The inconvenient gardener



As I sit in a Denver hotel room waiting for my luggage to catch up with me, I consider time, convenience, and the angst of the full-time professional who’d rather be a full-time gardener.

I think the issues raised by Michele’s post about how to reach those oblivious to environmental concerns go well beyond issues of aesthetics; they’re also connected to the whole notion of getting the most done in the least time as possible, to everything being “real simple,” and convenience as the god above all. (I also think those issues are behind the popularity of “yardening,” but we won’t beat that horse any more. For now.)

It’s easy to have the chemlawn guys come. It’s easy to buy the jug of stuff that feeds the roses, kills pests, and keeps them free of fungus—all at the same time! It’s easy to buy the bag of weed and feed. And it’s easy not to think about the complex and harmful chain of events that these products can create—just keep the kids away from the treated lawn.

I can relate. I may be blogging about gardening four times a week, but I’m sure not out in the yard that often, and it needs it! I’m paying someone to put in a pond, and I’m wondering if I can afford to slip him a few more bucks to take care of some other small jobs while he’s at it. (I also have 40 plants (shown above) sitting on a back table, waiting for a home.)

Low maintenance is a myth when you love to garden and you love to buy plants, and even those of us who are truly devoted can get in over our heads. So it doesn’t take much imagination to envision the situation of the homeowner who simply wants a green, tidy, and attractive outdoor space, but does not want to put in the time. The gardening products, services, and practices that we find most harmful to the environment are, for the most part, those designed for the ease and convenience of that person. (And what about those weird seed mixes and rolls of seeds for “instant gardens”? Who uses those? Do they work?)

Of course, low maintenance is also a myth for those who don’t love gardening—but they can pay someone to install the chemlawn, the shrubs, and the red mulch—and they’ll find their services by googling “low maintenance.”

The dialogue about green practices in the home and garden has reached a certain level now where I think everyone—even the guy with the weed and seed—is within hearing range of it, but there needs to be one more step. Earth-friendly products and garden services (I really think the services are key) have to market their simplicity, their ease, their convenience. They have to cater to all the busy people who have convinced themselves that their lives have no room for gardening.

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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 regular 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 remember growing up, people who had ChemLawn come out were always the “rich people.” Or at least that’s what we thought. My family still uses it and old habits die hard. For some people it’s laziness, but others just don’t realize how bad it is even if you tell them a thousand times. No one can believe we don’t use chems and have little to no weeds (they don’t see me pulling them out by hand!)

  2. As much as I blame to low end for failing to turn people into gardeners–commercial nurseries with their giant piles of Grubs-B-Gone–I also blame the high end.

    Gardening books that recommended double-digging, for example, are high on my list. Or the ones with pruning instructions so elaborate, you need a spreadsheet to figure out what they’re saying. Or the ones that tell you that you have to map out bloom times in your perennial gardens before you begin planting. Sure.

    Even the late, great Mrs. Greenthumbs, a popularist if there ever was once, recommended double digging. And we wonder why people don’t garden.

  3. Simplicity, ease, and convenience are not enough. The organic products also have to be economically feasible. There is a battle in our home right now between me (the corn gluten advocate) and my husband (the weed and feed guy). Here in our suburb, the price difference is astronomical. We will end up doing nothing with the lawn, which is fine with me. I strip sod every summer to enlarge my beds, but still have some grass.

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