To maintain or not to maintain


That is the question, but sometimes it depends on what type of maintenance you’re talking about. Last week, I heard many tributes to writer Nora Ephron (who died last Thursday at 71), including reprises of radio interviews where she read from her most recent books. This is from I Feel Bad About My Neck:

… the amount of maintenance involving hair is genuinely overwhelming. Sometimes I think that not having to worry about your hair anymore is the secret upside of death.

Yes. That is the kind of maintenance that can become oppressive, especially with time. It doesn’t go away. No matter what—leaving out baldness, dreadlocks, or other such exceptions—you have to do something with your hair on a regular basis. Sure, there are women who, like my husband, can take a shower, step out of it, and be done. Then there are the rest of us. Add that to the service calls at the salon every six weeks or so, the work-outs (which become more about health than appearance with time), the tweezing, the moisturizing, and all the other baggage of womanhood—which very few of us can opt out of altogether—and you’ve got yourself a pretty hefty maintenance package.

Not that I am one of those who rejects all that girly stuff (as Amy pretty much does here). I am a Sephora devotee, a collector of eye pencils, and you will pry my mascara and lip gloss out of my cold, dead hands. Ephron seems to have the same love/hate relationship with a routine that can become tiresome.

Contrast that with the hours of maintenance that even I, the laziest of gardeners, am willing to devote to my plant collections. I have needy hanging baskets that, in this weather, need a full watering once a day with maybe a touch-up later to be on the safe side. I have daily deadheading of roses and multiple perennials. I have aphids to hose away, mulch to refresh, lilies to stake, and a pond to clean. Many of my pots of annuals perform better with feeding, which I’m happy to do.

For some reason, I look forward to this maintenance. I don’t ever remember looking forward to washing my hair.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I’m one of those insecure neurotic types that gardens in mascara and lipgloss and strangely I do like the maintenance in my yard (though I have been known to mutter under my breath that I’m getting too old for this $&@# once or twice a year lately).

    The one thing I have decided to completely forgo however are the hanging baskets like the one in your photo. Just too lazy and I’d have to water that thing twice a day here for sure. I invested in humungous planters and gotta say I looovvvee that I just soak these babies two to three times a week and call it done.

  2. The most maintenance I ever had to do on my hair was when I had dreadlocks. They were so time consuming.

  3. Yes, hanging baskets are a nuisance because they dry out so quickly but what a spectacular example in that photo: the orange and blue, the colors of the building–perfect!

  4. Yeah, I will do fiddling garden maintenance with quiet pleasure and swear and mutter when I finally force myself to do the inside work. Hair, same old braid and pin it up on top of the head and forgetaboutit. Which my daughter has informed me will NOT be acceptable for m-o-bride this fall. Can’t see myself getting a short “do and going to a salon once a month to maintain. Will probably have them hack off half the length, do something fru-fru for the wedding, and go back to the same-old same-old.

  5. I enjoy almost all garden maintenance, even weeding. But I also draw the line at hanging baskets. I’m a gardener, not a goddamned babysitter.

    Same deal with personal maintenance. I love red lipstick and expensive clothes and shoes–which I try to buy when they are radically on sale and then wear for 10 years.

    But I gave up on salons about 10 years ago because I hate them–I hate their smells, I hate their pretensions, I hate having strangers think it’s a big treat for me to have my scalp rubbed by them, I hate the pity of hairdressers who feel sorry for me because I don’t have the good sense to color my grey hair.

    They only good haircuts I ever got in my life I got in the two times, ten years apart, when I lived in Los Angeles. Upstate New York? No.

    So, I just let my grey hair pour of my head and have a few inches taken off twice a year.

    Re Nora Ephron, an old boss took to me a fancy meal on the Upper East Side this year just before Christmas. And I was very struck by the women in the joint–all carefully blown out layered hair. All the same makeup in the same neutral palate. I found it a harsh, rather unpretty look. But as my old boss likes to point out, I’m pretty “crunchy” and so an unreliable judge of normal life.

  6. I gave up on makeup decades ago – it’s the daily flossing I can’t stand. Short hair is easier to care for – fortunately, I found a good stylist.

    I am getting tired of all the garden/yard watering. In my perfect world, it is supposed to rain once in a while.

  7. Never looked forward to washing your hair ? Obviously you’ve never spent a week backcountry camping. Maintenance feels so good afterwards.

    That said, I’m one of those women who can (almost) step out of the shower and not do anything to my hair. I towel it dry, add some gel to calm the frizz & let it dry as I go about my business. Does it always look like I stepped out of some style magazine ? Hardly. But it’s sufficient for work & play. When I was younger, I did spend copious amounts of time & money trying to get my hair to do what I wanted, and then stay that way in the Southern humidity I was raised in. Lo & behold, once I stopped all that foolishness, I realized I like the hair that I naturally had. As for other maintenance, I use basic make-up, mostly around my eyes since my brows & lashes are so pale, folks might miss my eyes if I didn’t make an effort to get them noticed. Moisturizers are for comfort (otherwise my skin feels tight & itchy) as much as sun protection & fending of a little time.

    My approach to my garden is much the same – light maintenance, except in places where the extra effort makes me very happy. Thus, I water my pots of succulents by hand through the long, dry California summer. And I weed the front planters more than the back, which no one but my family ever sees. I don’t do hanging baskets or annuals ’cause they don’t do anything for me.

  8. I am blessed with fair skin (with some melanin ability, from the Lebanese part of my genes) and dark ahir and eyes. I’m relatively fine without daily makeup, but just look more vivid when I do use it. When it’s performance makeup, it’s quite heavy around the eyes when close up.

    I agree with Laurel–being unable, for whatever reason, to wash my hair, makes it feel so wonderful when I can finally do it. When I was recovering from heel surgery (bonespur), I wasn’t allowed to get even the leg wet for about 6 weeks. When I could finally stand up in the shower without bandages, and wash my entire self, it was nearly orgasmic relief.

    Tibs, maybe you could go to a place specializing in French braiding or the like, and not have to lose hair (or not much). Will you wear a fascinator, a bit of hat with veiling, or flowers artistically arranged (silk or live?)? For performance headgear, I have a number of fascinators in various shades of turquoise to teal, on clips, as well as some lovely silk flowers, mostly phalaenopsis (aka moth orchids) in various sizes and hues, which I, or someone who can see the back of my head, clip into my hair in a circle-ish way on the back of my head.

    I have attempted to dye my hair three times now. I have long hair, and when the dye fades, I have a hunk of hair in an unattractive shade of brown that stays for months. My “age statement” has come in silver-white, so the only thing I’d want to do now is to heighten the contrast. Not happening. The only thing I regret is that the new color came in from my crown, down my back: I had considerable silver before I saw any at my temples, which is where I wanted it!

    I would like some hanging baskets, but only if they can be set up with drip irrigation, and put on one single station, so that it can be programmed to water much more often. Unlike my mother, I have never found watering the yard to be meditative–just a waste of my time. We put in drip & a few sprinklers in the last house, and we put it in here, too.

  9. It feels good to read about other women who aren’t slaves to their make up & hair. I’m not saying they don’t use make-up or wash their hair but rather, it’s not the focus of their life.

    I’m sort of a low-maintenance person when it comes to hair, make-up, clothing, and heels. I can’t remember when, if ever, I’ve painted my toe nails or finger nails. I’ve never had fake finger nails. I’ve also never plucked my eyebrows. I like comfortable cotton clothing, and I don’t wear heels. However, I don’t expect others to do as I do. Certainly both of my daughters don’t follow my example.–In fact, one is as girly and high-maintenance as they get. Not sure where that came from, must have been inherited from her father’s side of the family.

    Anyway, I suppose this idea of low-maintenance translates to my garden as well. I’m not overly concerned about weeds or dead-heading.

    As to hanging basket, I have three, but they are low-maintenance as well.

  10. I always thought that the fan in my car existed to dry my hair. Except now that I have a convertible, I just wash my hair, pull it back and go. One of the blessings of my life is having drip dry hair.

  11. I HATED going to the salon, listening to someone I don’t know go on and on about their lives, their boyfriends, their problems, getting a so-so haircut and having to pay for it! (Some of the cuts I got cost $100 – think Pierre & Carlo – the Bellevue in Philly.)

    I got laid off and started trimming my own hair with dog clippers and a small set of “combs” that have a razor blade inside. It was touch and go for the first few months but now it only takes about 3 minutes, I don’t talk when I’m cutting and I don’t have to pay at all. Plus, I get to go out to my garden and play when I’m done! Love getting older….

  12. I would much rather do maintenance outside than on myself, though I won’t go without makeup and I love lavender scented bubble baths. I also LOVE hanging baskets but these last years have been too busy for them. I miss them!

    My Pentecostal grandmother had waist length hair for years and would comb it out and braid it and arrange it on the top of her head until she was in her 70s and learned that scripture probably didn’t condemn women for cutting their hair. Then she cut it off and was normal like everyone else. Now I look back and think her hairstyle was one of the most interesting things about her. (She was also a gardener, that was the other cool thing.)

    The best memory of my long hair maintenance (I’ve basically had the same style since childhood, I just don’t care about these things!) was when my husband used to trim it in my twenties, before the kids came along. Thank you for stirring up that particular romantic, sweet memory. Maybe we can go back to those days when the kids grow up.

    I loved Nora Ephron’s work in Julie and Julia. If you get a chance, watch the Director’s comments–excellent! I was amused to hear she thought she had ADD but since I have the same problem I think it’s really just a distracted artist’s thing.

  13. I’m a low maintenance kinda person. I do actually have some semblance of fingernails during the winter months though they bite the dust in the spring. I’ve been told by a fellow gardener to wear the darker polish as it hides the dirt left under your nails. I do have a fancy hair stylist that has been cutting my hair for over 12 years. He knows my limits! I’ve never been a make-up person though I do try to pay attention to my eyebrows-evidently not too much though.
    I have one hanging basket every year and its still living mainly due to the it being close enough to my container plants that it gets enough water. My landscape maintenance this year is water, water, water-I am a bit OCD about the weather and sadly this year the lack of rain (so far)

  14. Hanging baskets? Not this year! Derechos, drought, incredible heat — bad enough to keep all the pots on the patio alive without adding hanging prima donnas! Not to mention the vegetable garden, where the tomatoes are grumbling about lack of water and care.

    As for hair, makeup — at my age, who cares? But I do get my hair cut and shaped every five weeks by the same man who has been caring for it for almost twenty years now. We share the same political opinions, have a good gossip together, and he doesn’t try to get me to change the colour of my hair, pluck my eyebrows, paint my nails, etc.

  15. luckly for me when i get tired of messing with my hair i can just shave my head and no more maintaining.

    garden maintenance is a slightly different story. i enjoy maintaining my garden because i enjoy the rewards of tasty fruits and vegges that result from it.

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