Garden Chores: The WANT TO DO List

Many natural occurrences are ephemeral, and our busy lives make it hard
to keep a promise to “enjoy that later.”

What strikes me as the most common thread among all the diverse gardeners I have met or read is that so many don’t unwind much in their own gardens. Of course, we all have that (perhaps infinite) list of things we want to do to improve our gardens. What a shame, though, if that list gets in the way of enjoying the garden as it is here and now, of really sensing what is going on there, not just doing stuff.

My TO DO lists — in the garden and out — have been known to run on for several pages. They nag me at times, making it harder to enjoy the present moment. Yet if I don’t write down what I want to do, I worry that I will forget, or worse, my own brain reminds me incessantly to keep me from forgetting.

For those who quietly observe…
treasures emerge.

Recently I was brooding over a lengthy TO DO list and had a brainstorm. It’s not the number of items on the list, or even the individual items, that cause the burden. It’s the unspoken “should” in that title. There is a duty, even an urgency to it, a sense that if I haven’t already done all of this, I have failed to meet my obligations.

So to get rid of that nagging feeling, I’ve relabeled the list. Instead of writing TO DO at the top, I now write WANT TO DO. The items on the list are, after all, choices. I have come up with most of them myself, based on my priorities and desires. They are not life-and-death matters like “run from giant dinosaur”; they are mundane and optional chores like “plant lilies beside the shed” and “prune the trumpetvine” and “edge the paths.”

Even the chores on my non-garden list, like “pay bills” and “laundry” (which I have to do), feel different when they are written under the title WANT TO DO. Why yes, I want to pay my bills. I want to clean my clothes. Accomplishing these small tasks will bring me satisfaction.

Considering my list now feels much different than the old TO DO list, which prompted sullen thoughts like “how can I ever finish all this?” and “why did I agree to that?” and “I need a nap.”

So I share this trick with you, my gardening friends, in hopes that you will feel freer to take more breaks and appreciate all that you have already done. Happy summer!

Has your garden bench become a shelf?


  1. Want To Do List. Great Idea. And may I suggest a few items to include.

    Take a half hour and really watch the pollinators doing their thing.

    Water yourself when you are done watering the garden. Just take the hose and hold it over your head and be 8 years old for a few minutes.

    Sit down and enjoy a book in the shade without jumping up because you just spotted a weed (or two or three or hundreds)

    Invite a couple gardening friends over and have lemonade or ice tea and share the beauty.

    Just take time to enjoy the garden instead of constantly trying to improve it.

    Now, I need to put these on my own list.

  2. I eat my breakfast (in my pj’s) and lunch in my garden for as many months as the weather will allow. Then when I’m done eating I take a leisurely stroll through enjoying all the little treasures. I really need a little notebook in my gazebo to jot down the ideas that come to me ( divide the persicaria etc.) so I can relieve my mind of trying to remember them. It drives me nuts when I see a beautiful garden house, or gazebo and the people say they never sit in it.

  3. Well said. I always make a point of taking an late afternoon or evening stroll through the garden, even if I’ve been toiling on “Must Do” tasks all day, just to appreciate all the cool things going on. Summers here in North Dakota are so short that it’s a bad idea to not take in every nice day.

  4. That’s a great way to look at it, and I think I’ll start calling my own list that too. Thanks for the suggestion and for inviting us to think about the voluntary nature of garden tasks. I guess we need to focus on the enjoying the process, not just the result (even when the process is difficult and tiresome).

  5. A nice mental re-direction, Evelyn. I, too, only enjoy my garden after June….when things are past peak and it’s too hot to work there…and almost too hot to walk there.

  6. I do the same thing as you. I simply label it My Ambitions then it doesn’t seem like a list at all. In the mornings I sit in the garden and drink my coffee while watching the humming birds and listening to the waterfall. It is amazing how clearly you can think when surrounded by nature. In the evening after work I pour myself a glass of wine and sit out in the garden to unwind. My family knows where to find me and they usually end up joining me. Discussing family affairs in the garden just seems to make problems seem smaller and we have more productive conversations instead of fighting.

  7. Ah yes!

    Many times when I am pruning and weeding I just sit back and look at my garden. The cat sometimes helps me by wandering by to just lay right where I am working as he begs for attention.

    Today I went out to the backyard to weed and prune, only to notice one of the lavenders was at the perfect stage for drying. So I put down the hori hori and fork, grabbed some scissors, rubber bands and S-hooks. Then I sat down and cut the stems with buds, bound them with a rubber band, slipped on an S-hook and hung them on the line next to my daughter’s tights (that also need to dry in shade).

    My hands smelled quite lovey. I only got half the weeding done, some pruning and most of the watering. Tomorrow I set out the veggie planters (hubby made me cedar boxes because the area near my rockery is hard to keep watered).

  8. This is more than word magic. This is life changing. For years In addition to reading gardening books, magazines and Garden Rant, I have read Japanese gratitude information via ToDo institute in Monkton Vermont. The Want To Do list fits their curriculum beautifully.

  9. A lovely mindset to have! Summer chores like weeding and putting down fresh mulch can be zen if you let them – we like to think of it as an opportunity to get up close and appreciate our plants.

  10. Yesterday I spent over an hour going over my four-in-one pear tree removing all the leaves with yellow spots (pear rust, a fungus). It was an interesting chore while listening to a podcast.

    It seems to show how perception, observation and direction of attention works. I have to move around the seven foot tall tree, sit on the ground or stool to look up, stand on a box and look down, or just move my head around. Then go back and do it again, because as I look at one branch I see a yellow spot on a branch I previously went over. It is kind of meditative, and I don’t end up with leaves like this:

    And I really wish I could chop down the junipers that were planted by the guy who built a house next door. I think they bug me more than the house now blocks my view to Mt. Rainier.

  11. Thank you for reminding us to slow down and enjoy what we have created. I am often guilty of having this urgency to be doing and working and feel almost guilty if I am still. I think I should give myself permission to put some contemplative time on my to-do list.

  12. Yes! A thousand times yes. Like some others here, I try to start my day walking around the garden, and I spend as much time out there as possible. Even after an entire day of laboring, I will sit and observe for an hour before going in. It is my happy place, and you are so right about creatures appearing when we just sit still! Joyous. Thanks for such a great post.

  13. Working on my “To Do” list is how I unwind! I don’t garden so that at some point I can sit in a chair and just look at it, or even so others can do so – I garden because the act itself is relaxes me, brings me peace and joy. It’s when I’m busy in the garden that I find the joys – a cluster of mushrooms under an established plant, a cool new bug to ID, the revival of something I’d long since given up for dead …

    Everything on my garden to-do list has always been “want to do.” The to-do list for inside the house however … that I’ll need a massive attitude shift on!

  14. So clever of you to realise the joy involved in switching the list from duty to desire! I’m never simply writing To Do again. Thanks for the insight.

  15. It always helps to get a reminder about attitude. A friend always refers to her list as her get to do list:-) Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures to inspire as well! I better get on my “Want to do List”!
    Enjoy your day!

  16. The best part of a garden and landscape project is that they don’t ever have to end. Like someone a lot wiser than I once said, “it isn’t the destination, it’s the journey”.

    I am a firm believer in carving out separate living areas on your property, and I really like finding a little bench like the one in this post. Maybe a simple running water feature, wind chime or bird bath, and you are in a little slice of heaven.

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