Here are 6 easy ways to improve your gardening experience, using simple yet creative tips to improve the overall quality of your gardening activities. These helpful tips will allow you, your family, invited (and uninvited…) guests to enjoy their time visiting.
1. Attract Birds, Bees, and Other Fauna
Provide a water source
While a birdbath is a traditional choice, it is with good reason. Birds and insects will seek out a shallow source of water, especially during extended periods without rain. By placing a simple bathing source within view of your seating area, the native fauna will provide you with months of entertainment.
During a long dry spell, I placed a sprinkler in my flower bed to give it a much-needed drink. Inadvertently, it also filled the bone-dry birdbath with fresh water. Less than a quarter-hour later, I returned to find dozens of birds fighting for a spot in the water. Blue Jays, Bluebirds, robins, sparrows, and cardinals fluttered in and out, some taking turns, others aggressively chasing the others out of their way.
Another beneficial water source is a rain barrel. Placed under a downspout, you can capture a large area of rainfall and have it available for use throughout the hot, dry summer months. You will want to be sure and place a screen over the opening to prevent small animals or children from falling in.
Plant bird and bee-friendly plants
Although there are hundreds of plants that attract butterflies and bees, my standby has long been annual salvia. Every spring, I buy three small pots of the fast-growing plant. I plant them in a triangle around a vintage hoe that I stabbed into the ground. Within weeks, the salvia has grown into a bushy plant that the bumblebees, butterflies, and hummingbirds love.
The hummingbirds, especially near the end of summer, will spar and chatter at each other trying to get every bit of nectar before their long migration south. Before planting saliva, I rarely saw butterflies near the house either. Now, I see dozens of them every day, all stopping to visit the salvia plant.
Provide housing for your animal friends
Birdhouses are an obvious choice to bring birds into your garden area. A small amount of research on native birds will provide you with the exact needs of that bird’s housing requirements. Don’t stop there; instead incorporate something whimsical that you will enjoy looking at, even when your feathered friends have migrated south in winter.
Birdhouses can be made from a colorful coffee can, a vintage coffee pot, even an old work boot can be a charming addition to your space. As long as it can be cleaned out once a year and will keep the birds out of foul weather, it can be repurposed. While you are at, look for items to use to house frogs and toads as well.
They are just as charming when you come across one in your flowerbed and they play a huge role in reducing the number of insect pests that threaten your plants.
The frogs will need a water source, and any water feature at ground level will do. The toads will mainly need someplace to keep cool. I’ve used an old terracotta pot turned upside down. I simply propped one edge up with a smooth rock, providing the toads with an entrance. After that, I try to let them be. They work hard eating flies, mosquitoes, and other pesky bugs.
I love to plant items that will provide food for the birds in my neighborhood. The downside to this is that most of these items will produce many weeds in your flowerbed from the bits that the birds drop. My solution has been to plant a separate space just for the birds to eat. By keeping it at least fifty feet from my other beds, there will be less carryover from the weed seeds.
I put in a variety of sunflowers, thistle, Joe-Pye weed and a handful of grains, like corn, wheat, and millet. I planted a tree for them to perch in and a hardy blueberry bush. The birds get a little crazy when the berries come out. I also have a small scrubby-looking chokecherry tree in my yard and I swear the birds get tipsy on their own version of chokecherry wine.
2. Embrace the Work
Congratulate yourself on all the exercise and all you’ve accomplished. There’s no doubt about it, to get great results, you have to put in some work. And for most of us, that means getting sweaty. I used to stop as soon as a trickle of sweat rolled down my brow. I’d grab a hanky and mop my forehead, waiting to cool a bit before returning to the task at hand. The problem was I never seemed to get anything done.
Work hard enough to break a sweat
One especially hot day on Memorial Day weekend, I was spreading mulch around my new plants. The sweat began to roll almost immediately and my shirt clung to my back like a glove. I was miserable and instantly wanted to stop. I knew the weather forecast was more of the same until I returned to work on Tuesday when we were expecting rain. I didn’t want my lovely pile of mulch to get rained on, as that would make it all the harder to spread.
Wet mulch would mean even heavier work. So, I soldiered on, determined to finish my task. Two hours I spent, shoveling loads of mulch into the wheelbarrow, moving it into place, and then shoveling it back out around my plants.
The worst of it was all the time spent on my hands and knees, hand-spreading the mulch to avoid damaging any of the new perennial growth and especially my newly purchased annuals. The sweat ran down my flushed face, soaked my back, and made my chest a sticky mess. The dust from the mulch stuck to me everywhere, but I kept telling myself what a great workout I was getting. Better than any amount of time in a gym, I would see results, both in my body and in my garden. A double whammy of benefits!
Notice all of your senses as you work
It is so easy to place our focus on the looks of our gardens. Much time is spent considering which colors compliment each other and how to vary the heights of our plantings for more visual interest. But don’t forget to indulge your other senses for a truly integrated gardening experience.
Go for plants with a variety of textures, ones that you can run your fingers across as you stroll through the garden. Embrace the feeling of plunging your fingers deep into the warm loose soil as you mix in some organic compost. Find plants that will offer fragrance, both close to your place of relaxation and throughout the beds. Try for something sweet and something bitter for a sharp contrast.
Marigolds are not known for their sweet scent, but I found I enjoy them when planted near the base of a honeysuckle vine. Your ears should not be neglected in your garden oasis. Birdsong will provide a symphony in the mornings, but a nice set of wind chimes in one corner and a running water feature in another will only add to your state of total relaxation. Finally, indulge your taste buds.
Tucking a few strawberry plants amongst your flowers will provide a tasty treat as you work in mid-summer. Pots of herbs can even be settled into the ground for you to grab a pinch both for your cooking and to sample as you weed. Add a few leaves to your favorite ice tea for the ultimate summer refresher.
Do some of the heavy lifting
Learn to enjoy the strenuous effort that goes into getting amazing results- Gardening can be hard work, hard enough that it dissuades many of us from doing anything more than a small patch of annuals and a couple of pots on our front porch. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am about as lazy as they come and I did a lot of dreaming and wishing before I realized my gardens would not just materialize out of my imagination.
For the real heavy lifting, I am blessed with a husband and son that I can call on. But as a matter of pride, I wanted the gardens to be mine, something that I could be proud of. As much as I hate to sweat, I began to think of it as the first result of my hard work. The sweat of my brow was going to lead to an amazing display, some of it within only a few weeks’ time. When I finally plop down in my porch chair, overlooking the flowerbeds, the ache in my back makes me feel proud. My arms might feel like lead, but I know they are getting stronger.
By the end of planting season, I feel rejuvenated and young again, something that Michigan winters rob me of each year. When the time comes to sit back with a glass of lemonade, I can do so surrounded by a lovely garden, free of guilt. Summer is a time for laziness to return, as the heat robs us again of ambition. A little work in the spring provides us with an inspirational setting to kick back and relax in.
Before you pass this one up, keep in mind that you do NOT have to be a carpenter or a tradesman to build something. With a bit of research and a lot more hard work, any of us can produce something lasting for our garden. Not only will it have a practical use, but you will look on it with a great deal of pride in the winter season when all else has died or gone to sleep. If a path is too daunting, consider making some concrete stepping stones to place throughout your garden. Can’t operate a hammer or saw, gather up a pile of rocks to dry-stack into a small retaining wall or for edging on an in-ground water feature.
I’ve even gone to flea markets and looked for items to place in my garden as hardscape features. An old lawn edging tool found itself jammed into the center of one bed so I could plant a Black-eyed Susan vine at its base. Before I placed it, I tapped a few small brads into the handle in random locations. Then I twined some fishing line around each one, giving the vine something to grab onto. It is a sensational look by the end of summer, but it stands tall and lonely throughout the winter, a sentinel guarding my sleeping plants.
3. Bring in Soothing Sounds
Indulging your sense of hearing in the garden can be relaxing, but it can also help to mask the outside sounds that invade your space. A running water feature certainly does both. It is easier than ever to purchase a complete set that can be installed in an afternoon. But try to do something unexpected. Re-purpose something old as a container. You can purchase a solar-powered pump and water tubing at your garden supply store.
Then let your imagination do the rest. I used a small copper pitcher and half a whiskey barrel for mine. I’ve also seen some lovely water walls that use very little water but provide a dramatic backdrop of both sight and sound. Whatever method you choose, turn on the pump for your feature whenever possible. Even if you are only spending a few minutes over your morning coffee or hard at work doing your weekly weeding, the sound will help you to relax your mind and help you to single-task rather than the demanding multi-tasking the outside world requires.
Many people have a love-hate relationship with wind chimes. My mother adores them and will buy every shape, size, and sound. Cheap tinny ones and the exorbitantly priced hollow wooden ones alike are welcome on her backyard deck. My sister, on the other hand, can’t stand the noise of even one wind chime and makes a point to take down my mother’s while we are visiting.
I am somewhere in the middle. I enjoy the soft tones of a wooden chime tapping in a gentle breeze, but when the summer winds pick up, I find that it turns into a racket quite quickly. This in turn does more to scare away my natural visitors than it is worth. I keep a large rubber band around one of the chimes and when it becomes a nuisance, I restrain all of them with the rubber band.
Explore the different sounds for yourself before settling on wind chimes. Many times, you can find household items to make a decorative and soothing wind chime with items such as vintage silverware, or small tin cups.
Restrict Technology Use
Enjoy the sounds of silence. I used to listen to soft music on my mp3 player while working in the garden. I realized I was missing out on a lot of interesting things by placing all of my focus on the job I was working on instead of letting myself become a part of the garden. You can ban all technology all of the time, or you can make a choice to limit it to certain things.
For example, if I get a phone call while I am in the house, I will take the cordless phone and sit on the porch. So I can be part of the garden for the duration of the phone call. I do not, however, take the phone with me when I head out to spend time in my garden.
I’ve replaced my mp3 player with the song of birds, the hum of bees, even a neighbor’s dog barking in the distance. When my neighbor sits on her porch talking on her phone, rather than being irritated, I imagine a dramatic storyline from her end of the conversation.
Stay out in the storm as long as possible. Feel the rain that will replenish your babies and enjoy it with them. A summer storm sends so many people scurrying for cover. While lightning is extremely dangerous and should not be challenged, a light rainstorm is a chance to celebrate summer’s heat.
Let it wash over you, warm yet refreshing. Share in the soaking that your plants are gratefully receiving. Let it shower away your tension and listen to the different sounds it makes as it hits the roof, the hard surfaces in your garden, and even as it hits the grass. If the lightning comes, try to find a safe place outdoors to continue observing nature’s drama. Keep an old towel near the entrance of your home in anticipation of a midafternoon downpour.
4. Plant Scented Plants
Place pots of sweet-smelling annuals near the entrances to your home
Placing potted annuals near the entrances to your home will provide you with an interesting jolt of color. Visually, it announces, “summer is here” to all who approach. If you make your flower choices ones with fragrance, you will enjoy them even before exiting your home.
Imagine the sweet scent catching a summer breeze and wafting through your screen door. If a window box is an option, include fragrant plants there as well. I have a box outside of my kitchen window. Each spring, I choose a colorful assortment for planting there, but I always try to include some heliotrope, flowering tobacco, or sweet alyssum to the mix. Whenever I wash dishes, I get to enjoy the lush scent, making an unpleasant indoor task feel a little less taxing.
Make a seating area within your garden
I think this is something people frequently overlook. We work hard to make our flowerbeds look appealing from the street and even the driveway. To get the most enjoyment, find a spot within your beds to place a small bench or two small bistro chairs. Add a small table and you have the perfect place to sip sweet tea and observe the amazing display you’ve worked so hard to pull off. Give yourself a hearty pat on the back for a job well done. Take some time, daily if possible, to selfishly indulge your senses in nature’s wonder.
Scatter scented items throughout your garden
Plan the locations of your most fragrant plants for the next year, considering the contrast between them. You may not want one that is strong to place too close to a more subtle choice. It would only drown out the joy in catching the faint scent of the lesser ones.
Spend time working near fragrant plants
Make sure that your fragrant plants are not confined to one area. Randomly place them at different intervals throughout your garden, providing contrasting scents that only you will enjoy while working on the plants. Look forward to weeding everything around your morning glory vine so that you can inhale the sweet aroma. Challenge yourself to not stop until you made all the way past the sharp lemon thyme. Rub your fingers on it as you work, inhaling the familiar scent mixed with the earthy one of the soil.
5. Planning For the Future
Daydream as you look through catalogs and websites
Winter is both a sad and exciting time for gardeners. Everything is frozen and colorless, but this is the time for dreaming. Seed and bulb catalogs come pouring in shortly after the New Year. This is when my motivation is high and I want to tackle everything I see for the coming season. Plans for my vegetable garden will climb to thirty or more plants and my flowerbeds would have more than a hundred different plants if my winter garden journal was any indication.
Once I tally up the cost of my new plants, I start to come back to earth and realize that I really only have space for 8-10 new items in my vegetable plat, and other than annuals, my flower bed has space for one or two new specimens.
This is a good time to pull out photos if you have taken any the season before. Look for the empty spots as well as the overflowing ones.
There will be plants to divide and fill in the bare spots, so do you really have room for anything new? Or is there an option to expand a portion of your bed?
Maybe your divisions and cuttings will go there and a new item will get more valuable real estate. Take time to sketch it out before over-ordering in your pre-spring mania.
Arrange potted annuals near perennials to see how they look before planting
Before your shovel tip breaks any ground, take some time to place your new pots of annuals around the flowerbed to get a good visualization of the new arrangement. You might think the new pink impatients will look great next to your existing Echinacea, but in reality, it will provide a better contrast planted around the base of some bright yellow black-eyed Susans. It is far easier to arrange than plant than to dig up something and move it later in the season.
Clear debris from your beds before winter arrives to keep plants healthy
Even if you’ve cleaned your beds before their winter nap, it is a good idea to clear any debris out again in the spring before planting. Dead leaves and twigs will have migrated there during winter’s harsh beating. Leaving them in place can trap moisture beneath and lead to the growth of fungus. Pull it all out and toss it on your compost heap where the heat of decomposition will actually kill the harmful fungus and later provide you with some rich, healthy hummus to add to your beds.
Journal highlights and the lows from each season
At the beginning of each spring, or better yet during the winter, start a new garden journal. Pencil in your plans for the coming year, the list of new items to purchase, and your new goals for the growing season. As winter turns to spring, make notes of each item that you have bought and where it was planted so you will know what is what as the plants evolve. You think you will remember, but trust me, as time goes on you will forget some.
By the end of summer, you can tuck in a few snapshots of your garden in all its glory. This will be your inspiration for the following year, reminding you how full and lush everything will look when the weather turns warm again. By the end of the season, you should have some notes on each plant and how well it fared; indicating any that you might want to remove for next year.
6. Share Your Bounty
Divide perennials and share them with a friend or neighbor
When your perennials are just starting to push their tips up through the ground, take the time to divide the ones who were too large the year before. Most plants can go 3-5 years before dividing them, but my hostas seem to need division every 2-3 years. I try to save a large stack of newspaper for wrapping the divided plants that I am not keeping. The rest of them, I like to share with friends and neighbors.
One Saturday when the weather is beginning to lose its chill, I will go around to each plant and dig it up, placing the entire thing on 5 or 6 sheets of newspaper. Once I have divided it, I replace one section back in the original hole, filling in with extra soil from my compost pile as needed. The remaining 3-4 sections will get wrapped in sheets of newspaper and lightly watered to keep moist.
Then I load them into the back of the truck and take a drive, stopping to visit a few friends and offering them some plants. I’ve always unloaded them before the day is done and usually come home with a few new additions that I was offered in trade.
One year, I even had a plant trade party, offering light refreshments and plant divisions to anyone who wanted to stop by. I sent out a simple invitation via text and again, my plants were cleared out by noon and I found myself the proud new owner of a few new items as well.
Pot up your extra annuals and gift them
Another way to share my garden bounty with friends comes at the very beginning of the growing season. I always buy more flats of annuals than I actually need. I have a compulsion to fill in the bare spots of my flowerbed but when I start planting, I remember how much each plant will spread. The extras cannot be returned to the nursery, so I tuck a few into the cheap plastics pots leftover from the potted annuals and vegetable plants I have bought. I’ll wrap some bright ribbon around each and tie it in a simple bow. Instant gifts for mother’s day, May Day, or even Easter.
Host a garden tea party with all the fancy bits
This is one of my favorite ways to share my garden with lady friends and especially with my young nieces. I will set up a table near the garden with layers of tablecloths weighted down with potted flowers. I’ll brew some tea and make a jug of lemonade and invite a few ladies over for an afternoon tea party. Using a large baking sheet with sides, I will drape it with cloth napkins and load it up with a teapot, fancy teacups, and nice glassware. Add a platter of fancy tea sandwiches and some shortbread and I have an instant al fresco tea to serve in the garden.
Host a dinner party next to the garden featuring your harvest in the meal
In late August, I start to get antsy to harvest my vegetables. Some are growing ripe, but not usually enough to start any canning or preserving.
This is a great time to prepare a farm-to-table dinner for your friends. Drag a large table next to the garden and serve everything as simply as possible. Light salads and grilled meats and veggies seem downright extravagant when it has just been picked minutes before cooking.
Hopefully, with these 6 easy tips, you’ve found something new to try out with helping you improve your gardening experience. If you’re still looking for more ideas, we have an additional 7 tips for you to check out that should help inspire you!