Gardeners’ burnout


At this time of the year, most gardeners are getting tired of gardening and beginning to look forward to the cozier indoor pursuits of shorter days and darker evenings.

I think our gardens might be tired of us, too. Mine looks like it would just like to be left alone to rest and to grow what it wants to grow, not what I want it to grow.

For instance, there’s an invasive little red-leaved oxalis with a small yellow flower called Oxalis corniculata. It’s a clever plant that has both laterally spreading roots and a deep tap root. Getting all those roots out is almost impossible, and the merest fragment will regenerate. And if it lives long enough to flower and create mature seedpods, it will burst and send seeds out in every direction. Every blessed one of them will grow. It is the most troublesome weed in my garden, but this year, I thought I had made progress towards eradicating it.

So a few days ago, when I pruned a fat and happy lavender plant and discovered it was harboring a luxurious mat of this little oxalis under its foliage, I was ready to give up gardening and take up drinking. I felt betrayed by that lavender. After all I had done for it, how could it be so ungrateful?

Yikes. When we start thinking our plants have evil intentions, it’s definitely time to go inside.

Now I’ve found that little oxalis everywhere, in every nook and cranny left out of sight and un-weeded for the past two months. That’s enough to make a gardener feel incompetent and unworthy – but also to recognize that feeling incompetent and unworthy is a sure sign of an annual attack of gardening burnout. The time is nigh for this garden season to end.

There are many causes for burnout this time of year. Unripe tomatoes are probably the most common complaint right now, due to the delay caused by our long, cold, wet spring. And after so many dry months, watering has become a tiresome chore. Nearly all garden tasks are simply more fun when the garden is growing than when it is fading.

That’s the main cause for loss of gardening libido: most of our flowers are disheveled, bald spots are appearing where we’ve removed spent flowers, and our lettuce has gone to seed. It’s as if old age has set in and might be contagious. And, in a sense, it is: another year has passed for all of us, plant and animal alike. Acceptance is the only remedy.

So don’t despair. Or, if despair is irresistible, don’t stay there long.

Focus on the pleasures of fall. This is probably easy for those who like pumpkin spice everything. It’s also good for omnivores who are tired of summer salads and suddenly inspired to make beef stew and buttermilk biscuits. And fall is the favorite season for many people who look forward to colorful leaves, cool crisp air in the morning, and bluer skies.

A little self-congratulation is a helpful antidote to burnout too. Gardeners have all witnessed and helped nourish something beautiful this year, whether it was a single potted plant, a gorgeous flower border, or a row of red cabbages that looked like giant roses.

In fact, gardeners have been creating beauty every year for millennia. All the world’s painters have painted gardens and still lifes of the flowers, fruits, and vegetables we grow. Many are still at it. You could make a case that the gardeners should get royalties on the sale of all those paintings.

At the very least, we ought to get laurels we can rest on.

Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at  jill@theJOLTnews.com


1 comment on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • FirstOtter

    Thank you for identifying the horrid weed I've been fighting all summer. I thought it was called bronze sorrel. I'd never seen it a few years ago and now it's everywhere. I don't know if the birds or the deer brought it in but as you note, it hides under my daphne and my california poppies.

    It's totipotent, even more so than tansy ragwort.

    I dig out it out everywhere I find it but it just keeps coming back.

    I'm trying an experiment, I dug out an especially tenacious patch of the oxalis in the gravel walkway between my garden beds, and doused the resulting hole with a shot of heavy duty vinegar(20% vinegar, available at Mud Bay, I think). I've found that hitting the hole where you dig out Tansy ragwort with a good sized dose of white vinegar (regular strength) seems to finally kill the tansy rootlets. I am hoping it works with the oxalis, too. Death to both weeds!

    Saturday, October 1, 2022 Report this