Weeding for the audience

– Posted in: Garden chores

Every year about this time, the Juneberry bed looks like this:

Image of grass infested daylily bed, with a Juneberry tree anchoring it.

This photo was taken last July, but gives you the general idea: milkweed, musk mallow, lambs’ quarters, and a weedy form of evening primrose all detract from the daylilies that are supposed to shine here.

Being a detail person, in past years I have attempted to deal with the problem by starting at one end, and taking care of every single weed in one spot before moving on. Like this:
Image of small cleared area in weedy garden bed

A light bulb went on

But yesterday afternoon, I had a gardener’s epiphany. I don’t see this bed from the house, but it is highly visible from the road. What if I weeded it thinking of who was going to view it, and how they were going to view it? People whiz by in their cars. They can see the bright flowers. They can see the big weeds that obscure the structure of the daylilies. They can see the grass growing higher than the daylilies themselves, making the whole bed look sloppy. But they can’t see the ground ivy, the teeny seedlings, and the low growing dandelions.

Why don’t I weed this bed in terms of its audience, its main viewers? Why don’t I weed the whole thing so that it looks good from the road? This may be a no brainer to many of you, but to me it was a revelation. Sure, it would be better for the plants if I weeded it perfectly—and it would take me a week, and meanwhile all the other flower beds would only get worse. Yes, all those grass roots that didn’t come up when I tugged on the grass will resprout, but all those flowering weeds will never set seed now.

So this is how it looked an hour or two after the light bulb went on:
Image of daylilies growing around a Juneberry tree
Much better, don’t you think? From a distance, this bed now looks like it is being cared for. I can see plenty of work left to do, but I know I’ve bought myself some time and can turn my attention elsewhere for a little while.

I never dreamed doing a less-than-perfect job would give me so much satisfaction. How about you? What new and obvious insights about gardening have you had lately?

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

When dealing with frost it is always best to be paranoid. In the spring never think it is too late for one more frost to come. And in the fall never think it too early.

~Rundy in Frost

Comments on this entry are closed.

Chris August 5, 2008, 6:41 am

Kathy, I have been very pleased with using six inches of newspaper under some mulch to keep weeds down. I take a garden cart to the area to be covered, fill it partially with water using the hose, and then dip six sheets of newsprint into the water and put it on the area to be dealt with. I did this in my roses and the only thing that popped through were Grandpa Ott leftover morning glory seeds from the year before. We did this in April and I still have no weeding to do. It lasts about a season, I’ve found, and in some areas into the next season. The only downside is that if you catch the corner of it with a mower shredded paper ends up on the lawn. The plants don’t seem to mind at all. Perhaps recycled brown paper bags, if you still have any, could work, too.

You’re right – there is such a thing as a “drive by garden view” and that’s the reason I don’t manicure the day lilies by the road. I just let them do their thing and focus on more intimate parts of the garden that are seen at a closer range and not by peripheral vision!

On the bigger areas under the pine trees (on the boundary, another driveby view), I have resorted to a stirrup hoe Definitely speeds the process to the extent that if every single weed is not removed, another quick go-round with spot hand weeding will do the trick.

We need to start a Speed Weeding movement and compile everyone’s best tricks — think of all the time that could be returned to the gardening world for use making better and more beautiful gardens (or even opening the mail…)!

Lori August 1, 2008, 6:27 am

That’s such a great idea. It reminds me of an article I read somewhere about making your garden look good in a hurry, and suggested only weeding the first 3 feet of it where guests would focus. I try to keep that in mind when I get busy and need to make things look good in a hurry, but I’m so anal retentive about weeding that it’s hard!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter July 30, 2008, 2:02 pm

I frequently find myself saying “good enough.” It’s so easy to get lost in the details & spend too much time on minutiae. Sometimes I stuff deadheaded blooms underneath foliage if I’m in a hurry & don’t want to take time to run back & forth to the compost pile. I find myself hiding things behind the front hedge, but that’s not a good solution, as that area is visible from the front door. I’ve also been known to kind of shot-put toss things at the compost bins. If it makes it in, great. If not, I’ll put it in next time I go over there.

Dee/reddirtramblings July 30, 2008, 1:09 am

Kathy, a great method to be sure. I am impressed that you thought of it.~~dee

Jane Marie July 29, 2008, 7:51 pm

I think you’re on to something. We could all take a lesson from not trying to be too perfect. Good job!

Annie in Austin July 29, 2008, 12:25 pm

Oh Kathy – your decision is a sensible one and the garden blog world has such helpful people in it!

Both “Done is better than perfect” and “Nothing a man on a galloping horse is going to notice” work for me. Many of the people going past my front garden are driving, biking or running so it sure doesn’t need to be perfect for them, and the other people are walking dogs – making my garden look good enough for a dog’s toilet is not on my to-do list.

In the back yard I work most on the beds I can see from the breakfast room window.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Ann July 29, 2008, 9:40 am

“Nothing a man on a galloping horse is going to notice.”

Thanks Craig for my new garden mantra! I weed around the edges quite nicely, and next to the patio, but where only the cats and birds can see? Practically never! Brilliant.

Craig at Ellis Hollow July 28, 2008, 7:32 pm

Many years ago, I apologized to my father-in-law for the sloppy job I was doing around the windows when I was painting the exterior of his house.

“Nothing a man on a galloping horse is going to notice.”

That’s been my attitude about the front beds. I also tend to plant them with big drifts of tall plants so that’s what folks notice, not the weeds.

This also helps: Call those low weeds ‘groundcovers’. It’s good to keep the soil covered with plants that can protect it and eventually return more organic matter to the soil when you do get around to killing them.

Gail July 28, 2008, 7:17 pm

An excellent way to weed! I read that sweeping the sidewalks makes a garden look better, too! It’s the simple things!

mss @ Zanthan Gardens July 28, 2008, 3:56 pm

I like to hit the big items first, too. That’s why I like mowing the lawn and vacumning. Both tasks tidy up a large expance in ratio to the effort involved.

Kati July 28, 2008, 1:06 pm

aaah! what a relief to be reminded (again, as I seem to be a slow learner!!) that it’s does not need to be perfect at the cost of living life!

Sylvia (England) July 28, 2008, 10:41 am

I have done something similar, I haven’t had time to keep the front garden as I would like, so I weeded the edges of the beds and cut the lawn edges – it looks good from the house windows so I don’t get stressed. Then I did an emergency weed on the rest of the bed – taking out or cutting off those weeds (and some flowers) that would seed! Its not ideal but will wait probably until Autumn.

Best wishes Sylvia (England)

Leslie July 28, 2008, 8:41 am

I was recently having a conversation with a friend that involved this very idea “Done is better than Perfect”.

James Mann July 28, 2008, 8:16 am

Ha, that’s the way to think. Out of sight out of mind.

We are just getting started at this gardening thing. We have a lot of cleaning up to do around here because the previous owners didn’t have the time to keep the property up.

I guess I need adopt your new found theory and work the areas that people are actually going to see as they pass by.

Thanks for the idea.

Margaret July 28, 2008, 7:32 am

I’m with Pam: Stuff the unread mail under the bed and wipe the counters quickly and hope for the best.
I call this letting ourselves off the hook (and realizing that it’s a hook we created in the first place; nobody’s enforcing it but us on ourselves).
I am careful right around the house to keep beds neatest, where they will drive me crazy otherwise, and my tolerances soften as you get farther from view, like your roadside bed. Good for you. Liberation!

Pam/Digging July 27, 2008, 11:37 pm

That’s a great way of thinking about it, Kathy. I’ve taken that approach to housecleaning when guests are expected, and it’s a lifesaver!