By Monique Allen
This year, the normally quiet streets and neighborhoods became a bustling sight of people outside, puttering and cleaning and building in their landscapes. Nurseries and garden center shelves were stripped clean of blooming perennials, seasonal annuals, and bulbs soon after being stocked. Even Christmas trees and holiday decor sold out early this year. We saw record traffic to our landscape blog library, even when I stopped posting (it was a weird year to juggle being an employer and a blogger). To say that people felt empowered to get out into their yards feels like an understatement! So what takeaway tips will 2020 give us?
What a Year for Home Gardening
When it comes to home gardening, I see missteps on both ends of the ability scale - from new to experienced gardeners. Folks new to homeownership and to tending a landscape can become overwhelmed by all there is to learn and where to start. Those that are seasoned homeowners and handy in the yard can bite off more than they can chew and get tripped up by a cascade of unforeseen issues that crop up, eventually calling in a pro to run damage control. These struggles can dash hopes and deflate that empowerment energy.
I have never seen these scenarios more than in 2020. The normal unfolding of spring was totally upended by the pandemic and stay-at-home orders. All of a sudden, busy families and working professionals found themselves at home with countless hours to fill. No more commuting, no more traveling, visiting, or entertainment outside of the home.
Nature came in to fill that gap. The landscape was now front and center as the escape from kitchens, make-shift home offices, and classrooms. Once outside, folks began to see the potential and chaos all at once.
The result was an explosion of DIY activity that has been both good and bad, especially in the garden. The good - people got outside to work with the land and plants as a way to support their health and stay connected to nature. The bad - people took too much on at once. They dabbled in areas they weren’t ready to excel in, creating false starts and dashed hopes at a time when what was needed most was a win, no matter how small.
If this sounds familiar, I have good news for you. Everyone can win in the landscape when a few small steps are taken early in the life of any project, no matter what size.
- Step one - don’t work without some preplanning. If your garden is complete and you’re going out to putter, knock yourself out and enjoy. Not much can go wrong in this scenario. But if you’re starting a new project without some action steps in place and an understanding of where you want to end up, chances are you will come up short of succeeding.
- Step two - for project work, allow yourself to imagine the final result of your efforts and how it will level up your interactions with your landscape and the people who enjoy it with you. Maybe tap them for input, too.
- Step three - jot down the emotions that this new space conjures up for you. What senses are triggered by which features? Ask yourself why these feelings are important to you. I know, I know...woo-woo! Seriously though, this is the power that is available when outside spaces really function as intended.
- Step four - make a working list of these features and the time, materials, and financial investment necessary to make them a reality. Honestly assess what you think you can and will do on your own, then jot down where you need help.
By taking these measures, you will sidestep the avoidable missteps that cost you money, waste your time, and dash your hopes of a new landscape that will satisfy the desire that got you out there in the first place. In my book, STOP Landscaping, START Life-Scaping, I work out these steps in detail so that you have the information the pros have to take a project from idea to completion.
In truth, it’s hard to guarantee anything completely when working with nature, but you can get really close to predictability when you are clear about your plan, the desired outcome, and the effort that comes between the idea and the completion.
Beginning with Mindset
For starters, take a step back and remember that landscaping, while accessible to all, isn’t as easy or simple as it looks on HGTV or in the glossy pages of gardening picture books. You’ve got to plan, plan, plan, and take the time to understand the job you’re taking on before you dig in or buy that first plant. If you want a guaranteed win in your landscape, I suggest you start thinking of it as your own personal Life-Scape, a network of living systems that takes time and energy to understand.
Your landscape isn’t just another run of the mill plot of land. It’s your home, your own oasis of nature that you can access at any time of year and time of day. It is a living entity there to support your mind, your immune system, and your overall sense of well-being. When you begin to reframe how you perceive your land - moving from a thing to a living source of connection - it becomes easier to slow down so you can approach it with care and kindness.
Nature is complex, which is why I say you need to invest time and energy in planning your project and your approach. This turns the effort into a process rather than a one-and-done project. It reminds us that when we slow down and allow ourselves to work within the systems of nature, we are ensured that we will win - and so will the land!
Partnering with Pros
As a landscape professional specializing in Fine Gardening and Design/Build, I saw a deep shift in attention and desire in 2020. More people were willing to try their hand at spring clean-ups, weeding, and mulching than ever before. This scared a lot of landscape professionals because they thought to themselves, “Wait a second, if homeowners take on all of the work, what will we do?”
A valid fear, but really, it had just the opposite effect. I think getting people out into the landscape sparked inspiration and interest in a way that we’ve been begging for for years. We want homeowners to be interested in what we do, and what better way than to get them out there to try their hand at landscape and garden work. The toil is good for them physically and mentally, and it brings to light the complexity of the work. This awareness helps to level-up our conversations about how to best design, develop, and steward these personal land-spaces into their personal Life-Scapes - spaces that have the potential to really improve your life experience. Now that, to me, sounds like true empowerment through participation and partnership!
Taking The Next Step
The winter season in New England is here. As I type this, my land is covered in snow from a storm that dumped 14-inches on us in one day. Just a week after this mighty snowfall and freezing temps, the Christmas Day weather predicts high winds, heavy rain, and temperatures creeping into the 50s. And if you don’t like that...just wait a week…it will change again! New Englanders will know what I mean. The weather here has been volatile and unpredictable, to say the least.
The point is, even if you were totally motivated to go outside and do some work, you’d likely be thwarted by winter weather, so now is the perfect time to look back at the projects you started and the ones you left unfinished. Maybe recall the gardening struggles and missteps and take some notes on these recollections so you can go back to them in the spring. This is also a good time to start the dreaming process for what the 2021 landscape season will look like for you.
What opportunities are awaiting you?
What are you excited about, and what are you dreading?
How can you best prepare and plan ahead so that you’ll be ensured to have early wins that will keep you inspired and enjoying your Life-Scape all season long?
What do you feel confident you can accomplish by yourself? Start mapping that out.
What materials do you need? How much time do you need? What help do you need? And how much money will you need to get this done?
To get your empowerment ramped up for this task, I’ve listed some free resources from The Garden Continuum’s Landscape Blog that I hope will help you take your new-found love of the outdoors to the next level. Below, I have shared a few links to foundational information about what a Life-Scape is, what it means to Design/Build, and how Fine Gardening can transform your experience from heavy toil to satisfying work. Toward the end is my new podcast page where I’ve been posting shows that I’ve been featured on as a guest. It’s been a blast to talk through the Life-Scape Method with these terrific hosts! There may be some inspiration to be found in a few of those episodes. Keep coming back - we’ve got more shows scheduled. And at the end of the list, for those of you ready to take a deep dive into the Life-Scape Method, I put a link to buy my book. I’d love to have you on this journey with me!
5 Steps in Thinking Through Your Life-Scape
How to Weed Like a Pro: Part 1
How to Weed Like a Pro: Part 2
TGC Podcasts for Homeowners
Buy my book today!
MONIQUE ALLEN, Founder & Creative Director of The GardenContinuum, is a master creator, interactive employer, published author, and fierce industry advocate. In over three decades, she has witnessed the landscape trade become extremely popular and commoditized which has inadvertently eroded the sustainability of our landscapes while undermining our ability to feel satisfaction from them.
As the founder of the Life-Scape Method, a lifelong gardener, business developer, and educator Monique has dedicated her career to reversing that legacy by creating alternative approaches and sharing actionable information to spread a positive message about how we can all improve our land, our lives, and our professional satisfaction through Life-Scaping and compassionate business building.
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