Your garden is likely not the stereotypical perfect garden that is portrayed in advertising. It probably has flaws that drive you nuts and make you want to give up gardening. But there are solutions or workarounds for all those annoying garden problems.
Do you lack space? Is your garden layout imperfect? Do critters come at night and ruin your hard work? Could you use more time and money to put into your gardening efforts?
These are all valid garden problems and you are probably wondering: how the heck do I solve them?
Or maybe you are thinking: that’s not so bad, I can live with some problems. But if you want to have that tranquil garden you always dreamed of, you will need to find solutions to your garden problems or at least workarounds.
Here are the problems I have with some ideas of what I tried that didn’t work and what I’ve done or will do this year to improve the situations.
Lack of space
I want to grow more vegetables and fruit. A lot more because local organic produce is expensive in our area even when in season. And homegrown fruit and vegetables are tastier and healthier.
But I am stuck on a typical suburban lot with not that much space, once I factor in all the features it has. So there are a few things I am doing to maximize the space I have.
Any vining plants such as cucumber, melon, squash or peas takes up very little space when grown on a trellis. For squash you can make slings out of old t-shirts or pantyhose that cradles the fruit as it grows on the trellis.
Trellises can be easily made with some wood stakes and some netting or hardware cloth/mesh.
Planting vegetable plants more tightly together than what is recommended saves space. You do have to amend your soil well with organic matter and make sure the plants get extra nutrients throughout the growing season. And you may find yields to be slightly lower, so you will need to experiment with what works.
You can plant a lot in containers and planters. It then gives you the flexibility of growing extra plants on your balcony, deck or patio. Plus you have the the added convenience of being able to move the containers around if needed.
There is nothing wrong with using flower beds to grow the more colourful vegetables such as eggplants, multi-coloured chard and even lettuces. So long everyone knows what is edible and what isn’t!
I have done this on a small scale and I have to be careful as we have deer that roam around our neighbourhood. So I can only probably use my backyard flower beds as the backyard is fully fenced. I’ll share with you how this works out.
If you are not using your lawn, consider removing it and planting vegetables instead. It is debatable whether or not tending to a vegetable garden is more or less work than maintaining a lawn. But vegetables you can eat so there is a plus right there.
I do not have lawn anymore in my backyard and don’t miss it. If you have kids, you may want to keep some lawn for them to play on. We however have a playground just a five minute walk away, so we take my daughter there if she wants to play on a lawn.
Location of my greenhouse
Greenhouses ideally should be located where they get maximum sun from morning to night. However my greenhouse is a lean-to greenhouse facing west, so it really only gets direct sun from noon. And because the sun sets behind a forest about a kilometer away from our house, only in summer do we get a decent six hours of sunshine in a stretch. Winter we are lucky to get two.
Ideally my greenhouse should be on the south side of the house but the neighbouring house is there and blocks the sun that I would usually get starting at 9 or 10am.
So what can I do? I have spent a bit of time improving the greenhouse so that it can hold heat better, so that the little bit of sunshine it does get makes a bigger difference. I’ve insulated the knee walls and added an extra rain barrel that stores the heat of the sun and then releases it at night.
As for light, my plan is to add some LED lighting that will extend in the evening in spring and fall. And I plan to power that lighting off a solar panel and batteries to save on utility bills. That will extend the growing season at least for a few months on either side of summer I hope.
Location of Fruit Trees
I have lots of fruit trees but they are located all over the garden and some not in the perfect location. One is even in front of my backyard pond.
There is not much I can do about the trees as moving them is out of the question, since that will likely kill them. All I can do is keep them pruned so they don’t get out of hand. Be grateful that I have all this fresh fruit. And keep my hedge trimmed so that they get enough light and space. Which brings me to…
Hedge and Neighbour’s House
I have a large yew and laurel hedge on the west side of my vegetable garden. In an ideal world I would cut it completely down. However it provides me with privacy from the neighbours and that is more important than the couple of hours of light it blocks in the late afternoon/early evening in summertime.
My other neighbour’s new family room addition also blocks the late morning light coming from the south and south-east.
For the hedge, all I can do is keep it trimmed on top and the sides so that it doesn’t get out of hand but still blocks the view of my neighbour’s backyard. That is a yearly task that is a bit of work and generates a large pile of cuttings.
For the neighbour’s house there is not much I can do. I did have a large tree/bush on that side of the house that did block sunlight after the sun moved past the neighbour’s house, so I cut that bush down to maximize the light as much as I can.
In hindsight I probably should have put my vegetable beds in the middle of my yard where it would get more sun. Not going to move them now though.
Lack of Time
This is the most common problem I hear people complaining about or using as an excuse for not gardening or not putting more effort into making their garden a tranquil retreat.
Garden work (or fun as I like to call it) is hard and takes time. There is no question about that. However there are ways to be more efficient with the time you have and ways to find more time in your busy schedule.
Getting up early is one way. Especially in summer I try to get out into the garden before going to work. Often I will pick fruit (raspberries or strawberries usually) for my breakfast. Or pick some lettuce, a cucumber and a tomato for my lunch salad.
It’s a matter of priorities. I want to grow food for my family. I want to have nice flowers to look at. I want the garden to be peaceful and tranquil and tidy. That does take time. I have in the past gotten frustrated that there is so much to do all the time and not enough time to do it in.
But I have resolved myself to work on projects a little bit at a time. For instance I need to clean my second floor deck railings and stairs and then re-stain them. The only way I can do that is to set aside one hour a weekend for four or so weekends in a row and just get it done.
Find enjoyment in the work that you do in the garden and also try not calling it work. It can be a relaxing time away from the family, if that is what you need. It can be a time to catch-up on podcasts. Or meditate while you weed. Or exercise so you don’t have to drag yourself to the gym early in the morning. Or just contemplate your life and work out things in your head that are troubling you while you pull some weeds or water your containers.
If you have kids, bring your kids outside sometimes and either have them just watch or even help out if they are able and willing. Or get a babysitter for a few hours so you and your spouse can have a work/bonding session together.
You can always hire someone to help you out. There are starving university and college students looking for work all year round. It may just be an hour or so a month but that will help, especially if you are doing work that requires some muscle or heavy lifting. If you can’t pay them, then perhaps it can be a trade. They would probably be happy to go home with a bag of apples or a head of lettuce and some freshly picked tomatoes.
Lack of Funds
Money doesn’t grow on trees. I wish it would, because guess what I would be growing instead of apples?
Building my cedar raised vegetable beds set me back by around $1000 Canadian in 2017. Was it worth it? Yes! We were able to grow more vegetables and even in the depths of winter we still have kale and other greens, beets, etc. And the garden looks tidy and more cohesive. Maybe I didn’t have to buy cedar but cedar is durable and I know I will get many years out of the money I spent.
Seeds cost money. So does soil, fertilizer and other supplies. Quality tools also cost money. Watering your garden during a drought is really going to impact your water bill.
However there are ways to save both in the garden and elsewhere. I wrote about this in 6 Ways to Save Money in your Garden I could probably come up with 60 more ways and if you “google it”, you will find lists and lists of ideas.
And you don’t only have to save in your garden. Try cutting back on other expenses that are considered luxuries.
Again it’s a matter of priorities. If your garden isn’t one of your top priorities to spend money on then it will never be a tranquil garden. If you can live with that, then that is fine. I know I can’t and if you are reading this blog, likely you can’t either. Pace yourself and budget a bit of money every month to keep it under control.
Invest now in your garden and it will pay you back for many years.
When I built my raised vegetable beds, I went to the trouble of putting down landscape cloth and mulch on top of the pathways. Looked great! Until the raccoons came.
They started digging for bugs, pulling up the landscape cloth and removing the mulch and piling it up. For a while I went out each morning and replaced the cloth and raked the mulch back over it. The next morning I found the same mess.
What I tried that didn’t work
I tried to secure the cloth down with wire staples. Raccoons are much stronger and can pull up the cloth with the staples. I tried soaking old socks in ammonia and leaving them on the paths. The raccoons just threw them around the garden!
I also tried stapling moth ball packets to the underside of the raised bed lips. The raccoons must have stolen some clothespins from someone’s clothes drying rack outside and put them on their noses as that didn’t deter them. So I gave up.
What I will try in spring
I haven’t yet tried this but the plan is in spring to get a load of gravel and replace the mulch with it. The theory here is that the gravel is much heavier and it should deter the raccoons. It also won’t be a hospitable habitat for the pillbugs that the raccoons like to eat. Wish me luck!
These 7 problems are not the only ones. I could probably list at least another seven. But I try to not dwell on problems and get stuck in them. Instead I focus on solutions and try to find ways to eliminate or minimize the problems as best as I can. You will always have problems as a gardener but a successful gardener finds solutions and marches on despite the setbacks. That can also apply generally to life, not just your garden. I wrote a bit about this in Personal Qualities That Will Make You More Successful in Your Garden
If you enjoyed this article, have something to add or have any questions, please leave a comment below.
Wishing you all the best!
Tranquil Urban Homestead, Victoria, BC