How To Re-ignite Your Passion In The Garden

Gardeners are perfectionists. We give ourselves high marks for weed free, mulched, pruned, and manicured gardens.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love to flip through the pages of a glossy magazine gazing at magnificently coiffed gardens as much as anyone.  Who doesn’t?

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When I was a beginning gardener, I started with a velvet red climbing rose bush that I bought at the grocery store.

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Over the next 10 years, I turned my garden into a showcase. I learned, experimented, tore out, renovated, dug up, made mistakes, and created a haven.

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But as the word got out about my garden and I was asked to be on garden tours, my mildly obsessive nature turned into a full blown case of ‘OMG, this place has got to look perfect when they come.”

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My love of gardening had been overtaken by a sense of self imposed responsibility.

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Over the next couple of years, against my conventional wisdom but following my heart, I started to let things go. I no longer religiously weeded my hill of lavender and Russian Sage. I stopped edging the end of a long bed, leaving the huge perennial grasses to their natural inclination of breaking the boundaries.

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I was learning to surrender, to not have the need to control. No more tours but friends were always welcome.

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My profile went down in the world of ‘garden showcasing’, but I was back to loving the process of gardening; digging, feeling the dirt in my hand, and plucking fresh tomatoes off the vine.

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I am now designing a new garden for myself, a rooftop in a Mediterranean climate. This time around, I’m purposely not checking out other gardens and am having a blast. When a landscape architect friend of mine recently came to visit, he hesitatingly told me how charming and quaint my garden was and then proceeded to tell me that he would have designed it differently.

The good news is that I didn’t give a rat’s ass what he thought. When he left, I giggled and said to myself ‘You’ve come a long way baby.’
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About Fran Sorin

Fran’s book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, now considered a classic, was groundbreaking when published as no one had written about gardening in the context of creativity, spirituality, and transformation.

In addition to being a recognized garden expert and deep ecologist, Fran is a broadcaster, journalist, Ordained Interfaith Minister, and Soul Tender.

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21 Responses to How To Re-ignite Your Passion In The Garden

  1. Lisa at Greenbow October 18, 2011 at 4:47 am #

    You have found true freedom. It is beautiful too.

    Lisa…thank you. it is a wonderful way to garden and live. Fran

  2. Cathy October 18, 2011 at 6:35 am #

    Fran, you are a woman after my own heart. I SO hear you about the perfectionism thing. You took the words right out of my mouth LOL.

    We participate in one tour only, and that is our choice. To keep this garden “perfect” for all the tours we are invited to be on would take a crew of six and I’d get an ulcer trying to maintain it.

    My husband loves to show off the garden on a large regional tour we participate in each June. It used to be a month long near round-the-lcock nightmare to get ready for it. When my health took a big step backward a few years ago, we hired someone to help us create perfection for that one day. We discovered that by bringing in help, we could actually sleep during that month so we still get help to get ready for the June show. But then we simply enjoy “working” the garden ourselves, together, after that.

    I especially admire the fact that you created your newest garden simply to suit you. Brava! (To both your newest garden and to your observation that “You’ve come a long way…”.)

    Kathy…
    How blessed we are at GGW that you participate and bring such depth, wisdom, vulnerability, and humor to the discussion. It sounds like you’ve got the June tour under control by hiring help. A smart thing to do. To have the entire summer and fall in your garden….just for yourselves is a gift. And that deck of yours….well, give me a b-b-q, some fresh tomatoes with basil and a glass of wine….I’d be one happy camper. Warmly, Fran

  3. Joni Holland October 18, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    Loved this well written piece. Am still waiting to ‘relax’ about my garden. There is a certain thrill when all has been mown and blown, tidied and irrigated. I’m much better at relaxing about the ‘inside’ than the out!

    Joni…
    I hear you. You always have to give something up in order to make changes. Only you can decide what works best for you. Am glad you enjoyed the piece. Fran

  4. kim shields October 18, 2011 at 9:16 am #

    love it! we all need to get back to the basics of why we love gardening.

    Kim…I couldn’t agree more about returning to the ‘basics’. Am glad you enjoyed the article. Fran

  5. valentine October 18, 2011 at 9:22 am #

    Thank you for being someone else who has given up control. I find myself in the minority. How refreshing to read this article…good for my wild soul… And the child in me.

    Valentine….
    With pleasure. Anyone who thinks in terms of their ‘wild soul’ and the ‘child in them’ is someone for whom I feel an affinity. Giving up control is a relief…and a wonderful way to live each day. Fran

  6. Susan in the Pink Hat October 18, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    Awesome post. It reminds me of a quote I read from Anna Pavord recently: “‘A garden is a process not a product.’ In the hands of a garden designer, it has little option but to become a product.” Although, it makes me question the motivation of many garden bloggers out there. I wonder if many bloggers are only blogging out of, as you put it, “self-imposed responsibility.” There is certainly pressure to look incredible, for why would anyone pay you any credence if your garden was otherwise?

    Susan…
    I’ve often thought about that. As I said in my post, it is part of our culture. And yet, if nature is used as a model, it’s messiness/non-perfection is part of what we love. In today’s Western world, the way we live and what we value is a bundle of contradictions. All the more reason why each of us needs to find our own way. Fran

  7. Lorene October 18, 2011 at 11:27 am #

    “…no more tours, but friends were always welcome.”

    Thank you for that. My husband has long ascribed to this notion – and after 3 back to back tours this summer I’m beginning to see the wisdom. I want my garden back… as a place of refuge, comfort, expression, and delicious food.

    Lorene…
    It sounds like you’re ready to return to your gardening….just for you. And it sounds like you’re husband will be quite happy about it. Keep me posted. Fran

  8. Mary Ellen Gambutti October 18, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

    Fran, I love it all! From the manicured to the Mediterranean…beautiful!

    Mary Ellen…
    Thanks for your note. I too love several types of gardens…but just too much work for my personality type. Fran

  9. donna October 18, 2011 at 11:34 pm #

    My landscape designer friend tells me I would make a bad client because I don’t “do what she says”. She got annoyed with me a couple weeks ago for buying a new tree impulsively on the spot when she thought I should wait and find a better looking one. And then turns around and says how she loves my cottage garden style…

    But hey, I love my garden and have fun in it. ;^)

    Donna..
    Pretty darn funny! I’m a fan of strong willed individuals and sure sounds like you are. Your intuition served you well in buying that tree….and you’re right…as long as you love your garden, that is all that matters.
    Cottage garden? Just love them. Kudos to you! Fran

  10. Mihcael Unger October 19, 2011 at 1:42 am #

    Your story of rediscovering your passion has truely touched my heart.

    Michael…
    Your note is one of the reasons I ‘put myself out there’ in the blogosphere. Thank you. Fran

  11. Vicky October 19, 2011 at 6:18 am #

    I never thought about being a perfectionist because I enjoyed gardening. But you are absolutely right. And that trait has made me not so happy with gardening any more. From now on, I am following your lead. Let the weeds go .. and get out and enjoy my garden more.
    Vicky

    Vicky-
    Great that you’re going to give it a try without feeling compelled to weed a lot. Fran

  12. The Intercontinental Gardener October 19, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    Your story is so true – it is so easy to get lost in thinking too much about others and too little about one’s own needs… Lovely story, lovely garden, lovely journey; thanks, Fran for sharing.

    Liisa….am so glad you enjoyed. What I’ve learned over the years in my garden I try to use in other areas of my life. It’s a challenge but a worthy one. Warmly, Fran

  13. Cheryl October 19, 2011 at 4:09 pm #

    I always enjoy reading the posts but this one touches a critical challenge – the “product” referred to in another comment.

    It is the fine line between landscaping and gardening – process and product. There is less future for our industry – less possibility – in the pursuit of landscaping. Thank you!

    Cheryl…
    How right you are that it’s a fine line. You know, when I became a ‘serious’ gardener, I used to be judgmental about gardens that I felt were ‘kitsch’ or didn’t fit into my definition of beauty.
    Ha! Now I am happy just to see folks getting their hands in the dirt and gardening. If the act of gardening pleases them, the rest doesn’t matter. Warmly, Fran

  14. Town Mouse October 19, 2011 at 6:18 pm #

    I’m still putting my garden on the Native Garden tour. I hope that visitors will get closer to a new aesthetic and appreciate gardens don’t have to look like those in the magazine.

    That said, I don’t recommend you open your rooftop garden for touring ;-> And I’m so glad you’re enjoying yourself.

    Town Mouse….Good for you. When is the Native Garden Tour? My rooftop garden not being worthy of being on a garden tour? I agree. As I said in the post, it’s not on my list of things I want to do again in this life. Fran

  15. oogren October 19, 2011 at 11:17 pm #

    Thank you for your heart-warming and thoroughly sensible piece. It is worth bearing in mind that it is a fool’s task to exercise control over Mother Nature. I will remind myself of your sentiments next time I’m frazzled with the details and trials of my new garden.

    Olivia,
    A new garden? How exciting! Am glad that you feel that my words might prove useful to you. Warmly, Fran

  16. Jane October 20, 2011 at 4:56 am #

    Love your garden for YOU and YOU alone xxx

    Jane…And I absolutely love your blog. Did you design it? Your sweet words touched me. Warmly, Fran

  17. Andrea October 21, 2011 at 12:47 am #

    Wow congratulations for the contentment and wisdom! In the past i have also been criticizing my mother’s style of gardening, that is very chaotic and disorderly in my mind. Her fingers are all green that every top or stem she put on the soil grow, so the result is the chaotic garden. And I totally dislike it. Sometimes I alter but it will return again where it came from. After many years I maybe changed my perspective and already love it, what I call now ‘biodiversity garden’. Just let everything there, just prune when overgrown and cutback when needed. Now i am contented, my mother maybe contented too, and we are both not stressed. I realized it’s just a matter of perspective!

    Oh Andrea,
    sometimes it takes years for us to come full circle with our thoughts and actions. I like your phrase ‘biodiversity garden’. I’m glad that both you and your mother are contented. It makes for a harmonious gardening and relationship. Fran

  18. Lisa October 21, 2011 at 9:52 am #

    Oh what a shame! There are so many gardens out there that I would like to see on the tours. I think it is important for people to see them the way that their owners would normally keep them. We all can’t afford to hire professionals to come and tidy them up. It gives everyone an unrealistic idea of how the gardens actually look! That’s when new gardeners get frustrated. They don’t realize that the gardener just spent the last month gearing up for the tour every minute of the day.

    I want to see the “real” gardens. Not the pretend ones put together for that day.

    Hi Lisa….
    Ohhh…I have no problems touring gardens that are immaculate….either public or personal. BUT there is another way of gardening that a lot of gardeners feel happier pursuing. When I was on Swarthmore Arboretum’s annual tour in Philly (usually 6 gardens included), some of the visitors commented on how refreshing it was to see a garden in process (and boy was it ever), rather than polished and theatrical.

    Yep, new gardeners need to be acclimated to the true joys of gardening (and they can still gain expertise while doing it). Maybe we should start a new movement called the ‘Unkempt Gardens’. Fran

  19. Lotusleaf October 22, 2011 at 7:44 am #

    You are a woman after my own heart! I too have a natural garden here in the tropical India. I have found after some backbreaking work and tension, that it is better to follow nature, rather than trying to control it. Your garden is beautiful- both then and now!

    Lotusleaf..
    What a wonderful blog you have and great photography as well! Am bookmarking it so that I can return and spend more time on it. Yep, I see the description of your garden and we certainly have the same philosophies. It’s always wonderful to meet a kindred soul. Warmly, Fran

  20. Penelope Bianchi October 22, 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    Interesting! My garden is almost all native; as wild and wooly as you can imagine….(no lawn, gravel and not an edge in sight! We are a “Certified Backyard Habitat” by the National Wildlife Federation; (I did that with my granddaughter when she was 6)!

    And I love having tours because people see that a garden can be beautiful and wild at the same time!

    No mowers, no blowers, no noisy polluters, no chemical fertilizers, no pesticides, no herbicides! And only hand-clipping allowed!!! (and not much of that!)

    Spread the word!

    We have a covey of at least 36 quail; and every species of bird you can imagine! Last spring and summer we had 3 sets of mallard ducklings totaling 21! (they all survived because we have a floating duck house tethered in the middle of our pond!) Everything eats baby ducklings!

    Penelope…
    I’m inpressed. It sounds like you’ve created a beautiful natural refuge. You could find me at your floating duck house in the pond. It sounds divine. Fran

  21. Gifts For Gardeners October 24, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

    No matter how you are feeling about your garden at any tiem you can sure see the passion of your life with plants. A very human story with great pix!

    Hey ‘Gifts for Gardeners’..

    Love that phrase…’anytime you can sure see the passion of your life with plants’. Thanks for your kind words. Fran