OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE (GARDENING) DISORDER


The best gardens are a perfect balance of order and chaos. The tension created by this constantly threatened balance is the pulse of the garden itself.

Helen Humphreys, The Lost Garden, p. 19

Whipping that garden into shape

In my last blog, I explored the idea of Chaos Theory Gardening, one which I totally subscribe to. It was difficult, being fairly OCD in my outside-the-garden life. But it came from a definite decision to let one part of my existence just BE.

When it comes to getting the balance between Chaos and Order right, one should look at things over a long period of time, and track the branching changes in the planet that follow from it, all the chaos does produce a form of identifiable order. … And this, in its essence, is chaos theory: finding order in the chaos. 

But it was perilously close, the possibility that I may end up snipping away at my garden, having a spot of control over something in my space. But an OCD gardener I was not meant to be. This is defined by the Urban Dictionary as: “That one person at the end of your block, usually retired, who spends anywhere from 20 to 9,000 hours a week gardening. Symptoms include crying over your begonias, mowing the lawn 20 hours a week and sneering at the potted plant garden in your office.”

As we find ourselves slowly slipping out of summer, many people’s thoughts have already turned to getting in winter annuals, and preparing beds for winter bulb planting. But once that is done, it really is time to take a bit of a back seat and let the garden rest. And for the busy gardener, this is a real challenge. Leaves everywhere, plants dying down, seed heads making themselves known, bare branches. The overwhelming urge to tidy all of this up makes itself known. I know any number of gardeners who are more than happy to let plants (including plants that I consider weeds) grow willy nilly in their garden. But I probably know quite a few more gardeners with a tendency to obsess.

Sure, we could give you tips to freshen up the garden, and show you how well-kept garden should look come spring, and that’s how we gardeners used to roll in the early 90s – before we knew better! It really isn’t good to clean up the garden. Now that we understand better how our gardens can become a haven for wildlife, and can appreciate how a ‘winter garden’ has its own kind of beauty, with early morning dew settled on seed pods, ice collected on blades of ornamental grass, pansies reviving themselves as the sun comes up and shares its warmth, we should just let the garden rest, and leave well alone for a while. Do yourself, and Mother Nature a favour by saving your big clean up till spring… 

Nature will defy you by doing her own thing. Plants won’t necessarily grow to the height you wanted them too, and mostly won’t all be the same height. 

There is one exception to this rule though – if you do nothing else, apply a fine-textured mulch. It can hide a multitude of sins, is a great background for new plants, creates a fabulous blanket of warmth for the flowers, stops evaporation so saves on watering and is a sure-fire way to create a ‘finished’ look. 

Refraining from being an OCD gardener may just result in a place that mostly delights more than frustrates, sustains more than drains, one that seems to make sense of the natural world’s complete disinterest in your existence. 

Signs that you too, could be an OCD gardener:

• You have created a database of all the plants in your garden, including their location and watering needs.

• During the winter, magazines and books gather dust, while seed catalogues become dog-eared from frequent browsing.

• On the way to the door of an office building during the summer, you stop to pull weeds. (That is SO me – the people I visit love it when I come by!)

• You also pull weeds from the joints of driveways and side walks… not necessarily YOUR driveway or side walk.

• After telling your family that you are stepping outside for a few minutes to water the container pots, you end up spending two hours weeding and transplanting.


written by Melanie Walker for Hadeco