Here are 3 New Year’s resolutions to make if you want to be a better gardener, plant mom

Picture of Paul Cappiello Ph.D.

Paul Cappiello Ph.D.

Yew Dell Botanical Gardens Executive Director

Well, here we are again, folks. The season is upon us. That annual celebration we anticipate all year long. I’m speaking, of course, of New Year’s Resolution time – you know – the national self-loathing festival we’ve been looking forward to since the self-flogging of last year!

“I eat too much.” “I exercise too little.” “I haven’t helped an elderly person across the street in weeks.” “I can’t even remember the last time I vacuumed out my dryer vent hose!” 

If there’s anything I’ve learned about the human species in my 61 years on this planet, it’s 1) that we are creatures of habit, and 2) if there’s anything worth doing, it’s worth obsessing over. How on earth did we take a wonderful tradition of renewal of spirit and re-commitment to our fellow humans, and turn it into the yearly finger wagging at ourselves in the mirror? 

Where the heck is that gym membership card I bought this time last year?

Enter, the garden…

Whether politics or Covid, RSV or our self-imposed, resolution angst, we could all use a break about now. So here’s a simple Resolution gift from me to you on this New Year’s Day. No scolding. No finger wagging. No looking over the top of my reading glasses with that 8th grade English teacher look (sorry 8th grade English teachers. That description applies to botanical garden directors as well. But the latter just doesn’t conjure up such a vivid picture!)

What I offer today and in this season of Resolutions is a garden-based remedy for daily stresses, be they externally or internally sourced. Give these a try and see if they don’t just do the trick…

Garden Resolution #1 – This year, try one new plant.

Ok, we’re admittedly starting with a rather low bar in terms of New Year’s Resolutions. This one’s pretty simple on the outside. But stick with me. 

It would be way too easy and not very soul saving to just wait ‘til April, drive to your local garden center, pick up some pink or yellow thing, bring it home and drop it in the ground. Not much soul-redeemtion going on there. So to get the maximum benefit from this Resolution, here’s my recommendation.

In the next 5 days, come up with one new plant you want to add to your garden this year. Make it something you’ve never grown. Maybe you want to try dahlias in the front border, growing zinnias from seed, heirloom tomatoes or a wildflower native to the hills of Eastern Kentucky. Then, once you’ve selected your plant, do one more thing. Go out and read 5 different bits about your new plant. Sure, you can get online and research a bit, but don’t make that your exclusive information source. Extra redemption credits are awarded for reading something that involved destruction of an actual tree… you know… those old fashioned book things? Need a few more points in the Resolution category? Make an actual trip to an actual library or local book seller and have them actually special order something for you. Remember, in the garden, it’s about the journey, not the destination… 

Garden Resolution #2 – This year, try one new tool.

How long have you been using that rusty and dull pair of pruners? How about that beat up old spade hanging in the garage? Have you ever used a spading fork?

There are few things that can ruin a well-planned day in the garden than pruners that stick, a spade that doesn’t cut or a hoe that’s dull. At the same time, the satisfaction of using a perfectly coiffed set of pruning shears or a freshly sharpened hoe, is tough to beat. Whether a brand new tool or a meticulously refreshed old stand-by, this is such a no-brainer of a resolution. 

Just as with your one new plant from Resolution #1, picking out a new tool or committing to refresh an old one, doing the research on options, sourcing, committing, and finally… that very first use in the garden… It’s a wonderful journey.

And, quite obviously, this doesn’t only apply to garden tools. Maybe I’m a total geek about it but just about any old accoutrement, no matter how mundane and no matter what task it serves, hoof pick, coffee pot, roasting pan or spoke wrench, if fully researched, ordered, anticipated and finally put to use… as they say on TV… priceless! 

Garden Resolution #3) – Draw your garden.

Ok, ok… Stop throwing rocks in my general direction. I “can’t draw” either. But I think this could be the best way to start to see and enjoy your garden in an entirely different way.

Start by getting yourself a sketch book. You don’t need anything special. Just avoid anything that’s easy to tear out pages (we’ll get to this in a bit…) Then get yourself a proper pencil. If you’re wondering, you can still buy the good old Ticonderoga #2 pencil of your youth. Remember, don’t stress the details. Just pick up something to draw with and something to draw on. You can get fancy later on if you like.

Next, pick a spot in your garden – a plant, a rock, a pot, a branch – and commit to sitting down once a week to draw your chosen subject. To make it easy and keep the time commitment to a minimum, figure a maximum of 10 minutes per week. But draw your little spot every week through the year or growing season.

Now, it’s important to keep this simple and modest in scope. You’re not trying to reproduce The Last Judgement or Virgin of the Rocks. Maybe it’s a tree or a planted container. Maybe just the branch of a magnolia with its big fuzzy gray buds. 

Now don’t worry. You don’t have to send in your homework for critical review to chuckling of your classmates. This is a personal exercise. Don’t throw anything away (hence the non-tear-out sketch book option.) Just sketch away. You don’t have to show it to anyone. But I guarantee that your sketches will get better, your stress level about sketching will abate and you’ll see your garden in a whole new way.

And if all this sketching is just too much for you, put that silly cell phone to work the same way. Pick a spot or a thing and snap a picture once a week regardless of weather, time of day, angle of light. And by the end of the season you’ll have a fabulous record of progression in the garden.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to email in this column and get to Target to buy some basement-organizing storage containers…

Happy New Year!

This article was originally submitted to the Courier Journal on December 21, 2022

About the Author

Blurb about Paul here.

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