Creating an Organized and Low Maintenance Garden

Once spring is in full swing, those of us who love to garden really get the itch to dig in the dirt. Every April and May, I enjoy the pink and white blooms of my azaleas and the variegated leaves of my hostas as they poke out of the ground.

And, of course, I have to pull a few weeds, the clutter of the gardening world. But it recently occurred to me that my garden is getting easier to maintain each year because of the planning and planting that I did over a decade ago. You see, if you put the right plants in the right places, your garden will practically maintain itself. This concept mimics some of the basic principles of organizing: (a) put items where they should logically live and (b) use the best solutions for the space available.

Here are a few tips for an organized garden that will save you time, money, and energy:

  • Use perennials and shrubs liberally. Perennials are plants that come back year after year. They may be more expensive in the short run, but these plants will more than pay for themselves long-term because, unlike annuals which have to be purchased and planted each year, perennials only have to purchased once. And many of them get large enough over time that they can be divided and placed into other parts of your garden. I have hostas that I've divided many times over the years. This saves me money because the original plant investment keeps producing more plants for my garden over time.

  • Use native plants whenever possible. Native plants are those that grow naturally and happily in the soil and weather conditions that they are planted in. They are adapted to your local conditions and, therefore, require less fertilizers, pest controls, and watering. Plus, they will benefit the environment by offering appropriate food, nectar, and cover for local birds, butterflies, and other little critters. If you get lured into using non-native exotic plants in your garden, expect to spend time helping them to survive. I liken using exotics to sticking me, a very southern woman, in Michigan for the winter. I am simply not used to being in snow for more than a few days at a time and would be absolutely miserable. I can, however, happily thrive in Atlanta's hot, humid summers because my system has adapted to these conditions.

  • Put the right plant in the right spot. Most plants purchased from a nursery come with a short description of their preferred sunlight conditions, the recommended distance to plant apart from other plants, and an approximation of their size at maturity. Keep these factors in mind as you design your garden. Don't waste time and money putting a "full sun" plant in dappled shade. It may look okay for one season but it will eventually become leggy and won't flourish. On the opposite end of the spectrum, don't put shade lovers in full sun unless you want to watch them get brown and crunchy as the season progresses. If you put a plant in a spot where it has room to grow in the conditions it likes to live in, you'll end up with a happy plant that requires very little maintenance.

  • Relax and let your garden grow. If you've put the right native plants in the right conditions, they will flourish naturally. I prefer not to use chemicals in my garden, and the droughts we've experienced in the southeast have restricted my ability to water. That means that once a plant is established in my yard, it has to hold its own or it doesn't get to stay. This trial and error, survival-of-the-fittest approach has taught me what will and will not work in my garden. I put my time, money, and sweat equity into what I know will easily grow.
Like most ongoing projects, a garden must be easy to maintain or the excuses for not doing the upkeep will start creeping in. The suggestions above will help the do-it-yourself folks. But if you don't have the time or interest to develop your own garden, considering hiring a landscape architect to design and even install an organized and deliberate gardening plan. Then you can spend more of your time relaxing and enjoying the fruits of their labor.

The Ripple Effect of Getting Organized

One of my organizing clients is a pastor at a nearby church. He's been a delight to work with because he is so enthusiastic and curious about the whole organizing process. In fact, he even calls our sessions his "organizing classes."

He recently shared with me a phenomenon that is now occurring in his life. Once he began organizing one aspect of his life, in this case his work, he began to see how he could improve other areas. He shared with me that he and his family are now organizing their garage at home, and his wife finally has the recycling center she has been asking for. He's even scheduling time to sit and write his Sunday sermons early in the week instead of squeezing them in later.

I've witnessed this time and time again. Once a person begins organizing one area of their life, they open up time and space for other accomplishments. I've seen people start to lose weight once they begin to purge the excess stuff from their homes and offices. I've seen clients stop spending so much money and begin paying off debts once they really pay attention to how much stuff they have (and don't need). I've seen relationship tensions ease once the chaos of clutter is calmed. You see, once a person begins to get control of the area of their life that's been causing them the most headaches and heartaches, they become inspired to improve the other areas of their lives.

So start creating your own ripple effect by deciding today what areas you want to get a better handle on. Then set aside an hour in your schedule and start working on the things that will have the most positive impact on your life or psyche. Once you start, I guarantee that you'll be surprised by how productive you can be in one focused hour and how good this progress will feel.

Mother's Day Gift Ideas

Mother's Day is just around the corner (Sunday, May 11th), and I'm willing to bet that a few of you have procrastinated and are still wondering what to get mom for Mother's Day. Allow me to make some suggestions that will keep you out of the dog house and won't clutter mom's house up.

  • Flowers are ALWAYS appropriate as far as I'm concerned. What gal doesn't love to see the flower delivery guy on her doorstep? And if you're feeling really generous, you could get her a blooming outdoor plant and offer to plant it in her garden. Then she can appreciate it for years to come.
  • Spa gift certificates are also a big hit for the busy mom who could use a bit of pampering. While you're at it, go ahead and pick one up for yourself. The two of you can follow the spa treatment with lunch and make an afternoon of it.
  • Give mom the day off by letting her sleep late, making her breakfast, and giving her a juicy new novel to read or a DVD of the latest chick flick.
  • For the fitness conscious mom, you could give her a pedometer or a heart rate monitor to help her track her workouts. If it's motivation she needs, consider giving her a couple of sessions with an exercise trainer or getting her one of those cute little MP3 players with some of her favorite tunes already downloaded onto it.
  • And, of course, if she's looking for a little help getting organized, you could offer to help her clean out her closet, basement, or garage or give her a gift certificate for a professional organizer that can help her clear her clutter.
My step-mom is a practical kind of gal, so each year I use the novel approach of asking her what she'd like as a gift. That way I at least know that she's getting something she really wants and will use. She's in the process of organizing some rooms in their house, and she requested some nifty items from The Container Store. So essentially, we're both getting gifts, mine being the opportunity to shop in my favorite store on the planet.

For those of you whose moms have passed on, you can still honor her on Sunday by lighting a candle for her, writing her a love letter, or talking to her through your own version of prayer. I'll bet she'll know that you're thinking about her.