Under Control

Keeping Your Garden Maintained

by Virginia Hayes

Akebia quinata is a semi-woody vine that climbs by twining around a support. Almost anything can serve as that support. Mine took advantage not only of the ornamental frame I gave it, but went on to clamber over the wall and wrap itself around an old holly bush. I had forgotten the advice of Sunset’s Western Garden Book to “keep [it] under control.” Now I have to start at one side and clip and pull and snip and yank until I have the whole snarled mess peeled off the bush and the frame. Luckily, Akebia is up to the torture. It will happily re-sprout from the nubbins. Next time, maybe I can manage to stay on top of it from the start.

This vine is a rather extreme example of a plant that needs close attention, but the old adage “a stitch in time saves nine” is actually a great way to tackle many garden maintenance chores. Frequent patrols through the garden, looking with a critical eye at saving time by addressing those small tasks, will reward you in the long run. Walk the garden with clippers in hand and head back that errant vine, deadhead those flowering shrubs and perennials, or pinch out the growing tip to encourage fuller growth. Newly sprouted weeds are always much easier to pull than the full-grown ones. Snails and insect pests such as aphids in small numbers are easy to remove by hand. It is only when the infestation has a chance to multiply that herculean efforts may be needed to get control. Use the time to see your garden with an eye to the future. These patrols will not take long, especially if you can stay focused on the task. Don’t get sidetracked by that larger chore you’ve been contemplating. This is like picking up around the house as opposed to a major house cleaning.

Another result of this method of proactive gardening will be a more relaxed gardener. It’s a clinical fact that spending time in contact with plants can reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure, and relieve muscle tension. Beside the moderate exercise, which can also contribute to better overall health, just the contemplation of green, growing plants will elevate your mood. And when you are done, you will have a tidier garden to further bolster your good feeling.

One way to help keep garden maintenance stress-free is to stay organized. If your garden gloves and hand tools such as shears, clippers, weeder, and trowel are all in one handy spot, you will be more inclined to grab them and head outside for a sweep through the garden. Find a container to help you keep your tools corralled. It can be as simple as a recycled bucket or an all-purpose plastic bin, or as customized as a canvas apron with many pockets that you wear around your waist. There are also compartmented wraps constructed of sturdy fabric that fasten on the outside of a plastic pail so you have even more carrying capacity. Specially designed, versatile, light-weight plastic garden organizers are readily available. They usually come with handles; some have wheels. One wheeled bin even provides a low seat to give your knees and back a break.

You may be getting the impression that I’m a sort of lazy gardener. I admit it. In order to be both lazy and productive, though, you have to come up with shortcuts and time-saving devices for the necessary chores. One of my other tricks has to do with all those clippings and weeds coming out of the garden. Hauling it very far is a lot of work. I have a small staging area near my garden where it all gets stacked up as I create it. Then that stack gets conveyed to the actual compost pile when there is a reasonable load. This saves on trips, but has another added benefit. Fresh hedge trimmings and other leafy stuff like weeds are full of water. Water is heavy. If they hang out in a pile for a while, they dry out. Pitching them into the garden cart is much lighter work once they’ve lost some of their moisture. It’s easy enough to put the moisture back into the compost pile as you layer in the dry material. In fact, who wouldn’t rather be playing with the hose anyway? For me, it’s all about finding the fun of being outdoors and giving Mother Nature a helping hand in my created landscape.

Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to

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