Painless Gardening

The person who originally landscaped my yard chose flowers and bushes based on what they looked like in the nursery, without any consideration given to how much work they take to maintain or what they contribute.  Before RA I hated weeding the garden; it’s worse now that my hands ache for days after pulling weeds. Low-maintenance/high-yield plants would be ideal.

For instance, my low-maintenance lavender hedge is green all year and bears beautiful flowers in the summer.  Weeds aren’t a problem because I mulch heavily.  Instead of hand-pruning all the flower stalks, I take the weed-eater to them – either in autumn or spring, depending on the weather and when I get around to it.  I know some gardeners are appalled that I take a weed-eater to my lavender, but it’s quick and easy, and my plants are flourishing.  The weed eater can be wrapped with foam to make gripping it easier.

Some plants do well with a groundcover beneath – sort of a living mulch to keep down the weeds.  I recently put in a hedge of evergreen huckleberries, and underplanted the bushes with lingonberries.  Everything is heavily mulched to keep in the moisture and keep down the weeds until the lingonberries spread.

Mulch is your friend.  It holds moisture in the ground, which means less work watering.  It inhibits weeds, which means less work weeding.  It’s free!  Grass clippings make great mulch (provided your grass hasn’t gone to seed).

My high-maintenance landscaping?  With the help of a few friends, I’ve ripped most of it out and am happily learning about useful plants to take their place. My plant wish-list has gotten much longer than the space I’m looking to fill or my budget will allow, which means I’ll put in only some things this year, then spend the summer preparing new beds for the future. In addition to my aforementioned huckleberries, I’ve planted blueberry bushes and peach trees, and have some artichokes in the greenhouse to be planted out in mid-May.

It’s fun changing the landscaping in my yard to plants that will be easier to maintain.  If you’re inclined to take on a similar project, a few things have been helpful.  GoogleMaps let me zoom in on my house, which allowed me to get a perfectly-to-scale picture.  I was able to print it and use the picture as my “sketch” for writing in measurements and deciding on locations for the plants I want to put in.  Another thing I discovered is that local nurseries charge less than mail-order nurseries and generally carry plants that will grow well in your area.  That said, mail-order nurseries are a great source for varieties not stocked by the local nursery.


More tips:

  • Coat your hands with vaseline before donning your gardening gloves. They’ll be softer and easier to clean when you’re done.
  • Invasive plants like mint can be contained in pots.
  • If you want to grow herbs, make a plan as to where you’d like to grow them, but only add 2-3 per year so you get time to learn how to use them without being overwhelmed.
  • Herbs make good landscaping plants, and can cut down on your grocery bill. Sage and thyme are evergreens that are very easy to grow.  Stick them in the ground and ignore them until you need a few leaves.
  • Don’t be a slave to the zone maps.  Microclimates can let plants do well in areas that the experts say they shouldn’t.  For example, rosemary is labeled a tender evergreen, but mine is in outdoors in the ground and at six foot tall has survived weather down in the teens, simply by being in a slightly protected location.
  • Moisture-loving plants will do better by a swimming pool than will plants that like well-drained soil.
  • Lay a board on grass to kill it before establishing a new bed.  Keep it well-weeded for a year (or two) before putting in new plants.
  • Raised beds can be built 2-3 feet tall, which makes it possible to sit in a chair while tending plants.
  • Some of the garden planning software has a 30-day free trial period.  It’s nice to try before you buy (or determine you don’t want to buy).

Happy gardening!


13 thoughts on “Painless Gardening

  1. Hi there! At 70, I’m a NEW gardener, and my RA does affect what I can do. We started 2 years ago. Himself (my husband) built 2 raised beds about 4′ high, and put 4 – 8″ deep trays on them (concrete mixing trays from Ace Hardware). He set them up on the deck at the back of the house. The trays are 2×3′ so I have 12 sq feet for growing stuff. Also have some big containers for growing tomatoes. Those are the easy part. Even in a flare, I can go out and dig a little, compost a little (in another big container), and harvest a few tomatoes, some basil, oregano, rosemary, parsley, lettuce, spinach, onions, etc. We have some “rail boxes” – rectangular window boxes with grooves on the bottom to fit on a deck railing.

    BUT, today I went out beside the driveway, sat on a little garden seat wagon, and dug up a 2′ x 4′ area, dumped and mixed in a coffee-can of compost, and planted 14 sunflowers! By the time I had fallen off the dratted garden seat wagon, had my poor husband come out to help me get up, finished up, packed up the gorilla wagon, and tried to pull it, I knew I couldn’t walk back up and around the house to the back deck. So I had to call him to come get it, while I rode the stair lift up into the house from the garage! But I got that done. No more until the guy who cuts our grass comes. I’ll get him to mulch it with something. When I recover from today (wrists seem to be flaring already), I’ll finish planting the herb seeds. I have tomato, sweet pepper, and cucumber seedlings in the kitchen. Next year I will either have to start my seeds in January, or pay for plants (expensive!).

    As I said, all this is new for me. So my garden isn’t very well done compared to others, but we get a lot of stuff to eat out of it. For us, that’s what counts. And I’m surprised to discover how much I enjoy “digging in the dirt!”

    • Sorry to hear you fell 😦 Not a fan of technically “well done” gardens; I prefer “have fun and grow what you like” gardens. Isn’t it fun?! Do you use the SFG (square foot gardening) method in your raised beds?

  2. Very timely post. I spent the weekend clearing out the garden in front of my porch. Now I have to figure out what to do with that space. I don’t care much for gardening so I’m looking for low maintenance ideas. Thanks

    • For low maintenance, I prefer perennials that I can put in and mostly ignore. Annuals that have to be replanted year after year fall into my definition of high-maintenance 🙂 I also prefer evergreens because things that die back every fall require clean-up of the debris. Good luck finding easy plants 🙂

  3. Thanks, WarmSocks for a great spring post, teeming with helpful strategies to have fun gardening. The RA insights are priceless, as usual. What a great idea to use Google maps to map out your space. And, your herbal suggestions go well with gardening and eating habits. The weed eater tip is a very realistic, and dramatic shortcut for plant care.
    Your section with “more tips” helps a lot, too. It’s delightful to get the seasonal tips from someone with a Green (even with RA) thumb like yours. Happy Spring!

    I’m posting a link to your post on #HAWMC Day 15.

  4. You must have read my mind. I am getting the urge to garden but so far only have plans, nothing planted. I have mostly weeds because when the beds were mostly cleared last Fall, I was in no shape to do anything. So the grass and weeds have had full sway. However, I bought Preen and some seeds to make a small start. I figure to do a small patch of weeding, hit it with Preen and see how that goes. Great post, thanks so much.

  5. I tried google mapping my place but it doesn’t look too up to date. I don’t they have googled here in a while, 😦

  6. Hi Warm Socks,

    I work for a production company in London and I’m trying to get in touch with you about one of your clips on YouTube that we’d like to use in one of our shows. Can you send me an email on phyllida.o’ so that I can explain more and discuss a fee for the use of it please?


  7. I really enjoyed reading your article. I’m a gardener too and have rheumatoid arthritis. I’m also learning how to adapt the way I garden.

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