on the phone with my mom, for calming purposes! But anyway, the spigella is shown near the beginning of the video, if you’re interested. Love your videos, especially your point of view and humor!

    1. Good tip on the hypericum; thank you. I’ve not tried it before so it’s helpful to know your experience. That video sounds quite lovely. Spigella was all over the place when I was in Pennsylvania last summer. I never paid much attention to it before.

  12. Riparian-relating to wetlands adjacent to rivers or streams. Relating to or situated on the banks of a river. I HAD TO LOOK IT UP.

  13. Your list is missing Caryopteris (blue mist spirea), the most important plant in any yard. You should definitely go back and add that.
    Am I helping?

  14. Pretty sure that you need to add the deer resistant Proven Winner Gin Fizz Juniper to your list of trees and shrubs 🙂

  15. Same. At least you manage to make it all come together beautifully; I feel like my garden looks like a crazy lady lives here. Oh wait….
    On that note, I MUST have a welsh onion like yours, so I started some Allium fistulosum from seed last year but I’m not convinced they’re going to develop into the lovely structured plant that you’ve got. They were Botanical Interests seeds called Tokyo bunching onions, basically a scallion. Maybe I need to give them a couple years? Any ideas?

  16. As my Dearly Beloved always says “You have a 10 acre imagination for a 1/4 acre garden”. I know that feeling. Isn’t it fun to be planning though.

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